'Mamak', managed by the Indian community who migrated from Southern India is popular with the locals. A famous hang-out, they gained popularity by offering food like 'roti canai', fried noodles, 'nasi lemak', 'nasi briyani', curries and of course, the signature 'teh tarik'.
As the 'Mamak' culture grew in popularity, the term is now widely used for stalls or restaurants of a similar set up. 'Mamak' stalls are also run by the local Malays. There may be no beef served in such establishments managed by the Hindus but beef dishes are available if the establishment is run by the Muslims.
What started out by the roadsides eventually evolved into restaurants equipped with Wi-Fi and television. The concept, however, remained unchanged whereby food is kept to its authentic recipes, bold flavours and traditional atmosphere. 'Mamak' eateries offer amazingly tasty food.
It is a popular hang-out among Malaysians to catch up with friends. It is also the place to go to after school, discuss a project or even catch the World Cup live! If hunger pangs hit you during the wee hours of the morning, 'Mamak' will be to your rescue as most of these eateries open till 1 am. There are some which operate for 24 hours.
Walking into a 'Mamak' restaurant feels like being in a relative’s home due to their friendliness. Besides that, you may also reach out to the waiters by calling them 'A-neh', (a term for elder brother in Tamil) or 'Bang', an abbreviated Malay word for ‘Abang’ which carries the same meaning. It really does feel like everyone is family there!
Besides being unpretentious and casual, 'Mamak' offers food at great prices, depending on the location of the restaurants, of course. Prices may begin from just a mere $0.20 USD! Back in 2012, when I was at a 'Mamak' with my family (there were 5 of us), we paid $6.14 USD for the meal. Certain eateries which are located in prime areas such as Kuala Lumpur City Centre may cost more.
The prices are undeniably affordable. What is even more attractive about 'Mamak' is the fact that most of the food is freshly cooked. Noodles are fried in a big wok as soon as an order is received. It is also always possible to catch the staff in action making the flat bread, known as 'Roti Canai', flipping and tossing the dough to prepare the fluffiest flat bread or the tallest sweet flat bread known as 'Roti Tisu'. Whatever it is, you will be able to smell the aroma of the freshly made food.
In larger 'Mamak' establishments, you will also get to choose from a selection of dishes from a stand. These dishes are continuously freshly cooked and added to the stand. The choices of curries available are already one of the good reasons to be at a 'Mamak'
Types of Food at 'Mamak'
Do not be surprised if you are not able to find any menu at a 'Mamak' because you are expected to know your stuff! The dishes available are generally similar across all these eateries. Among the basic dishes and drinks available are:
- Roti Canai Biasa/Telur (Plain flat bread/with Egg)
- Roti Tisu
- Roti Rawa
- Roti Naan
- Nasi Lemak
- Mee/Maggi Goreng
- Nasi Goreng
'Mamak' eateries are now more creative with their dishes and selection of food to stand out from the others. Some of them even offer western dishes and food that has Chinese influence such as Chinese-style fried noodles. There are also others who try to be different in their presentation by following the latest trends - think unicorn, think colourful! Check out this colourful Roti Canai. Not my kind, I would say. I prefer the plain 'Roti Canai' and a delicious cup of 'Teh Tarik' anytime.
Published: April 13, 2018