Recipe Umai

Umai is a traditional dish hailing from the Malaysian state of Sarawak, particularly popular among the indigenous communities such as the Melanau and Iban. This dish showcases the vibrant flavors of fresh fish, typically mackerel or white fish, mixed with an array of aromatic herbs and spices. Umai is often likened to ceviche, as it involves marinating raw fish in citrus juices, resulting in a refreshing and zesty flavor profile. Let's delve into the art of crafting this delectable Sarawakian specialty.


  • 500g fresh mackerel or white fish fillets, deboned and finely diced
  • 4-5 limes, juiced
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 red chilies, thinly sliced
  • 1 thumb-sized ginger, finely grated
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, finely chopped
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Begin by thoroughly washing and patting dry the fish fillets. Ensure there are no bones left.
  2. Dice the fish into small, bite-sized pieces and place them in a mixing bowl.
  3. Squeeze the lime juice over the diced fish, ensuring it is fully submerged. Let it marinate for about 10-15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the aromatics. Thinly slice the red onion and red chilies. Grate the ginger and finely chop the lemongrass.
  5. After marinating, drain excess lime juice from the fish.
  6. Add the sliced red onion, red chilies, grated ginger, chopped lemongrass, diced cucumber, and chopped cilantro to the fish.
  7. Season with salt and pepper according to taste preferences. Mix all the ingredients together until well combined.
  8. Serve immediately as a refreshing appetizer or light meal.

Tips for Perfect Umai:

  • Use the freshest fish possible to ensure the best flavor and texture.
  • Adjust the amount of chili according to your spice tolerance.
  • Allow the fish to marinate in lime juice for just the right amount of time to prevent it from becoming too acidic.
  • For a twist, you can add diced tomatoes or mango for extra sweetness and texture.


  • Seafood Umai: Incorporate a mix of seafood such as prawns, squid, and scallops for a luxurious twist.
  • Fruit Umai: Experiment with adding tropical fruits like pineapple or mango to introduce a sweet contrast to the tangy flavors.
  • Vegetarian Umai: Substitute the fish with firm tofu or avocado for a vegetarian-friendly version of this dish.

Nutritional Information:

The calorie content of Umai can vary depending on factors such as the type of fish used and the amount of added ingredients. On average, a serving of Umai (approximately 1 cup) contains around 150-200 calories, primarily from protein and healthy fats.


Umai encapsulates the essence of Sarawakian cuisine with its bold flavors and simple preparation. This traditional dish not only tantalizes the taste buds but also celebrates the abundance of fresh seafood and aromatic herbs found in the region. Whether enjoyed as a light appetizer or a main course, Umai offers a delightful culinary experience that showcases the rich cultural heritage of Sarawak. So, why not embark on a gastronomic journey and savor the vibrant flavors of Umai today?


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