A small kiosk in Shah Alam serves halal Japanese noodles at reasonable prices. SYIDA LIZTA AMIRUL IHSAN rolls up her sleeves and enjoys what it has to offer.
ALONG the row of food kiosks in Shah Alam Walk, one stands out with its red lanterns and tudung-clad women in bright yukata, serving udon and ramen (noodles) to Malay office workers at lunchtime.
As they slurp the soup and clip the noodles with chopsticks, the realisation dawns on me - Malays, with their staple spicy diet, are not known for their affinity towards Japanese food which is mostly bland.
But O-Shima Cafe, owned by Nor Ashraf Wahab and his wife, Asnidar Hanim Yusuf, is slowly gaining popularity with its moderately-priced Japanese dishes in a predominantly Malay neighbourhood.
"It´s not only the taste that puts Malays off Japanese food, but the price as well. Expensive Japanese food makes restaurants very intimidating, especially to those unfamiliar with the food."
Ashraf and Asnidar, who come from Selangor and Perlis respectively, are very familiar with Japanese cuisine as they both studied engineering in the Land Of The Rising Sun. An avid cook, Ashraf even makes his own soba and udon noodles. His wife says that although "they don´t look quite as smooth as those that come from factories, they taste just as good".
The couple serve halal Japanese food which is not easy to do as many Japanese dishes are prepared using alcohol such as sake (Japanese beer) and mirin (Japanese rice wine).
Asnidar admits it has been a tedious process. As alcohol is so much a part of Japanese food, the couple has had to find suppliers who, among other things, sell shoyu (soya sauce) without alcohol and to vet every ingredient in the products they use.
They also work closely with Muslims in Japan to get halal cooking supplies. O-Shima Cafe is currently applying for halal certification from Malaysia Department Of Islamic Development (Jakim) and, if successful, will be the first Japanese eatery to have that certification.
"There is a demand for halal Japanese food. Muslims are so much more aware these days of the ingredients that go into their food and we want to give them that confidence. We even make our own alcohol-free teriyaki sauce, ramen and miso paste.
"Some people were sceptical at first and would ask `how can O-Shima guarantee the food is halal?´. But there are Japanese Muslims who abide by the religious food regulations so alternatives are available. It´s just a matter of finding them.
"Japanese Muslims eat Japanese food, not sambal belacan. We get our supplies from where they get theirs," says Asnidar.
The food here is affordable because one of the couple´s aims is to get more people to try Japanese food. For example, a steaming bowl of Korean ramen with sliced chicken, dried mushroom and kimchi only costs RM8.90 while the prawn mania ramen (topped with vegetables, half a boiled egg and three pieces of prawn katsu) is RM9.90.
Ramen (yellow springy noodles) is served in soup that tastes much like miso soup. O-Shima´s version doesn´t disappoint. The noodles are not too soft and the gravy not too salty. The deep fried prawns gives a crunchy twist to this dish.
Another highlight is the chicken katsu curry don (RM11.90). The thick gravy comes with slices of chicken and a generous portion of potato. Served with rice, it reminds me of nasi campur. The curry is sweet with just a tinge of spice.
"Our profit margin isn´t that high because the raw ingredients are expensive. This is as cheap as it can get," says Asnidar. Sushi starts from RM3 for two pieces and a generous portion of unagi kabayaki with a side of egg is RM18.90.
"Unagi (eel), is the only expensive item people are willing to pay for. More and more people like the taste. I hope I can keep the prices affordable because raw unagi costs almost RM100 per kg," she says.
For now, customers at O-Shima pay under RM10 for a big bowl of noodles, very cheap for Japanese food. Considering we are all watching helplessly how food prices rise, it´s a relief that cheap is still a word we can throw around.
Kiosk B3, Shah Alam Walk
Section 14, Shah Alam
Tel: 017-258 4832
Opens 11.30am to 9.30pm (Tuesdays to Sundays)