Let’s be real here. When you go to Sandakan, you don’t go for the food. The food is really a side benefit to the local adventures. Our local adventure was seeing orangutans. But of course, you can’t simply spend all day watching the world’s largest arboreal primates without eating some food, so we went next door to the Banana Cafe in the Sepilok Jungle Resort.
While there is undoubtedly a confluence of cultures in Sandakan, classic Malaysian cuisine seems a little hard to find, especially when you can only eat so much street food. San Da Gen Kopitiam offers just that. The look and feel is clean and resembles a coffee shop much more than a restaurant. Yet, on a blackboard there is a menu filled with all kinds of foods to order.
You know what’s great about being Jewish? No Lent. No Ramadan. Sure, there’s been thousands of years of persecution and an annual fast or two, but nothing that compares to the longevity of the institutionalized pain of those two holidays. Worse still, sometimes Ramadan falls in the summer and you can’t even drink water. With all of these thoughts in mind, I found myself in Malaysia in the summer in the middle of Ramadan. And in Sandakan in Borneo, this meant the nightly Ramadan Market. The most impressive part about it is that observant Muslims somehow manage to walk up and down the market and order food without eating a bite of it until the sun goes down. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait.
While Malaysia is a majority Muslim country, it’s a very mixed country as well. Thus, finding pork is not a problem and, in fact, it is one of the highlights of Sandakan. And that’s because Sandakan has a strong history with a fried pork noodle stall dating back to 1940. Of course, basically the entire city was burned down in World War II so the stall physical stall itself is a bit newer. That, however, doesn’t seem to stop the locals from coming by.
For most travelers, Sandakan in Bornean Malaysia is just a stopping off point on the way to see orangutans and other types of wildlife in the jungle. But as for me, I would be spending a couple days in the city and wanted to make the best of it by trying out local foods and getting to know the area. But that would have to wait until after our first meal, at the English Tea House.