KUCHING (August 14): At least three times a week, as soon as factory worker Julia Unsing finishes her night shift at 8 a.m., she goes to her favorite restaurant, Sainah Café, in the Stutong district here.
Here, he orders Sarawak’s signature breakfast dish, mee kolok.
This is the routine of the 36-year-old Iban woman since she started working at a nearby factory in 2018.
Julia said that during peak hours when the restaurant is full of customers, she and her friends would happily share a table with others, regardless of their race or creed.
Such a sight of people of various races and religions sitting at the same table to dine is commonplace in restaurants in this city and the rest of the state – a fact Sarawak is proud of and wants to uphold.
As for Julia, who spoke with Bernama as she enjoyed her meal and washed it down with a glass of iced tea, or ‘teh tarik peng’ as the locals call it, the owners were patronizing Saiah Café while they ran their catering business in the US. A stall at Stutong Community Market before opening their own restaurant in 2021.
Owned by Sainah Mehdi, 41, and her husband, Mohammad Ariffin Liew Abdullah, 47, the cafe specializes in mee kolok, a dry noodle dish.
Previously, most of the restaurants in Sarawak only served the non-halal version, but the couple changed the recipe and ingredients to make it a halal meal that the entire community could enjoy.
Sainah told Bernama that when she and her Chinese husband were dating in 2006, kolok was her favorite food, but she wouldn’t eat it in front of him as it wasn’t halal.
“That’s when I came up with the idea to create a halal version of this dish so we can enjoy it together,” Ariffin said.
In 2017, nearly nine years after converting to Islam and marrying Sainah, the couple opened a small stall serving only mee kolok and another local delicacy, Sarawak Laksa.
Their customers gave them their seal of approval, and they were soon selling at least 200 bowls a day.
“It took me two years to change the original recipe of mee kolok… I wanted to make sure the halal version was similar (in taste and flavor) to the original dish. But my recipe calls for more ingredients than the original,” said Ariffin.
She serves her mee kolok in three kinds of sauce – one with regular sauce, the other two with sweet (red color) and savory (black soy sauce) – topped with slices of marinated barbecued chicken.
The non halal mee kolok comes with slices of roast or barbecued pork or char siu.
“Other restaurants here rarely prepare halal mee kolok like we do. We also sprinkle chopped mushrooms on the food, which is something that other restaurants that serve halal mee kolok don’t,” he added, adding that Malay customers like mee kolok with sweet sauce, while Chinese prefer normal sauce. .
Sainah Café’s mee kolok costs RM7 a bowl and RM9 if a larger bowl of Wantan is added.
When the couple, who have two children aged 10 and 14, moved to their current location in 2021, they diversified their menu by adding dishes such as mee campus, seafood rice, chicken fried rice and quetiau, prepared by Ariffin.
One of his customers, Mathius Hanson, 20, a college student from Serian, said he and his college friends would frequent the restaurant three or four times a week because the food was good and reasonably priced.
“I also like the ambiance of the dining hall,” said Mathius, whose favorite food is mee kampua with sweet sauce.
Malaysians are known for their love of food, which is undeniably an important unifying factor.
To recall an interesting quote from the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem, the fifth prime minister of Sarawak, the people of Sarawak “Be it Malay, Chinese, Dayak, Bidayuh, they can sit together, drink together, eat together, call girls together!”
These words reflect the close ties between the various ethnic groups in Sarawak, and their diverse coexistence actually inspires other states. — Bernama
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