Guide to Eating Umai

umai stall

Umai is a raw fish dish prepared by the Melanau tribe in Mukah. It’s a must try dish if you ever go to Mukah. It’s the Malaysian version of the sashimi and is traditionally the working lunch for Melanau fishermen.

Umai is made of thinly sliced slivers of raw fish and served with toasted sago pearls. The popularity of the dish for the fishermen is pragmatic – it doesn’t need to be cooked while deep sea fishing and the sago pearls provides the carbohydrates for a filling lunch.

me slicing fish

The fish has to be really fresh for umai to be prepared since it’s eaten raw. I tried my hand at slicing the raw fish and gave myself a nasty cut to the index finger.

umai segar

Umai is readily available in the markets of Mukah and it’s one of the flagship dishes that Mukah is known for (besides sago grubs). There are two different versions of umai – the traditional umai sambal campur and umai cecah jeb.

The Guide to Eating Umai

umai step 1

Step 1: Ensure that a reputable umai stall is patronized. The fish needs to be really fresh for raw consumption to avoid uncomfortable conditions like E.Coli and explosive diarrhea.

umai step 2

Step 2: Find a comfortable place to mix your own umai. The ingredients for making umai can all be purchased at the stall and most of the stuff is prepackaged and premixed to the right amounts.

umai step 3

Step 3: Receptacles for the mixing of umai is essential. You would require a plate and a bowl in addition to forks. Sago pearls are eaten using your hand. Empty the raw slivers of fish into the plate. You can opt to retain a small portion of the raw fish for the the other version of umai.

umai step 4

Step 4: Inspect the contents of your umai sambal campur package. It should contain a bag of premixed ingredients essential to the umai experience containing raw onions and chillies. Calamansi limes should also be in the package for the original umai as well as a small packet of salt and the crunchy peanut cookies.

umai step 5

Step 5: Open the packet of crumbly peanut cookies and put it on top of the raw fish slivers. This is the secret ingredient in all good umai dishes that provides the sweet and crunchy texture to the dish.

umai step 6

Step 6: Crush the peanut cookie into a finely grounded powder using the fork. You need the peanut cake to be evenly distributed throughout the dish.

umai step 7

Step 7: Pierce the calamansi limes using a fork to enable a reasonable flow of the juice into the umai. Do not attempt to squeeze the lime without penetrating it with a fork (or another sharp utensil) first. Splash damage is likely to occur.

umai step 8

Step 8: Squeeze the calamansi lime over the raw fish.

umai step 9

Step 9: You need all the calamansi lime juice provided since the acidic nature of the fruit “cooks” the raw fish. I’ll explain the scientific principles at the bottom of the guide.

umai step 10

Step 10: Open the small packet of salt and empty the contents into the umai. The salt offsets the sourness of the calamansi lime and makes it sweet.

umai step 11

Step 11: Open the plastic bag containing the thinly sliced onions and chillies and empty it into the plate of umai.

umai step 12

Step 12: Toss the umai with a fork as you would toss a salad. The motions are similar and so are the aims – to mix everything as evenly as possible. The traditional umai is now ready for consumption!

umai step 13

Step 13: The final step is to empty the sago pearls into a bowl for easier consumption. The sago pearls are eaten using your bare hands to go with the umai.

umai step 14

Step 14: Consume the umai with a handful of sago pearls. The umai should be eaten first and chased with the sago pearls for the authentic Melanau umai experience.

Guide to eating umai video


umai jeb

There is a new variant of umai called the umai cecah jeb which is dipped into a sambal (spicy paste) concoction.

umai jeb eat

You’re supposed to take a forkful of umai (raw fish) and then dip it into the special sambal sauce and eat it. It’s delicious! The sambal really got oomph! Very spicy. I like!

Guide to eating umai cecah jeb video


splash damage 2

Splash damage is likely to occur even with the proper piercing technique as can be seen on Clare’s top. Respect the calamansi lime and it shall respect you. πŸ˜‰


difference is clear

The calamansi lime has acidic properties that “cooks” (cures would be a better word) the raw fish in the umai due to reasons beyond my understanding. It just works.
The left fork contains the raw fish before the calamansi lime treatment and the right fork contains the slightly “cooked” fish after being marinated in calamansi lime. You can see the difference in the coloration and texture of the fish.
The difference is clear (TM). πŸ˜‰

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34 thoughts on “ Guide to Eating Umai”

  1. Cool! Avoiding Explosive diarrhea mentioned in step 1 is real important I feel. I couldn’t imagine anything worse! Poor Clare, splattered in food again.

  2. Thats a very informative post HB. Althought I been there few times but never got the chance to try the Umai. My father told me that theres a shop near the Shell station that serve the best Umai in town. They use Ikan Parang to make this Umai. The Umai Jeb is a new product I guess, must be very hot the sauce.

    • Umai Jeb is not a new variant.. It’s just separating the fish and the sauce.. But the sauce in it.. may be added with new ingredients.. It’s up to the person who prepares it..

  3. Umai? Sashimi ah…
    Look like good…eh, you put a lot of limes, does it sour enough??
    =___=” as what GF mention, how come is the same spot again??

  4. There seems to be an umai posting competition going on!!! Hahahahahaha!!!! Next time, anybody calls for information about food…RM5 an answer! Or better still, make it RM10!!!…I’m like a food directory now!! LOL!!!…And you didn’t tapau any for me? Oooo…how could u!!! Not enough friend lah like dat! LOL!!!

  5. Walao eh! Somebody complained that I posted earlier than him so he beh song lor! LOL!!! So kiasu can die wei!
    For reasons unknown, yeah, splash damage did occur TWICE at the same spot!
    Jeff: Being the victim here… πŸ™
    Suituapui: How to tapao umai for you lah, not fresh anymore by the time we reach Sibu.

  6. HB, Why is the “FOOD” liquid always squirting on clare’s clothing. Not ONce! but twice….and ironically squirting on the same spot too. For one second i lost my focus on food! lolz

  7. myst3, next time u come back Sibu, i take you to mukah, u can squirt on my clothing… πŸ˜› LOL! i m too far away from noticing what happened to claire chest… am waiting to see the nude guy walking on mukah beach. πŸ˜›

  8. I have conducted a project on development of instant-umai 6 years ago.
    An interesting fact I found: It is believed that umai has a Japanese origin and was introduced during the Japanese occupation since the basic preparation method of umai is almost the same as Japanese sashimi. The word umai is also thought to be derived from Japanese word which means β€˜delicious and skillful’.

  9. Huai Bin, let me keypo and explain a bit to you about why the lime “cooked” the fish. πŸ˜› I am not a meat protein person, but I will try to explain within my knowledge. Hopefully I don’t give the wrong info.
    The combination of lime and salt marinades the fish. In this case, it involves citric acid from the lime. This process is cold marinade as it does not use heat. The acid decreases the pH of the meat, hence cause the fish protein, mainly actomyosin to be denatured. The protein losses its native form and usually when this happen, the protein will become insoluble. The same thing as when you boil an egg, the transparent egg white becomes white chunks. Changing of the protein will give unique flavor and texture to the fish. The salt will help to make the flesh more firm too and the acidic environment that lower than pH 4.5 (hopefully in your umai too) will prevent food poisoning bacteria and most spoilage organisms will not grow. Not all the activity in the flesh is stopped though, which encourage ripening of the fish that gives the unique texture and flavour.
    But still, I am not risky enough to eat open space prepared raw fish in a tropical country like Malaysia, even in Japan, I only eat in places I am sure are safe. You have the gut HB. πŸ˜‰

  10. IcedNyior: Sotong umai? Where can you get it? I didn’t see it in Mukah. Would be interested to try though.
    Haha: Second. πŸ˜‰
    Jeff: Yeah, I’ve been told that I have a cast iron stomach but still it’s no fun to be having the runs (rhymes to boot) during a trip. Especially on a bus without a toilet.
    Yup, she’s just getting splattered all the time. πŸ˜‰
    GF: She did it to herself both times. I accidentally dropped a sago worm head on her toes and it bit her though. You can hear her saying ouch in one of the videos.
    Roland: There’s a famous one called Nibong but the place was closed when we were there due to excessive drinking by the proprietors the previous night and being unable to wake up to do lunch. Ikan Parang = sword fish? Interesting. Yeah, the celup jeb tastes a bit nicer coz I like spicy stuff. It’s really spicy.
    nkwai: The Melanau version of the sashimi. The limes produce an acidic reaction to cook/cure the raw fish so you have to put all of it in.
    I don’t know, maybe her left boob is prone to Splash Damage (TM)? πŸ˜‰
    (=’.’=): Sent all the way from Mukah? Does it still taste fresh when it arrived?
    kokster99: Haha! Ask her out on a date then. She’s a blogger too. πŸ™‚
    KY: Yu Sang Edisi Melanau.
    suituapui: We wanted to, but it would have gone bad by the time we reached Mukah. At least we tapau belacan for you. Haha!
    kimberlycun: Yeah, it’s a local dish originating from Mukah. It’s also available in Sibu but it’s not as good or authentic. It’s from the Melanau, one of the local tribes over here.
    Mukah would be quite far from Kuching if you’re planning to drive. Definately further than Sibu to Mukah. However, there are flights from Kuching and Miri to Mukah, but none from Sibu. I don’t know why either.
    Clare: Kidding la, I’m not kiasu at all. I time my post very well one hor. πŸ™‚
    Myst3: I know they say lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same spot but for Clare, it does. πŸ˜‰
    Julian: Hmm…I doubt it since the Melanau is a tribe from Sarawak. They only use onions and chillis for the dish.
    willchua: Yeah, you should try it from Mukah. Original one sure nice. Don’t know why it always lands on the left boob. Coincidence gua.
    (=’.’=): Can I squirt on your clothing too? πŸ˜‰
    …and I don’t mean sago worm innards or lime.
    In return, I will parade nude in front of you. πŸ˜‰
    Wilson: Interesting! That’s amazing facts you’ve got there. I never noticed the word association until you mentioned it. Great stuff Wilson, thanks for the info.
    Domo San: That would be MISTER Ex-drug user to you. Thanks for reading and I’m clean and sober now. πŸ™‚
    butterscotch: We didn’t have any knifes in our pockets. πŸ™‚
    MI!: Yeah, I’m more of a meat person too. πŸ™‚
    Darren: They use the fresh fish straight off the boat from the morning catch. You can’t use stale fish for umai, they sell it until noon and then discard it (I think, coz it’s not available anymore) or cooks it in another way.
    goolooloo: What better half? Where got?
    fish fish: OMG! You’re a fountain of food information. Thanks for the explaination fish fish! πŸ™‚
    You deserve that postgrad in food science. πŸ™‚

  11. Dude, as a certified food protection manager in the state of California, I can tell you the source of food contamination will be the chopping boards and uncleaned knives.

  12. In response to e, strangely enough I have never heard of anybody ending up with problems after eating umai from that stall. I bought some from there once years ago, and it’s still in business so I guess many would have eaten the umai. May be because of the acidity of the lime?
    But I have heard of people coming down with food posioning after eating chicken rice…even those in franchised establishments! And my missus was a victim at the high-class hotel at Genting Highlands…many, many years ago when it did not have a theme park.

  13. e: Oh yeah, I remember reading that the chopping blocks is a major source of contaimination. Cheers for that! πŸ™‚
    suituapui: I got food poisioning at Genting too! I was 9 years old at that time and remembered puking all the way down. I had to puke in dustbins, hotel lobbies and a lot of other places. I’m sure I was a source of embaressesment to my parents. Haha!
    IcedNyior: Interesting. It’s surprisingly not available in Mukah. It’s possible that we just didn’t look hard enough though.

  14. Huai Bin: Would love to ask her for a date! However, it would have to be a virtual date as I’m in Semenanjung! BTW, it’s nice to see you back. Cheers.

  15. i had some pretty yum umai at a seafood restaurant in dalat. tasted very fresh and flavourful. was given a huge bag of the sago pearls to bring back here, considering a version of umai to make here for a potluck party

  16. Lainie: Yeah, I wish I had been able to tag along with you to Dalat. Despite the proximity, I’ve never actually been there!
    Nice, umai should be made with really fresh fish, so the ones in hypermarkets are no good. All the best!


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