Malaysian Food · June 27, 2023

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UFO Tart: The Whimsical Treat from Sandakan

UFO Tart: The Whimsical Treat from Sandakan

If you’re from Sabah, you’ve likely heard of the hype surrounding UFO Tarts. These whimsically named treats, resembling flying saucers, are believed to have originated in Sandakan back in 1955. Despite their peculiar appearance, these cult favorites are far from extraterrestrial. Instead, they consist of a fluffy sponge cake topped with a swirl of meringue and custard, creating a delightful combination of textures and flavors.

UFO Tarts owe their existence to a fortunate baking mishap by Hainanese baker Fu Ah On in Sandakan. While baking tarts, Fu accidentally overcooked them, resulting in a surprisingly tasty outcome. Locals affectionately refer to these treats as Ngau Si Dui 牛屎堆 or “piles of cow dung,” showcasing the playful and amusing nature of Sabah’s culinary culture. Despite Fu’s original recipe being lost, various versions of this beloved dessert can be found in both Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu, with bakeries in Sabah often using margarine in the cake base.

In Sandakan, UFO Tarts are ubiquitous and can be found in coffee shops, restaurants, and even night markets. The original coffeeshop that served UFO Tarts in the 1980s, located in town next to the old library, holds special memories for locals like Sonny. The tarts were once packaged in recycled cigarette cartons, making them instantly recognizable and even more enticing. Today, these delightful treats have expanded their reach, and you can now find them in a few shops in Kota Kinabalu City as well.

UFO Tarts offer a soft, butter-flavored cake base topped with sweet custard and fluffy meringue. With their small size, you can easily devour one in just a few bites. The tarts possess an eggy cookie-like taste with a rich aroma of vanilla, making them a delectable treat to enjoy alongside a cup of hot coffee. Some locals even claim to prefer UFO Tarts over traditional egg tarts due to their unique texture and flavor profile.

UFO Tarts have become an iconic food of Sabah, with 5 May declared as “UFO Tart Day” to commemorate this popular Sandakan delicacy. While their name may have changed to UFO Tarts for a wider audience, locals still lovingly refer to them as “Cow Dung Tarts,” finding the original name charming and amusing. Despite the inconsistent tastes resulting from the loss of the original recipe, these tarts remain a testament to the creativity and adaptability of Sabah’s bakers.

UFO Tarts have soared to popularity in Sabah, captivating locals and visitors alike with their unique shape and delightful combination of flavors. Whether you prefer to call them UFO Tarts or Cow Dung Tarts, these whimsical treats offer a taste experience that is distinctly Sandakan. So, if you find yourself in Sandakan or Kota Kinabalu, be sure to seek out these iconic UFO Tarts and embark on a culinary adventure that celebrates the region’s rich heritage.