“Srikandi” is a character of Javanese Wayang, depicting a strong warrior-woman, able to overcome her struggles, trials and tribulations.
Serikandi is the name of the catering business started by the late Dayang Sharifah Hajah Maimunah Syed Mohammad in 1984 at Kuala Belait. Born to an Arab clan in Kuala Belait in 1941, her father was Bruneian, and her mother from Singapore.
Television host, entrepreneur, writer of cookery books, mother of eight and “Mak Andam”, her story would make her seem almost an early forerunner of Martha Stewart or a Nigella Lawson, but without the eight children, and I reckon that Martha has no idea how to administer a lulur.
My earliest memory of Sharifah Maimunah is of watching her RTB television program in the late 70’s, “Mari Memasak”, and her demonstrating the preparation of a banana fritter. Unlike some contemporary satellite channel presenters, her style was homely and engaging. Avuncular, only female.
By the way, is it my age? Why is it that current local shows are not such household names as they were then? Do you remember Ladies at Eleven? Dunia Minggu Ini? Liputan Nasional?
At the same time, she started and ran the Government Canteen in Kuala Belait in front of the St James School, then gained a contract to cater at the Kuala Belait Recreation Club. Packed lunches for oil workers were prepared and sold under the business name “Serikandi”. The link to the oil and gas industry remains until today, with an offshore catering business backing two outlets in Kuala Belait and Kuilap. She started and kept up a business providing cakes and kueh for Hari Raya.
Then there were the cookbooks, “Selera Serikandi” was first published in 1994 and reprinted many times. It provides recipes for staples such as Rendang, Serunding, Ayam Golek, sambal goreng and hati buyah. The second, “Selera Serikandi 2” provided recipes for cakes and dessert.
Some would say that you couldn’t have a wedding without an Imam or a Mak Andam. For many a Malay bride or groom, a Mak Andam is the elderly lady whose job is to make you glow. She scrubs you down with a rice flour lulur, waves the burning scented wood, maintains the behind the scenes order and generally keeps said bride or groom from bolting for the door. Mak Andams are a constant source of comfort in the heat and noise of a Brunei wedding. For a period in the seventies, Hajah Sharifah Maimunah was lucky enough to turn her hand to this. For as much comfort as they give though I think it’s scandalous how much Mak Andams are paid. She gave it up to concentrate fully on the food business.
To accomplish all of this, one must give credit to her industry and hard work (not to mention a supportive husband). Bear in mind at the same time she would have also raised her family of eight children. The name she chose for her business seems most fitting.
Hajah Sharifah Maimunah passed away last week; she was well loved and will be sorely missed by her husband, five sons and three daughters.
Photo courtesy of the late Hajah Sharifah Maimunah's family.
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