SHAH ALAM: In this cafe specialising in cuisine unique to the largest state in Malaysia, the famous Sarawak laksa comes with an interesting twist.
A thin omelette lines the bowl, before noodles, shredded meat, prawn, garnishing and finally the thick laksa broth are added.
Served with lime halves and chilli paste on the side, it is marketed as "Sarawak laksa Pattaya” after the ubiquitous nasi goreng Pattaya, which is fried rice wrapped in a thin omelette.
Mazlan Bustaman and his wife Rahina Morshidi run this cafe named Datang Sitok, which simply means “come here” in Sarawakian Malay. The couple chose to focus on Sarawakian cuisine, as Rahina is a Sarawakian Malay from Kuching.
“Rahina’s relatives, who also sell laksa and kolo mee in Kuching, told us this was trending in their hometown.
"And I don’t see anyone else doing this in the Klang Valley right now, so we’re probably the earliest to do Pattaya-style here,” Mazlan said.
There is also the normal Sarawak laksa sans the omelette, and for those who want to splurge on extra prawns, Mazlan said they also offer bowls of laksa with six to seven large prawns in the mix.
"But right now, freshwater prawns are somewhat difficult to source, so we're not selling that for the time being," he said.
Datang Sitok was opened in August this year, after Mazlan wound down his company in the oil and gas sector as a result of the drop in market demand and to stem losses from non-paying clients.
Although Rahina had been offering crowd favourites like the Sarawak laksa and nasi lemak through her home delivery business for the past few years, opening a dining establishment amid the COVID-19 pandemic still comes with its risks.
But the experience has been both rewarding and educational for the couple.
“When we opened in August, it was still recovery movement control order (RMCO), so quite a number of people came, and we were still ironing out our order system, so things were a little haywire for a while,” Mazlan said. RMCO is the relaxed phase of Malaysia's movement restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The couple recalled one instance where one man even brought along his family and friends, with each household filling up the cafe’s tables to capacity.
Now that Selangor has been placed back under the much stricter conditional MCO (CMCO) in light of the October surge in COVID-19 cases, things have slowed down a bit for Mazlan and Rahina to breathe.
“People still need to eat, but at least our customers are more spaced out because we open from noon until 10pm. And we get a lot of delivery orders,” Mazlan said.
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Cafe Datang Silok is sited in a part of Shah Alam, Selangor’s capital with two university campuses nearby. Normally busy with traffic and business, the area is quiet now due to the travel and activity restrictions reimposed by the CMCO.
However, there are a number of Sarawakian and Sabahan students living nearby, even though classes have moved online.
Moreover, word about a new cafe serving food from their home state has been spreading among Sarawakians living in the Klang Valley.
Other than Sarawak laksa Pattaya, guests also come in to order other recognisable Sarawakian dishes, such as kolo mee, which Rahina prepares with beef slices and shallot oil.
Then there is nasi aruk terubuk masin - rice fried till near crispy with some chilli slices and herbs, and topped with a halved deep-fried salted shad.
A customer, Khairul Asimuddin Abdul Rahman, 29, told CNA that it was rare to find this state specialty in the Klang Valley.
“The other Sarawakian cafes I’ve been to, there’s no terubuk masin,” he said.
Ian Kennedy, a 23-year-old mass communications student, was at Cafe Datang Sitok recently with a couple of East Malaysian students and a local friend. It was his first time dining in, after trying its food via delivery services.
Ian said he mostly missed Sarawak laksa and kolo mee, but that evening, he ordered nasi aruk dabai, rice fried withdabai fruit (Canarium odontophyllum) which looks visually similar to black olives and tastes faintly of butter.
“I also missed the taste of the teh-c special, it’s something you buy from the coffee shop,” Ian said, referring to the Kuching variant of iced three-layer tea.
It has milk tea on top, a layer of evaporated milk in the middle, and gula apong - sugar made from the nipah palm - at the bottom.
When stirred, the nipah palm sugar imparts a unique sweetness to the beverage.
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As to whether she would expand the menu to include other dishes from Sarawak, such as manok pansoh (chicken cooked in bamboo) or umai (sliced fish or prawn stewed in lime juice, chilli and onions), Rahina said it would depend on their customers’ response and the supply situation.
“And also, the cost. For example, if you buy 200g of laksa paste in the Klang Valley, it’s RM7.90 (US$1.90), but in Sarawak, you can buy a 500g packet for RM9.
“Terubuk masin is also hard to come by. I tried getting terubuk here, the price can range between RM10 and RM20 a fish. And it’s from Thailand," she said, adding that three fish cost RM10 in Kuching.
Still, Rahina is eager to share other native dishes with her customers.
She sells bubur pedas, which is actually a spicy vegetable dish and not a rice porridge, on Saturdays, and kacang ma, a broth made with a local wort, when there is demand.
Mazlan said they might include some items which were dropped when they first started the cafe.
“But for now, it's alright, we're kept busy. Some days we make more sales and some days less, so we still break even," he said.
Read this story in Bahasa Melayu here.