Umai is a popular, traditional, native dish of the Melanau ethnic group in Sarawak. It is prepared using thin slices of raw marine fish marinated with calamansi juice and seasoned with other ingredients. The local people believe that the acidity of the citrus juice, along with the use of salt and spice, can slightly cook the fish and remove the fishy smell. The aim of this study was to investigate (i) the different umai handling and preparation practices and (ii) the personal experience of umai consumption among respondents. A purposive sample of 100 umai makers, divided into two equal groups, professionals and nonprofessionals, participated in the study. We found that Spanish mackerel and hairfin anchovy were ranked first and second in the list of species chosen for making umai, with the former mostly preferred by the professional group, as opposed to the latter, which was preferred by the nonprofessional group. Black pomfret was ranked third, where it is equally preferred by both groups. About 20% of respondents would freeze the raw fish chunks prior to preparing umai, as opposed to 26% who would sun dry their fish. Other techniques, such as salting and marinating (using calamansi juice), were also used during the preparation of umai. Most of the respondents indicated that they would consider the umai ready to eat soon after marinating (with all ingredients) the raw fish. One‐third of both respondent groups indicated that they would chill the umai dish at 4°C for 30 min before serving. The respondents could not provide any rationale behind these food preparation practices. Overall, this study provides evidence of the different preparation methods for umai. These practices can thus be considered important targets for public health education campaigns seeking to improve food safety surrounding this food group.

  • Umai is a ceviche-like dish but prepared without heat, posing a health concern.

  • Twenty-six percent of respondents sun dry while 20% freeze their fish as a preparatory method.

  • Both groups (<50%) presumed that umai preparation could reduce foodborne illness.

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