Thought of the day-“You are what you believe yourself to be.”-Paulo Coelho
It’s a long stretch, that route we saw from above, from Papar town to Tuaran Town. In the middle is Kota Kinabalu City. This particular route is about 88 KM long with so many amazing eateries here and there. There is no list whatsoever, a complete and updated one that pin point exact location of Halal and Muslim Friendly eateries located along that long stretch. It’s making Muslim Visitors having to google for information and will always end up with something outdated, a list of 10-12 eateries. That was it. The writer don’t even bother to verify by visiting and dining, giving a clearer picture. This is our initiative. Creating that list which will be updated yearly. A project that we named as Halal/Muslim Friendly/Healthy Food Trek for 2017-2018..
We will be in Taiwan and Hong Kong this December 2017. While being there, we will be creating that Food Trek list for our Muslim readers/followers. It’s kind of a guide on where to dine. Having to literally living in Kota Kinabalu city, we felt that it is important to create that Food Trek Guide in our own city before venturing to other parts of the world.
Mind you, this is not a ‘touch and go’ list. Normally a list of the same Food Trek ended just like that without being updated yearly. We will be the first one to update it on yearly basis, keeping the existing brands and adding some newer brands. It will not only help the Muslim diners in making the right choice but it will also give greater options to the food hunters in general.
We have the same interest in doing this for Bali, Indonesia but that will be in 2019. Not now. The urge to help creating the awareness of Halal Tourism gets bigger and bigger every single day. It’s time to do something for the betterment of Muslim Diners as well as giving that exposure to some hidden great brands (eateries).
This is the 1st year of such project. We had to and still extending invitations to eateries along that Papar to Tuaran route. We invite eateries that we are aware of their Halal Certified Status. We also invite eateries that are Muslim Friendly, not Halal Certified but eliminates the presence of Pork and Alcohol in the menu.
It is important to note that there are so many eateries out there that are good to go for applying the Halal status from the related authority. However, due to some unavoidable reasons, they remain to be at that Muslim Friendly status. We do look forward to invite eateries that are serving Healthy Food as well but we will ensure that they are at least Muslim Friendly.
The Muslim Friendly Term
In Kota Kinabalu city, we noticed that some eateries use that ‘Serve No Pork‘ term. It is a way to tell Muslim Diners that they do not serve Pork in their menu. For some selected eateries, we will re-phrase that term to Muslim Friendly. In Taiwan, China, Korea and even Japan, some restaurants are categorized as Halal Certified and Muslim Friendly.
We must remind our readers that the use of Muslim Friendly term is of our own personal recommendation and not that of the related authority. We recommend such eateries as an option for Muslim Diners as not all eateries are Halal Certified. It is our own decision that we make by personally visiting the eateries.
There will be no doubts for eateries that are already given that Halal status. For some that are not Halal Certified, we will see if it’s good enough for Muslim Diners. We will never ever recommend eateries that serves Pork and Alcohol. It’s against our own principles if we do that.
That said, we leave the final decision for those planning to visit Kota Kinabalu to decide on their own. It will be up to them either to dine at a particular restaurant or move on to the next recommendations. As Food Writers, we can only list down and elaborate on the servings and surroundings of selected eateries. We can’t and will not force anyone to follow the guide.
How we work on the list
We will be looking around for eateries that we believe in their ability to serve good food to customers. Food Quality is one important thing as well as Halal or Muslim Friendly status. To the brands that fulfill both important criteria, we will send invitation and see if they want to host us. If they are willing to host us, we will be looking deeper into their menu.
We are open to all types of eateries, from 5 star restaurants to road side hawkers. Apart from that Halal/Muslim Friendly status and Food Quality factors, we are very strict about cleanliness. We do not want to end up listing a filthy eatery that will cost our good name. We want to give the best recommendation. The last thing we need is to receive an email that bluntly criticizing us for some bad recommendation.
We will write-up our dining experience and will be listing selected eateries in our Halal/Muslim Friendly Kota Kinabalu Food Trek 2017-2018. This list will be updated on yearly basis and every year we will make a fresh visit to each eatery. This is to ensure that we list the good ones and omit the eateries that cease operation or goes off the course of being at least Muslim Friendly.
Digital Map (Food Trek)
We are trying to produce a Digital Map by January 30, 2018 and that particular map will show all the selected eateries with links to the write-up. No one has ever created such a map and we take that initiative to produce one. Readers will only need to scroll along the map’s route (from Papar to Tuaran) and it will show the selected eateries.
It’s kind of a way to help diners from Papar to Kota Kinabalu up to Tuaran to choose an eatery based on food/theme(s), location, menu and status (Halal/Muslim Friendly). A traveller will also be able to choose the right eatery that nearer to his or her hotel. It’s one single search instead spending hours googling for such information.
Such initiative will help all parties even the Tourism Industry. The diners get to easily choose their preferred dining outlets, the selected brands get some good name via online promotion, the Muslim diners are driven correctly to the Halal/Muslim Friendly eateries, food hunters will have more options and we somehow accomplish our social responsibility in promoting Halal Food. It’s a win-win situation.
The biggest challenge that we will face is funding. This is a self-funded project. We need to move around and constantly be online to relay the valuable information to readers. Moving around means we need funding and we are not funded by big organizations. Fund is crucial and for that we rely on the generosity of some people to fund this project. Something that is not so clear that at times putting this project to kind of an uncertainty level.
The second obvious challenge is, doubt. Some business minded people constantly doubt our effort. We are doing this for the betterment of diners (especially the Muslim Diners) and at the same time giving that exposure for the selected brands. We do realize that we are not famous bloggers but at least we do something noble. Some people do misunderstood our effort and start accusing us things. There is nothing we can do about this except being patient. We say nothing further to those that doubt us.
The sensitivity level of this project is quite alarming. We are aware of the risk. While promoting brands to customers is one good way for reaching the right market (target group), Halal issue is something that can’t be compromised. Being Halal Certified is great status for eateries in Malaysia, it gives that assurance to Muslim Diners that what they are about to eat is in accordance to the Islam principles.
We invited one brand that we trust so much. We trust the brand for its food quality and best of all, it’s Halal Certified. The next thing we got were questions like ‘why do you need to visit the Kitchen?’. In our letter of invitation, we have never ever mention that we want to visit the kitchen. Kitchen is not a place for diners. Our intention is just to do some food tasting, take photos and go home, writing the experience and then listing the brand. That’s all.
We are not qualified enough to go into the kitchen. We are not the inspectors. We have no right to check the ingredients. That is not our job. We are not chefs or cooks. We are food writers and our place is, the dining table. Our task is to write about the experience and tell readers especially Muslim Diners that it’s alright to have meals at this eatery as it’s Halal Certified. For this particular challenge, we will choose to remain silent.
The next challenge is being able to convince eateries’ owners. It’s not one easy task to talk to the Public Relation Officer or the owner of an eatery. For bigger organization such as hotel, there is this red tape that we have to go through. The PR officer might like the idea but the big boss might not or the big boss might agree to the idea but do not know about it simply because the PR officer thinks that we are small ants of all the bloggers in Sabah. We will try our best to convince but at the end of the day, it’s up to the people who owns the businesses. Not us.
The urge to see faster result is another challenge. When we invite a particular eatery, there are times when the owner wants to see dramatic results in the number of customers coming to the restaurant. This is not a project to drive customers directly, on a faster rate, to the eateries that we select. This is a project that gives priority to create the awareness among diners, that there are great eateries out there with Halal Certificate or at least Muslim Friendly.
This project is to write about the selected eateries, their great offerings and their status (Halal/Muslim Friendly) and pin point their location in a digital map. It’s not a project to suddenly boost traffic to the selected eateries. We want to recommend Halal/Muslim Friendly eateries and their best a la carte dishes. We want Muslim diners to have that peace of mind when dining in Kota Kinabalu or its surrounding areas. We want to give greater options to the food hunters, the foodies. We are not direct boosters to the business growth of eateries. We recommend and people choose.
So far some eateries kept quite when they received the invitations. They’re a bit indecisive, perhaps weighing in the pros and cons. Technically, that is alright. We are doing this voluntarily and do not expect everyone to follow. What we really worry about is when we come to our conclusion of the project (scheduled on November 30, 2017), the eateries that chose to remain indecisive will send emails indicating their frustration for not being listed although they are Halal Certified. To settle this problem, we will recommend the second round listing, 2018-2019.
Are we qualified Food Writers/Critics?
We are and technically speaking, we have all the experiences to become food critics. Our main income is not from blogging. As mentioned in our earlier article, we are Mystery Shoppers. It’s one of our way to earn good money. It gives more money than blogging. Most of the time we have to do rounds at famous brands that sells food. We have to ‘pretend as genuine customers’. We professionally evaluate the quality of the product (obviously food) as well as service.
To have that ability in evaluating (as professionals), we sat for so many tests, oral and written, that determined our capabilities to see things in details and reporting objectively. We are in our 5th year now doing rounds as Professional Mystery Shoppers. Some people regard it as a job of External Auditor. We are able to see the smallest details, in food that are presented to us. That said, we have the qualifications, accredited by sharp eyes of the Companies that hire us all this while.
Halal Certification List by the authority
We work along the current list of JHEAINS (Jabatan Hal Ehwal Agama Islam Negeri Sabah). In that list, JHEAINS listed all eateries that are Halal Certified, complete with the expiration date of their certificate. Before we regard that an eatery is Halal Certified, we will double check with the list produced by JHEAINS. In this coming few days, I will personally go to JHEAINS office to see if the list that I have is a valid one.
We will never ever say that an eatery is Halal Certified if it’s not actually certified by the authority. Halal Certified means that it’s literally certified, the certificate is clearly visible in the restaurant and the name of the restaurant is in the list. What about eateries that are serving food in accordance to Islam principles but yet to be Halal Certified? We will regard them as Muslim Friendly. To ensure that this is correctly done, we will dine at that particular eateries.
Do know that some eateries are managed and owned by Muslims but are not Halal Certified. Most of the time, Muslims end up dining at such eateries simply because they believe in the owners capabilities to serve Halal Food. It is a matter of choice, individual decision based on what they see, feel and think. There are some eateries that belongs to Non Muslim owners but the staffs are all Muslims that adhere to the religion’s principles.
It is one very subjective issue and again, will be up to individuals to decide the best for themselves. That is why we are having 2 categories in this project, the Halal Certified eateries and the Muslim Friendly eateries. Our job is to recommend and not force anyone to adhere. We are simply giving that options. At the end of the day, it’s the diners choice, not us.
We build the list for the betterment of Muslim Diners, foodies/food hunters in general, the brands/eateries and indirectly, Sabah Tourism Industry. While Halal Tourism is still far from being succesfully implemented in this state, at least someone start to do something about it. We are doing it to help diners with specific needs. For the brands/eateries that wish not to be listed, we will respect that decision. Our duty is to spread good news of the food industry in Sabah.
Last but not least, we respect the choice of having non halal food among non Muslims. It’s their right and this is a democratic country. As Food Writers a.k.a bloggers, we have our own right and way to write things that we want to. Introducing our new project, The Halal/Muslim Friendly/Healthy Kota Kinabalu Food Trek for 2017-2018.