While the Covid-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on nearly every aspect of society, flattening economies and laying waste to small businesses across the country, for one segment of traders in Sarawak, business is still booming.
In the capital city of Kuching, stalls selling suntong tutok – smashed and barbecued cuttlefish – are doing a roaring trade. Customers in Kampung Nombor in Satok all the way up to Kampung Gersik are queuing for the local delicacy, a particular favourite of the Malays during Ramadan.
In fact, many locals would say that Ramadan is not complete without a taste of suntong tutok once dusk arrives and the day’s fast is over.
Dyg Zunika Abg Adenan has been selling suntong tutok for many years. While business may be bad in other sectors, she said demand for the cuttlefish dish has been overwhelming this year.
The majority of her customers are not after just one plate, either. Many have been ordering in bulk, asking her to pack the food for them to take home.
“We only do this business during the fasting month,” she told MalaysiaNow during a recent visit to her stall in Kampung Nombor.
“Usually, the Malays will enjoy this delicacy after breaking fast and during moreh’ (supper), which is served after the tarawih prayers.”
But to make this dish is not easy as it requires a great deal of technique.
“First, we grill the cuttlefish over charcoal. Then we roll it out, using a special machine. Then, we smash it,” Dyg Zunika said.
And by “smash”, she means smash – the cuttlefish is pinned under a pair of tongs which is then hit with a hammer.
This is the part that requires the most skill. The cuttlefish must be smashed just enough to make it tender but not too much, otherwise it will fall apart. “Gently,” Dyg Zunika says.
To make sure it remains soft and flat, it must be smashed on a smooth, flat surface.
“We usually use belian wood,” Dyg Zunika added. “It’s more durable, and the cuttlefish will not crumble on this wood. But it will crumble if you over-smash it.”
The dish, while delicious on its own, is often served with dipping sauce in order to enhance the taste.
Salim, from Kampung Tupong in Petrajaya, is known for his “sambal kicap” which he has been making and selling with suntong tutok for nearly three decades now.
He said the sauce is crucial to enhancing the flavour and aroma of the dish.
“Many customers have praised my sauce as the best in town,” he said, adding that they describe it as addictive.
When asked about his secret, he said the recipe was handed down to him from his grandmother.
“The basic ingredients are chillies, peanuts, soy sauce and sugar.”
Further than that, he will not say although he does provide a hint.
“To make it more delicious, you must use ingredients that make the sauce aromatic so that customers are not disappointed.”