When one thinks of Malaysia, one would no doubt think of the food. Nasi lemak, kuih (local cakes), char kuey teow, you name it! Malaysia’s multiculturalism has contributed to the variety of food we have, which leads us on to ‘mamak‘ stalls. Every Malaysian knows what a ‘mamak‘ stall is and if you are a tourist planning on coming to Malaysia, dining at one of these ‘mamak‘ stalls would definitely complete your entire trip!
The term ‘mamak‘ originally refers to migrants of the Indian Muslim community mainly from the southern region of (currently) India or Pakistan. Over the past six centuries, the mamak travelled the lands, trading with the locals wherever they sailed. Eventually, some of them stayed behind, settled down and started businesses. Instead there is a wider meaning behind it.
Beginning Of A Uniquely Malaysian Culture
The mouth-watering dishes have enabled the ‘mamak’ stalls in Malaysia to thrive in Malaysia over the years. It is safe to say that all Malaysians have grown to share the love for these appetising (not to mention, sinful) meals. It is here where you can find Malaysians enjoying their favourite meals and having friendly conversations in a lively ambience. Malaysians generally regard ‘mamaks’ as the equivalent of a Western concept café. Comparing the ‘mamak‘ with a modern café, they are open-air establishments and are usually open 24 hours, seven days a week and all year round. Kuala Lumpur is known to be the city that never sleeps. It is obvious the ubiquitous ‘mamak‘ stalls epitomise the bustling nightlife in this capital city.
The Flourish Of ‘Mamak’ Stalls
It has become a favourite hangout for most Malaysians during the wee hours in the morning, especially during football seasons. ‘Mamak‘ stalls now have televisions set up for people to catch up with their favourite sports or football teams live on TV. The ‘mamak‘ stalls will be packed to the brim during major sports events where our national athletes are competing internationally. The other reason contributing to the success of these ‘mamaks‘ is the inexpensive meals along with its reasonable portions. It has become a popular and favoured al fresco eatery among Malaysians today. Here comes the next question: what does a ‘mamak‘ stall look like and how do you spot one? It is as easy as pie! Just be on the look out for foldable tables and chairs along the street or even over parking spaces and voila you’ve found them!
“Jom, Mamak!” “Aneh, Teh Tarik Satu!”
Closely-tied to the topic of food is our language. As a matter of fact, Malaysia is one of the very few countries whereby most of its citizens are either bilingual or multilingual. The significance about being a Malaysian is that we share a common lingua franca: the beauty of Malaysian-English (aka ‘rojak‘ language). Some of the common phrases synonymous to the topic of ‘mamaks‘ are: “Jom, lepak mamak!” (Let’s go hang out at a mamak!), and “Aneh, teh tarik satu!” (One ‘pulled tea’, big brother!). As a mark of respect to call the ‘mamaks‘, Malaysians would use the word ‘aneh’ as a sign of respect.
The Big Reveal!
So, what’s with all the craze about Malaysians and meals at ‘mamak‘ stalls (other than the affordability and good food)? For starters we have the ever-famous delicious teh tarik perfect for anyone at any time of day and a taste of roti canai: the definition of plain but mouth-watering. If a plain roti canai isn’t for you and you are craving for something more substantial, just throw in an egg and you have roti telur! And if that’s not convincing enough, don’t fret, that’s not all! To further elaborate, there are also other main dishes that include mee goreng (fried noodles the mamak way), murtabak (minced chicken or beef packed in a packet of dough) and tandoori chicken that we eat with naan bread (oven-baked bread).
Next Stop: ‘Mamak‘ Stalls!
Growing up in Malaysia with ‘mamak‘ stalls, I have found my perfect go-to ‘mamak‘ stall or Indian restaurant! Despite going there countless times, they never once disappointed me. Located in Cheras, Kayu Nasi Kandar is a ‘mamak‘ stall that serves a great variety of dishes. Ranging from nasi kandar to roti canai, believe me, you would end up ordering everything they have. Besides, did I mention that they are also open 24 hours? Check out their details here!
If you’re looking for a place to hang out with your friends or just to have a drink, drop by a ‘mamak‘ stall and ‘lepak‘ away! Below are some links to different websites showing lists of stalls or restaurants worth trying:
- The Ten Best Banana Leaf Spots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Five banana leaf restaurants in KL you must try
- Malaysia: A Guide to Ordering at Mamak Stalls (Penang)
Want a foreigner’s take on this? Head on over and read it here!