Umai: The Exquisite Raw Fish Salad

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When we think of raw fish dishes, sushi from Japan or ceviche from Latin America might first come to mind. However, if you’re eager to explore more diverse culinary landscapes, allow us to introduce you to Umai, a hidden gem in the world of seafood delicacies. Hailing from the shores of Malaysia and Borneo, Umai is a traditional raw fish salad that captures the heart and soul of indigenous communities.

The Roots of Umai

Umai is deeply entrenched in the traditions of the Melanau community, a coastal indigenous group in Sarawak. Historically, fishermen consumed this dish as a quick meal when they were out at sea. Using freshly caught seafood, primarily fish, they would prepare Umai on their boats without the need for cooking. Over time, this rustic dish has been refined and has found its way into homes and restaurants, enchanting a larger audience.

Source: Airasia Play

The Umai Ingredients

While the specific recipe is subject to variations depending on regional influences and family traditions, the foundation of Umai remains the same: fresh, raw fish, often marinated to perfection. Fish used are typically mackerel or barracuda, prized for their sweet and tender meat. To complement the fish, a concoction of shallots, chillies, lime juice, and salt is often added. The result? A dish bursting with flavours, each bite a journey to the coastal communities where it originated.

A Healthy Indulgence

Besides being an explosion of flavours, Umai is also packed with health benefits. Raw fish, especially marine varieties, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, known to promote heart health and reduce inflammation. Moreover, the dish’s simplicity ensures that the nutrients remain intact, providing a wholesome meal with proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

Umai in Modern Times

In recent years, Umai has found its way into the menus of upscale restaurants, not just in Malaysia but across the world. Chefs, ever eager to bring indigenous dishes to the global palate, have embraced Umai, giving it contemporary twists. From pairing it with avocado to presenting it in sophisticated platings, Umai has undergone a renaissance, solidifying its position on the global culinary stage.

umai salad
Source: TheStar


More than just a seafood salad, Umai is a testament to Malaysia’s rich culinary tapestry and the innovation of the Melanau community. It’s a dish that tells a story, transports you to the shores of Sarawak, and leaves an indelible mark on your taste buds. So, the next time you’re exploring Malaysian cuisine, remember to venture beyond the mainstream and savour the delightful journey that Umai promises.

Article curated by Himavee Jayaweera