Sarawak spice shop all decked up for Chinese New Year

Mohd Jaya stands among the Chinese New Year decorations at his shop.

KUCHING: From a distance, Mohd Jaya’s shop is indistinguishable from the many Chinese stores throughout the city, decked out in red for Chinese New Year.

Located beside a mosque on Jalan Datuk Ajibah Abol, it is festooned with lanterns and ribbons. The Chinese symbol for good fortune is on prominent display, along with strings of fake firecrackers and stalks of spring flowers.

Jaya, who is of Malay and Indian descent, says many people mistake his shop for a Chinese store. But in fact, he sells spices and traditional cakes.

He inherited the business from his grandfather. He and his family have been running the store for 50 years now. Every year, he decorates his shop according to the festivals celebrated by the communities in Sarawak, including Christmas, Gawai, Hari Raya and Chinese New Year.

He was inspired to do so after noticing the festive decorations in shopping malls.

“They were very impressive, and I thought of doing the same thing as well since I own a shop.”

This year’s Chinese New Year decorations were a collaboration with his sister and close friends.

“My family and I celebrate Hari Raya, but I really enjoy decorating,” he told FMT. “Besides, I think it’s nice to show support for other celebrations.”

Jaya’s family began the business as a sundry shop but branched out in the late 80s to sell traditional cakes and cookies as well, including the famous Sarawak layer cake.

“But we continue to sell curry pastes and spices too,” the 43-year-old added.

They also provide catering services for festive occasions, spearheaded by his uncle.

“We have a lot of Chinese customers who order biryani rice, lamb and chicken curry as well as rendang for Chinese New Year,” he said, adding that this is the norm for Chinese in Sarawak.

It’s a busy time for Jaya, who also receives orders from Peninsular Malaysia. But no matter how busy he gets, he never forgets to put up the decorations.

In fact, he’s already planning for the upcoming Gawai and Hari Raya celebrations.

“Because the gap between Gawai and Hari Raya is close this year, I plan to decorate my shop with a combination of both themes,” he says.