Mamak stalls are an integral part of urban life in Malaysia. Not so much al fresco dining as it is a sidewalk hangout spot, the mamak stall has become a permanent fixture and it is a trend that is distinctively Malaysian. Some of the popular food served at mamak stalls includes Maggi goreng, roti bakar, thosai, and the ever-popular teh tarik.
Teh tarik is more than just a cup of tea mixed with condensed milk; it is almost revered as a culture. Order a glass of teh tarik and watch the artful way in which the tea is tossed repeatedly from one mug to another to create a thick froth. A good cup of teh tarik is strong, brisk, and creamy so when you drink it, your mouth registers a full-bodied feel with a potent kick of sweetness. For a less sugar-laden treat, simply order yours “kurang manis.”
Maggi goreng is to mamak stalls what the burger is to American diners. Maggi goreng is made by simply frying instant noodles in a wok with various oils, spices, meats, and vegetables. All Maggi goreng plates start with the same noodles, but the additives vary dramatically, and no two versions are ever the same. The noodles are typically served with a single fried egg, sunny side up, and come with just enough flavour to stoke the taste buds.
Another must-have at a mamak stall is thosai. Adapted directly from the flat-iron pans of Chennai, thosai is the South Indian version of crêpes. The batter, made from crushed wheat flour and lentils, is spread on a round pan in circular motions. A perfectly made thosai should be thin and crisp. Served with chutney and curry, it is a wholesome meal, perfect for anytime of the day.
For individuals who don’t want to indulge in overly heavy food, there is always roti bakar (toasted bread) and half-boiled eggs. Roti bakar is a simple toast, where the bread is toasted with butter and sugar or kaya (coconut jam) slathered on top. What makes the toast special is that it is charcoal-grilled, giving it a natural smoky flavor. It usually comes with two halfboiled eggs which are broken into a cup. A little soy sauce is swirled into the runny eggs and the toasted bread is then dipped into the slurry before eating. An acquired taste, perhaps, but certainly authentically Malaysian.
Mamak stalls are a melting pot of cultures and a true symbol of Malaysia’s multiracial harmony. People of all races and religions frequent mamaks, and this crosses socioeconomic boundaries, too. It’s not uncommon to see a Mercedes S-class parked next to a Kancil or beaten-up motorbike. Here, everyone is equal. No other eatery in the country has quite the cultural significance of the mamak stall, so pull up a stool, place your order, and enjoy a bit of genuine Malaysia.
Source: The Expat December 2013
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