Sunday, September 08, 2013


Hong Kong of the East...Sandakan beckons adventure seekers and seafood lovers
True to its reputation as a seafood paradise, Sandakan is unrivalled when it comes King Neptune's deep-sea denizens. Be it at the Central Market  or the floating water villages that dot its coastline, seafood crazy foodies will find themselves inundated with the freshest catch of the day.
The Central Market is a hive of activity daily and diagonally across from the Four Points by Sheraton
Riot of colours...everything a passionate cook ever needs can be found here
Astoundingly fresh local ingredients are sold at the Central Market
Super spicy bird's eye chilli in vibrant hues
These strands of bubbly seaweed is known as Latok or Damai
A quick walking tour of the Central Market across from the Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan was enough to blow us away; the sheer amount and variety of seafood that's sold there left us simply in awe. Whether fresh and glistening or dried and name it, they have it in all shapes, sizes and colours.

Honestly, it was an eye-opening experience to see so many different and unfamiliar species of fish, shellfish and seaweed sold there. We spotted heaps of parrot fish, saury, clams, stingrays, giant groupers and mackerels, local mud and flower crabs, banana prawns, snappers and even puffer fish with doe-like eyes and spotted thorny hides. Locals told us that they would eat this about playing Russian roulette.

This unusual ray has a cute dolphin-like snout
Puffer fish all in a row
Dried salted fish that will leave you spoilt for choice
The market itself is a fascinating kaleidoscope of activities, chock-a-block with rows and rows of stalls selling the freshest and most vivid hued vegetables, herbs and spices, assorted seaweed, poultry and meat, dried goods, baking ingredients, confectionery and bakery items, local sweet treats and fruits.

We also nipped upstairs to sample the market's famous Char Yuk Meen (Fried Pork Noodles). According to our Sandakan friends, the stall started in 1940 but has continued to draw a capacity crowd daily with its famed homemade slippery smooth ribbons of 'kueh teow' (flat rice noodle) topped with sliced Hakka-style fried pork marinated in 'nam yue' (red fermented beancurd).
You can choose to enjoy the noodles 'kon lou' (dry-tossed with a drizzle of soya sauce) or laden with a hearty pork-based broth. The latter is undoubtedly the runaway favourite; the simple broth so hearty and flavourful that it's good to the last drop. 

Nearby are several stalls offering 'chap farn' (economical mixed rice) with a tempting selection of home-style dishes such as braised pork, deep-fried chicken, stir-fried 'hum choy' (salted mustard leaves), 'yong tau foo' (stuffed beancurd with fish paste), etc.


No visit to Sandakan is complete without a meal at Sim Sim Water Village. Friendly rivalry sees two similarly named seafood restaurants sited cheek by jowl but it's business as usual as both draw their own share of customers.

Built on stilts, the restaurant seating extends all the way out to sea on sturdy wooden platforms. Insulated boxes filled with oxygenated sea water flaunt live swimming fishes and other seafood: lobsters, prawns, sea cucumber, clams and oysters among others.  

On the night of our visit, we saw a worker brought in a huge lobster and oysters whose shells are as big as a dinner plate. Supply apparently came from local fisherfolks who sell their catch to the restaurateur here.


Our sumptuous feast included a slab of Sandakan's signature salted talang deep-fried and served with fresh kalamansi juice, steamed hard shell clams and oysters in lime juice, garlic and bird's eye chilli, stir-fried crabs and squid in caramelised dark soya sauce, Teochew-style steamed red snapper with tangy lime juice, minced garlic and chilli, and diced beancurd, stir-fried Sabah vegetables (a type of local fern known locally as cekur or sayur manis), honeyed lamb ribs and butter prawns.

Sandakan's answer to cheese? Salted talang deep-fried and served with fresh calamansi juice
Sweet and dark...chewy caramelised squid to exercise your jaws with
Crustaceans' inherent sweetness and buttery richness make for an irresistible combination

Taste-wise the dishes are unpretentious; the simple preparations merely a mean to enhance the seafood's freshness. The butter prawns, salted fish and steamed red snapper really had us hooked. I also like Sandakan's ham yue (salted talang) that's deep-fried until it's slightly crisp. Served with lime juice, its mellow brininess tastes surprisingly similar to blue cheese.

Honeyed lamb ribs that are finger-licking good

Restaurant Seafood Sim Sim 88
Bridge No 8, Sim Sim Water Village 
Sandakan, Sabah
Tel: 012 816 3633

Fancy some sweet dreams in Sandakan? The Four Points by Sheraton is ever-ready to roll out the red carpet for slumber parties of travellers with its signature Four Comfort features. Read all about it here:

Serving soon! More Sandakan's homegrown fare to tickle your tastebuds.


Ciki said...

great post and shots! love the poor puffer fish.. always looks so blown up, with no place to go. hahaha :P

Alice JomMakanLife said...

@Ciki - you're too kind :) yeah, that's a thorny issue for something that's so puffed up. LOL!

KY said...

ok i didn't know you can eat puffer fish. how do you cook it??

Alice JomMakanLife said...

@KY - locals we spoke to said they deep-fry the puffer fish! But I won't risk preparing it at home as we know one wrong move, that will be one's last meal...

Unknown said...

Great pics.. All seafood looking fresh and after cooking looks delicious.. I love to visit you restaurant to enjoy the appetizing seafood.

Alice JomMakanLife said...

@John Cutler - thank you for dropping by and the kind compliments. You should visit if you get a chance :)

Cik Puan said...

my hometown..Sandakan seafood heaven :)

Alice JomMakanLife said...

@Cik Puan - thank you for dropping by. You are lucky indeed to be in the centre of such a seafood heaven :)

Cik Puan said...

You're welcome. I feel very lucky furthermore seafood is my favorite food. :D

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