“If I don’t pass it on, everything will be gone. I want people to eat traditional Rawon cuisine from this generation to the next. – Mdm Roslina Mohd Shariff, owner of Mr Rawon – the House of Traditional Cuisine
Mdm Roslina Mohd Shariff, 53, and her husband Mr Haji Kamal, 65, serve up authentic Rawon cuisine at their restaurant, Mr Rawon – the House of Traditional Cuisine.
Located at 51 Changi Business Park Central 2, The Signature #01-01, the restaurant is a labour of Roslina’s love for cooking and Rawon cuisine.
Hailing from Surabaya in East Java, Indonesia, Rawon cuisine is served with its signature black gravy. The gravy’s colour is derived from black nuts or buah keluak, which is blended with a medley of spices including garlic, shallots, ginger, candlenut, turmeric, red chilli, and salt.
The spices are then sautéed in oil, before being added to a boiling pot of beef stock together with cubes of beef. To elevate the taste, lemongrass, galangal, bay leaves, kaffir lime leaves and sugar are also added.
Finally, the rich gravy is garnished with green onions and fried shallots, and served with rice, bean sprouts, salted eggs, shrimp crackers and sambal chilli sauce on the side.
Although it is a cuisine of the common folk, Rawon cuisine has also been favoured by the royal family.
Roslina inherited her recipes and culinary skills from her mother, who learned to cook authentic Rawon dishes after she married Roslina’s Javanese father. As Roslina was keen to learn traditional Rawon cuisine, her mother became her culinary teacher.
“If I didn’t learn it, my mother’s authentic Rawon cuisine would be gone,” says Roslina, who used to operate a stall at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and later, a family restaurant in Yishun.
Mr Rawon’s signature dishes, such as Nasi Rawon, Nasi Jenganan and Nasi Ambeng, are universally popular with diners of various ethnicities.
The Recipe for Success: Passion
With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Roslina’s formula for managing her Rawon restaurant business is simple – passion.
Passion is the ingredient that keeps her going. She has been working for 14 hours a day, without a single day off since she took over the business from her mother at the young age of 19.
“She can stay in the kitchen from morning till night,” discloses her husband Haji.
“I am very happy working in the kitchen,” she admits, her face glowing with pride.
Roslina and Haji are always pleased to hear praises from their customers about their food.
“When my customers are happy, we are happy too,” says Haji.
“It’s not about the profits. Because the profits are not much after covering expenses for the rental, labour and food costs,” Roslina chimes in.
Though she has little rest, she doesn’t mind the long hours and is never tired, as she has put her heart and soul into her restaurant business, doing her best to preserve traditional Rawon cuisine.
Passing On to the Next Generation
Abiding by this credo, Roslina hopes to pass on her business and culinary skills to passionate individuals. She also believes in giving everyone, including ex-offenders, a second chance.
Like many other restaurant retailers, labour has always been an issue for Roslina. She finds it hard to hire locals, as working in the F&B sector necessitates long working hours and working on weekends. Labour shortage was also the reason why she was forced to sell off her family restaurant to a friend.
To solve the labour crunch, Roslina has been receptive to employing ex-offenders and elderly workers.
“Never mind if they are problematic, I will train them. As long as they love working in the kitchen,” she says with a kind smile.
“Before, I used to employ those aged over 50. They were very committed and reliable. They came to work regularly, and seldom gave me problems,” says Roslina, who was the first person to sell Rawon cuisine in a foodcourt. She once owned as many as 11 stalls in Kopitiam and Koufu foodcourts across Singapore, employing around 15 workers.
This time, she intends to re-establish a new family restaurant and transform her business into a social enterprise. She hopes to hire ex-offenders with the support of the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE) and the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE). Under raiSE’s ‘Venture for Good’, she can receive $300,000 in funds to set up the restaurant.
“I want to give them [ex-offenders] a second chance. I want them to learn my authentic Rawon cuisine,” enthuses Roslina, whose son and daughter have shown limited interest in carrying on her restaurant business.
“If I could employ people who really have the passion, I don’t mind teaching them. I cannot keep my recipes till I die. Why not pass it on to them?”
Rising costs in rental and raw materials, and a shortage of manpower have not deterred Roslina, who acutely feels she has a duty to pass down authentic Rawon cuisine to the next generation.
She thinks traditional cuisine will disappear from local eateries in the next 5 – 10 years.
“If I don’t pass it on, everything will be gone. I want people to eat traditional Rawon cuisine from this generation to the next,” she says.