THE number eight is special in the life of Restoran Muara’s owner Susanti, for it has brought fortune and fame to her and her business.
Born in Malang, Surayabaya, East Java, she had known only hardship and poverty from the day she was born. She has never been to school and she ekes out a living by working in coffeeshops and roadside food stalls from an early age.
“I liked to work in food shops. I love to see people cook and would give it a try if they allowed me,” said Susanti, who is now 44.
At the age of 16, Susanti left home to seek a better life in Malaysia. Her first job was working in a timber camp canteen in Tawau. She learned the art of running a business and food canteen while she was in Tawau. She worked in the camp for five years.
In late 1980s, Susanti then tried her luck by migrating to Miri. To survive, she started her little business from home by making home-made curry paste for sell.
By this time, she was already married to Zainal Muluk, 47, from Teluk Intan Perak. With her husband’s encouragement, she opened up her first Restoran Muara at Miri Waterfront in 2005.
“For six months business was so bad. I was in despair,” she said, revealing that even her husband thought of closing shop but she persevered.
“That’s when I decided to go home to Malang in Surabaya to meet my mother to get her blessing and idea on how to save my restaurant,” said Susanti.
That was when the number eight came into her life.
’’It was my mother who suggested that I changed my menu and try to promote real Javanese home-cooked meals. ‘Start with number eight,’ she said,” Susanti recalled. That was when their signature dish of Nasi Lalapan was created.
“The crucial part of the dish is the sambal belacan. I have created two versions of it. The fried sambal belacan and the raw sambal belacan. My mum preferred the raw sambal belacan unlike our typical Javanese fried sambal belacan.”
Susanti said her mother was right once again and it was the sambal that made the difference in her lalapan dish.
The dish that was a hit; bringing customers back for more. Lalapan is actually derived from the from Javanese word, ‘’lalap’’ and ‘’delapan’’, meaning eight type of dishes.
It’s a simple Javanese village dish which has been improved upon by Susanti to meet local tastes. It has also found a following in Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia.
Susanti’s popular dishes are Lalapan Ikan Bawal, Lalapan Ikan Kembung, Lalapan ayam, Lalapan Ikan Tenggiri, Lalapan Ikan Tongkol, Lalapan Ikan Keli and Lalapan Empal.
Other Javanese dishes served at the restaurant are Rawon (beef soup), Bakso, Soto (slightly different from typical Malaysian soto), Mendoan (soy paste fritters), peppesan ikan (semi steamed then grilled sambal covered fish wrapped up in banana leaf) and pecal (salad like vegetable salad in peanut gravy).
The food are fairly priced from RM8 and above per dish. On average, a customer will spend about RM15 for a sumptuous Lalapan Dish including drinks.
“We are thankful to our corporate guests especially those in oil and gas. It was them who indirectly helped us to promote our restaurant to friends and colleagues across the straits,” said Zainal.
Susanti’s success has led her to open a new outlet Permyjaya in the north of Miri city and another one in the town centre soon.
Humbled, Susanti has more than 20 workers to help her out and most of them are from Indonesia.
However, Susanti still does most of the basics like marketing on her own. She supervised the cooking personally to ensure the food quality.
“Through our effort and perseverance and also thanks to my mother, the restaurant has brought sufficient income for my family and we have managed to send two of my children to university,” said Susanti.
And for the record, not only does Susanti has eight siblings, so does her husband. The couple now also has eight children.