Halal certification bad for business because we can’t sell alcohol, Sabah seafood restaurant owners say

By JULIA CHAN

KOTA KINABALU, Feb 23 — Sabah’s seafood sellers are unlikely to heed the call from the Sabah Islamic Religious Affairs Department (JHEAINS) to apply for halal certification, with most of them claiming it would not be feasible because it would mean losing out on business by not serving alcohol.

With fresh seafood being one of the state’s attractions, some seafood restaurants have said it does not want to lose out on potential tourist dollars or any side income it may get from selling alcohol and cigarettes.

“I don’t think it is necessary to get halal certified yet. We are a pork-free restaurant and that seems to be good enough for our customers. Muslim customers do not seem to mind, they are used to it in Sabah. Even Muslim tourists seem to understand this,” said the captain of Seremban Seafood Restaurant and Bar in the city centre, who only wanted to be known as Jason.

“As long as they don’t make it a requirement, I think we will just wait and see for now. I know that we won’t be able to get the certificate anyway because we serve alcohol,” he said.

JHEAINS had recently advised owners of premises selling seafood and seafood products to seek halal certification following the growing public awareness of halal issues.

The process of inspection and issuance of the halal certificate will take about 30 to 45 days at a fee of RM200.

Another popular outlet, Welcome Seafood Restaurant, appeals to Muslims by having a separate kitchen that did not serve pork and specified green tables which its Muslim clientele may feel more comfortable dining in.

“It is not halal, but there is no pork. It is 100 per cent seafood only. Food comes from a different main kitchen, and cutleries and plates are our own, otherwise everything else ― the menu, the prices, and the fact that we serve beer ― is the same,” said a spokesperson.

“We want to appeal to as many people as possible,  not just a certain segment of the market. I think this is a purely business decision,” he said, adding that the income from serving beer can make up the difference from the increasingly taxed business.

Simon Teng, owner of the popular Kedai Kopi Wan Wan which serves fish noodles to all layers of the community for the last 18 years with much success, says there was no reason to change things up now.

For Kedai Kopi Wan Wan, a day time business which does not serve beer, but who has been serving fish noodles for the masses for 18 years, there was just no need to change its business model after all these years.

“We have been doing it this way for so long. And it works. Customers are not put off ― they know we only serve fish and prawns. It appeals to everyone,” said its owner Simon Teng.

The shop, which employs Muslim staff, like all seafood restaurants in the state, enjoy business from the whole community, and have received no complaints.

“I do not see why we should have to change things now,” he said.

For the many seafood stalls plying the city’s waterfront, the halal certification process is  too tedious and many rue that it will not be able to pass the strict hygiene and cleanliness standards.

The open markets near the central market are a hotspot for tourists who can choose from a myriad of ready-grilled seafood or buy the catch of the day and have it cooked on the spot.

But the lack of regular water supply and uncertified food handling puts operators, many of whom are Muslim, off from getting the halal certification.

Some seafood restaurants in Sabah have said it does not want to lose out on potential tourist dollars or any side income it may get from selling alcohol and cigarettes.

“I do not even know where we would begin. I think its more hassle than it’s worth. We are not even in a permanent space. We are just trying to make a small living, I don’t think this is for us,” said Mohamad Ridzwan, who operates a stall with his wife.

The halal issue first cropped up last weekend when a domestic trade, co-operatives and consumerism ministry enforcement director said eateries using the signage “No Pork” could be penalised for confusing Muslims.

Its minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin reportedly said that his ministry will select a specific definition to avoid any confusion over “pork free” signs at eateries.