THE recent concerns about halal and non-halal food in Peninsular Malaysia have raised many questions about the future of food outlets of various status in Sarawak and Sabah.
As our society continues to become more affluent, we are definitely concerned about cleanliness, food taste, types of services, ambiance and quality, besides the halal certificate, of course.
However, at the moment, people are still very happy with shops which say ‘Serve No Pork’ in Miri.
Some very religious people, of course, would look for the authentic halal certificate. In fact, there are many well- appointed halal restaurants in Miri frequented by people from different races and religions.
‘Serve No Pork’ is a 20th and 21st century phenomenon, where people become more concerned about the type of cooking oil or meat served at eateries.
“While there are already many halal food stalls and outlets in Miri, there is still plenty of room for to improve. This includes non-halal eateries and restaurants as well.
“We Sarawakians are very open-minded and together, we do show a certain tolerance not found elsewhere. I can sit in a coffeeshop with my Muslim relatives. They will order nasi lemak from another stall and I can order my noodles from the back of the shop.
“Obviously, they know what I am eating. And they are not confused. We have been living in this kind of environment since time immemorial,” commented Jetli Jelian, a regular customer.
Serving no pork
Pork-free eatery Warung 6 in Miri is owned by David Teo who has been in the food business for more than 30 years.
Located at Piasau Garden, with a good playing field right in front of the shop block, it serves no pork and the staff are all Muslim, especially the chief cook.
The food offered are laksa Kuching, mee jawa, mee bakso, teochew duck rice, chicken rice, kolo mee, fried rice, mee sup tulang and more.
These are very popular and sold out even before 12.30pm. Latecomers for lunch might be disappointed.
“I’m not competing with any halal eateries. I like operating my pork-free business in this way because I can serve more customers from different racial backgrounds,” said Teo who has catered for big functions and other events.
“There are so many non-Muslims in Miri who do not eat pork by choice and also because of their religion.
“As I cater for all such customers, I am not trying to confuse anyone. Everything in my restaurant is halal. Even the chicken and duck I buy are halal. My staff can testify to that,” he told thesundaypost.
Nice working lunch
A local businessman who chose to remain anonymous, said: “Since my office is quite near the Warung, it’s easy for me to bring my clients there for a treat.
“I may have only one Muslim client but we go there for a hearty lunch with other non-Muslim customers. I can order six or seven different dishes for a nice working lunch together.
“The tables are very clean and if there are only four of us, we find the space adequate and pleasant. The tables are not placed very close together. So we have a lot of elbow and leg room.”
Vincent, a young medical graduate, also said the food was nice and the laksa really good.
He likes the Warung because there are many choices.
“David Teo himself will even take the orders politely. And that’s very welcoming,” Vincent added.
Lau, a businesswoman, told thesundaypost: “Those of us from this area like the location and food. I love coming here for a quick lunch. The Warung opens from 6 to 6. So I can even buy half a Teochew salted duck for dinner. The bakso soup is also very tasty.”
Young Mirian KT Siow, just back from overseas, was enjoying two bowls of laksa with Teo sitting next to him for a good chat.
Pleasant and friendly, Teo makes it a point to sit down with his customers from time to time.
Siow said: “Towkay David’s laksa is very good and I really like the generous amount of yong sui he throws in to garnish my laksa.
“I understand he goes to the market personally to sapu (buy in bulk) all the yong sui he can find.
“My Kuching friends all say laksa with yong sui is definitely a good sign. Laksa is good for the eyes as well as the heart. I’m very biased where laksa is concerned. I can order two bowls and be thoroughly satisfied with what I get.”
Teo also makes his own beef balls for his bakso soup servings which wash well with customers.
He uses his own recipe for bakso noodle soup.
Not using MSG
Teo told thesundaypost he does not use any MSG in his cooking. His soup stock is boiled in a huge enamel crockpot. He prepares his fresh stock from good beef bones.
As a Teochew, his favourite recipe is his own version of Teochew Salted Duck, which he serves with special rice (cooked with cinnamon and star anise seeds for fragrance and flavour).
This signature Teochew Duck is very tender and succulent.
A local teacher, Susanna, often drops by for the special fried rice and she has a lot of nice things to say about the food.
“I don’t like oily food and when I am a busy, and having to get back to school, I will just order some fried rice. It’s really nice.
“Besides, I can order some extra chicken. The staff here are very friendly — they don’t raise their voices.”
Friends who are regular customers such as Mr and Mrs A Lee stop by to enjoy a fuss-free lunch.
Mrs Lee likes the mee jawa, prepared with ingredients like pumpkin (for the sauce) and good fresh noodles.
As for Jetli, he has been a very regular customer for years.
According to him, the two things that make him frequent his good friend David’s Warung are cleanliness and orderly operation.
“Somehow, he makes the ordering of food and the serving very relaxed and systematic.
“Even when all the tables are full, we get served very quickly and efficiently. The drinks also come very quickly.
“When we are in a hurry, this important aspect of customer service is very important for any eatery.
“There’s no shouting …no stress. Eating, thus, becomes pleasurable.”
Teo has come a long way since his foray into the food business 40 years ago.
His first investment was in coal mining in Kapit. Later he ventured into Thai food in Miri.
He has been doing a lot of catering over the years and has also delved into co-ownership for a few years. And now, he enjoys being his own coffeeshop boss.
“This is a one-owner-operator business. So I don’t mind working hard but I do get to sleep well at night.
“At the end of the day,” Teo surmised, “healthy food, good service and extra helpings will go a long long way to running a successful eatery. I love to see my customers happy and when they return, my heart gets all fuzzy and warm. Thank you.”