SPICES vs COVID – NO, TRADERS AIN’T QUITTING!!

Variety of spice powders for cooking available at Yacob Sahib Trading in Gambier Road, Kuching. Photo: Mohd Alif Noni

He who controls the spice controls the universe, so wrote American author Frank Herbert in Dune, a novel series of soft science fiction.

Spices have played a major role in the development and sustenance of civilisations. Those who had a firm grip of the spice trade in ancient times truly controlled, “the universe” as it was known at that time.

Perhaps taking the cuefrom the early spice merchants, a family of athree-generation spice business here has no intention of raising the white flag despite suffering a huge blow due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Established since 1933, Yacob Sahib Trading located at Jalan Gambier, has been standing strong as one of the best spice shops in the city.

Assortment of spice powders available at Syarikat Pakkir Mohamed shop. Photo: Mohd Alif Noni

Its owner Mohamad Iskandar Abdul Kader, 50, said the family business was founded by his grandparents who migrated from India and settled down in Kuching about 88 years ago.

A worker showing the raw spice known as manjakani which contains a lot of benefits, especially for the women. Photo: Mohd Alif Noni

“The business was passed down to my father before I took over in 1992. It has gone through three generations in my family and I don’t intend to have the business go bust,” he told New Sarawak Tribune.

He admitted that since the Covid-19 pandemic in March last year, the business was affected due to the movement control order (MCO) implemented to curb the spread of infection.

“Due to the movement restriction, we suffered about 70 percent drop in business income during that period.

“Even though we were open for business, we had fewer customers. At the same time, I also tried my very best to maintain the business as I did not wish to resort to downsizing the workers.

“Fortunately, the MCO enforcement was not that long as it started to relax after about two months. If it prolongs, the business would be dead meat,” he explained.

He said that people have started to flock into his shop again after the MCO but the number of customers were still fewer than usual.

Abdul Kader promotes the spice powders to a customer. Photo: Mohd Alif Noni

Nonetheless, he believed that the business would recover as time goes by.

The shop markets around 60 types of spices. Of these, 30 are homemade products such as rempah ayam penyet, rempah ayam bakar, rempah ayam percik, rempah masak hitam, rempah rendang and rempah briyani.

“The rempah ayam penyet is the most hot-selling spice in my shop with about 20 packets sold daily,” he said.

The shop also sells spices by weight so that the customers could buy them in their own preferred amount.

Meanwhile, another spice business owner Abdul Kalam Mohamad, 50, said his Syarikat Pakkir Mohamed was one of the shops that survived the impact of Covid-19.

“When the MCO was first put in place, my business dropped by 90 percent, and was on the verge of bankruptcy.

“However, once the MCO was relaxed over time, my business was able to pick up the pace and it is slowly recovering now,” he said.

A worker of Syarikat Pakkir Mohamed scooping the raw spice for customer. Photo: Mohd Alif Noni

The family business founded by his father, has been operating since 1960s.

Apart from selling spices mainly from Penang, the shop also sells other products such as onions and herbs.

“It is a horror to note how the Covid-19 pandemic can have such a crippling impact on the economy, especially on my business.

“During that time, the number of customers declined drastically but I could not do anything about it. I didn’t even have the heart to fire my workers because they have been working with me for so long,” he said.

Assortment of raw spices at Syarikat Pakkir Mohamed shop. Photo: Mohf Alif Noni