By Shazni Ong
“Annei, satu mee goreng dengan teh ais kurang manis!” (Annei, one fried noodles with iced tea, less sweet) or “Boss, roti canai satu, teh tarik satu kasi kaw punya.” (Boss, one roti canai, one nice pulled tea).
These are some of the well common quotes we often hear when Malaysians dine in their favourite place. In every society or community, there has to be that very ‘special place’ where people could meet up, eat, drink and socialise. And for this case, the mamak stalls not just for Abu(s), Ah Chong(s), Muthusamy(s), or even for myself; it’s everyone’s mamak!
For me, and for the millions of creeds and colours of Malaysians, the mamak restaurants have become one of the primary and favourite sources of food and drinks.
From rice and noodles to fish head curry (a definite, must try and yes, just like what’s stated: whole fish head, eyes and others swimming in big pots of curry) and other assortments such as beef, lamb, chicken and vegetables dishes, there will be something eatable here for everyone even for the picky ones.
In May 2011, a well-renown chef celebrity Gordon Ramsey had a go and tasted the Torpedo Soup. Don’t worry as you would not be killed or assassinated by it. Instead, you should have a go as well and try one since he is still alive till this day. And don’t forget to try the assortment of breads available (locally known as roti) where they are made either fresh from the oven like the na’an or in front of your very own eyes such as the roti canai.
As one of the 48 sovereign states of Asia, there are plentiful types of rice and noodle dishes available at mamak restaurants, more than one can shake a stick at when you come to think about it actually. Nasi goreng (fried rice) and mee goreng (fried noodles) are the primary staples being ordered here, but after you have picked either between these two, you would then have to choose how the food is going to be like.
Taking rice for instance, there is the famous, unique local kampung style, or if you prefer something abroad then there is the Chinese-Oriental style (Chinese fried rice) as well as the Western-style like the Nasi Goreng USA or in direct translation, American fried rice. For vegan eaters, no need to worry about since it even caters for vegan foodies. For noodles, on the other hand are no easier as well to decide upon. There is the Maggi (instant noodles), mee (a spaghetti-like type kind of noodle) or bihun (think of the angel hair pasta). With that being mentioned, you can also have ikan (fish), udang (prawns), sotong (squid), ayam (chicken), lembu (beef), or kambing (lamb) which can be cooked almost in many different ways you can think of, and to accompany the food you ordered earlier as side dishes.
Besides rice and noodles, roti (bread) is also one of the pioneered food that are of high choice or preferably ordered by those diners at the mamak. To decide which type of bread may cause bewilderment, even for the locals.
For roti, there is the undisputed number one choice which is the roti canai. And from that roti canai which is just a plain, hand-tossed bread and also the cheapest of them all, you can even have a variety of additional ingredients such as banana, cheese, egg and many more. Or you may even want to have a go with many other varieties of roti like the roti thosai which is nice, long, thin bread that is wrapped, roti tisu (tissue-like thin bread) or even the capati which has its origin from India. Whichever roti you choose from eventually, it always comes hot and fresh, served as well with mounded of finger licking gravy such as dhal and curry. Truly, it is a remarkable paradise for food enthusiasts and hunters.
And the drinks, oh my, the drinks. Teas, teas and more teas and their types. From arguably the national drink of Malaysia, the teh tarik (pulled tea) which is a tea that is decant back and forth between two cups to slightly cool it off before being served nice and bubbly, to teh ais which is iced tea stirred with thick, concentrated milk and teh o ais, which is almost identical to its South American cousin iced tea, the Mate.
There are also just as many different types as there are tea drinks for those aspiring coffee lovers. With a variety of selection on tea with combinations like sweet concentrated milk and sugar to go with for instance, it is like you are in a candy land. If you love your drinks to be sweet and sugary, then the right place for you to be is at the mamak! Do inform your waiter otherwise if you don’t prefer your drinks to be sweet.
How mamak has been attached to many Malaysians’ daily life, one has to understand how it is viable over eating. From breakfast and morning tea, to lunch and afternoon tea, and to dinner and supper, here in Malaysia, almost everything occurs over just a simple, short and quick drink or a meal, for business, pleasure and socialising ideally.
“I usually try a lot of food at the mamak. Most of the time when I dine in at the mamak, I like to eat Maggi goreng, Nasi goreng, and naan bread with Tandoori chicken. As for the drinks, it’s either hot or iced Nescafe, hot or iced Milo, ice tea or iced lemon tea.
For me, I now see mamak stalls as part of the Malaysian culture. If you want to hang out, the mamak place is the easiest place to do it. If you are hungry in the middle of the night, the mamak is one of the places that you can go. Frequency wise, I go to the mamak at least twice a week,” says game store manager, Abdul Hakim who normally drops by after working at the Nasi Kandar Pelita, one of the many famous mamak stall branches in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
“During my days as a university student, I frequently come by at this mamak called Maha Maju at the Kampar New Town. I will always order my favourite which is roti cheese susu (milk), it’s a variation of roti canai plus Kraft cheddar cheese slice and condensed milk; so it has a salty and sweet taste.
Best drink to go with these is definitely Neslo Ice (specifically add the word kaw kaw when you order and the mamak would never disappoint!) My choice of order no doubt is kind of hazardous to health if consumed frequently during long periods of time. I definitely realised that so I changed my menu nowadays (yes, I believe one can find healthier alternative at mamak too!)”
“Nowadays, I would rather go for thosai telur (no more roti canai as it contains ghee – not so healthy) and for drink I will go for teh O or limau ice kosong. I think mamaks are well loved by Malaysians from all walks of life. They are students’ late night supper hotspots, sports fans gather to support their favourite football team or even when Lee Chong Wei plays for the country, during weekends you can also find families having breakfast after their morning jog or taichi.
Plus, mamak also means affordable food. At a hawker stall you might be paying RM5 or RM6 for a bowl of noodles or rice dish – at mamak you can still get your roti, naan, thosai, capati at RM2.50 or less for each piece,” said Vevian Yew who currently works as a public relations executive at City University College of Science & Technology.
Even though talking of food is important, there is something even more important with mamak which makes this locale truly a unique nation and that is unity. With mamaks, every collective soul of the multi-racial Malaysians can somehow come together to make this nation a great place to stay. For myself and all other Malaysians, this is probably the best and utmost focal point where and how unity can actually be applied over this multi-cultural society.
So, whether it is the Bollywood or Indian songs being played over loudspeakers in the early hours of the morning, or giving support over some televised badminton finals over the weekend, or even watching an anticipated football match in the evening, there seems to be tolerance and understanding at its fullest among the people who come and gather at the mamak.
Life can just be so good over here at the mamak! ***
Picture from Christopher Tock's Personal Blog of Life's Conquest