‘Mee Kolok’ a Metaphor of Sarawak’s Racial Harmony

‘Mee Kolok’ a Metaphor of Sarawak’s Racial Harmony

At least three times a week, factory employee Julia Unsing makes her way to her favourite eatery Sainah Café located in the Stutong area here as soon as she finishes her night shift at 8 am. Here, she orders Sarawak’s signature breakfast dish mee kolok.

This has been the 36-year-old Iban woman’s routine since she started working at a nearby factory in 2018. Julia, a Christian, is usually accompanied by her colleagues from other religious and ethnic backgrounds who also relish mee kolok.

Julia said during peak hours when the restaurant is packed with customers, she and her friends would happily share a table with others regardless of their race or faith.

Such a sight – where people of various races and religions sit at the same table to eat – is commonplace in restaurants in this city and the rest of the state as well, a fact Sarawak is proud of and wishes to maintain.

As for Julia, who spoke to Bernama whilst enjoying her meal and washing it down with a glass of iced tea or teh tarik peng as the locals here call it, she has been patronising Sainah Café when its owners were running their food business in a stall in the Stutong Community Market prior to opening their own restaurant in 2021.



Owned by Sainah Mahdi, 41, and her husband Mohammad Ariffin Liew Abdullah, 47, the café specialises in mee kolok, a dry noodle dish. Previously, most restaurants in Sarawak served only the non-halal version but the couple tweaked its recipe and ingredients to turn it into a halal dish that can be enjoyed by all communities.

Sainah told Bernama when she and her husband, who is Chinese, were courting in 2006, he told her mee kolok was his favourite food but he would not eat it in front of her as it was non-halal.

“That was when I got the idea of creating a halal version of this dish so that we could enjoy it together,” chipped in Mohammad Ariffin Liew.

In 2017, some nine years after he converted to Islam and married Sainah, the couple opened a small stall, serving only mee kolok and Sarawak laksa, another local delight. Their customers gave them the seal of approval and soon they were selling not less than 200 bowls a day.

“It took me two years to modify the original recipe of mee kolok… I wanted to make sure the halal version was similar (in terms of taste and flavour) to the original dish. But my recipe requires the use of more ingredients than the original one,” said Mohammad Ariffin Liew, who loves to cook.

He serves his mee kolok in three types of sauces – one is the normal sauce while the other two are sweet (red in colour) and salty (black soy sauce) – topped with slices of marinated barbecued chicken.

(Non-halal mee kolok comes with slices of roast or barbecued pork or char siu.)

“Other restaurants here rarely prepare halal mee kolok the way we do. We also sprinkle chopped mushroom on top of the dish, which is something other eateries that serve halal mee kolok don’t do,” he said, adding their Malay customers like the mee kolok with the sweet sauce while the Chinese prefer the normal sauce.

Sainah Café’s mee kolok is priced at RM7 a bowl while a bigger bowl with wantan added costs RM9.



When the couple, who have two children aged 10 and 14, moved to their current premises in 2021, they also diversified their menu by adding other dishes such as mee kampua, seafood fried rice, chicken fried rice and kuetiau,also prepared by Mohammad Ariffin Liew.

One of their customers Mathius Hanson, 20, a college student from Serian, said he and his college mates would patronise the restaurant three or four times a week as the food is good and reasonably priced.

“I also like the restaurant’s environment,” said Mathius, whose favourite dish is mee kampua with sweet sauce.

Malaysians are known for their love for food which, undeniably, is a key unifying factor.

To recall an interesting quote by Sarawak’s fifth chief minister the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem, the people of Sarawak “whether they are Malay, Chinese, Dayak, Bidayuh, they can sit together, drink together, eat together, look for girls together!”

Those words reflect the close ties among the various ethnic groups in Sarawak and their unity in diversity is, in fact, a source of inspiration to the other states.


— BERNAMA (Rozlin Rusharmeen Rosmin)




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