Mamak Malaysian Restaurant
For those unfamiliar with the term, Mamak refers to the Tamil-Muslims of Malaysia who own and operate often twenty-four hour street stalls. Mamak itself is a small place situated towards the back of the Chancery, with room for seating inside and out. Attention to décor is evident and there are gas-heaters and awnings to shelter patrons from the elements. I chose to book a table in their small but cosy shop-front. Indoors, it is all dark-wood furniture contrasted with cream-coloured walls with natural stone accents.
Mamak’s menu contains all the usual suspects, plus a few strangers. The unanimous entrée of all things Asian, the spring roll, managed to weasel its way in, as did some pan-fried leek ‘gyoza’ which harks back to Japan. These would never be found at a Mamak in Malaysia, but nonetheless were ordered by my friends and whilst inauthentic, were nonetheless crisp, delicious, and beautifully presented in white paper and wooden boxes. The hungrier amongst us ordered from the more substantial mains menu which most of us were at pains to finish. Everything at Mamak was generous and like most things in Malaysia, a steal.
Whenever I’m in Malaysia, I can’t help but sample nasi lemak wherever I go. Whilst its elements are essentially the same; the ikan bilis, the fragrant coconut rice, the cucumber and peanuts and hard-boiled egg and sambal, each has its own unique twang. So at Mamak, I couldn’t help but order their version, but vowing to come back for the roti canai and Mamak mee goreng on another day.
An unusual addition to my nasi lemak was a side of sautéed cabbage, curry-yellow, and spiced with cumin and turmeric, which was sweet and mellow. It was also accompanied by a beef rendang curry, and whilst the beef was slightly on the dry side (a tricky balance to strike as the curry itself is meant to be ‘dry’) it had a subtle nuttiness leant to it by the addition of toasted coconut and I was in raptures over the taste, and sight, of curry leaves. The quintessential sambal, almost like a relish but without the astringency, was full of onion, chilli and ikan bilis and wonderfully hot.
The final additions, which I can never get enough of, were the deep-fried ikan bilis and roasted peanuts. Ikan bilis are not dissimilar to our more familiar whitebait, and both leant a moreish saltiness and crunch that makes nasi lemak, in my opinion, the ideal meal. My friend ordered the chicken curry with roti canai and a side of sambal prawns, the latter of which had been grilled on skewers and basted with sambal; these prawns were perfectly cooked till tender, and its marinade hot enough to have me reaching for my glass of water. Her roti canai were perfection; almost like a flaky pastry, with golden-brown blisters on the outside but soft and steamy in the middle.
It was fabulously comforting food, with tender chicken and the curry gravy resplendent with turmeric, curry leaves, cardamom, ginger and cumin. Someone else in our group declared her vegetarian mee goreng ‘yum’ and we took another’s relative silence to mean she enjoyed her satay chicken with rice; she seemed too busy eating to be bothered talking.
Are you a Malaysian home-sick for the taste of home? Or a student wanting a decent feed for a reasonable fare? Even if you fit neither of those categories, Mamak appears to have universal appeal: they even cater for vegetarians. Mamak serves a well-translated menu of some of the best Malaysia has to offer, but be prepared to book. Word about Mamak has already gotten round and a free-seat around dinner time is an unlikely sight.