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Food and Drink

The “mamak” story

Mamak stalls have become widely associated with Malaysian culture. Most Malaysian cities and towns have at least a handful of mamak stalls, especially in Kuala Lumpur. Mamak stalls have become popular gathering places; people often meet here to chat over either a few cup of drinks, or a full meal.

How did this come to be?

The term “mamak” refers to migrants of the Indian Muslim community, who originated from South India. Some of these migrants settled in Malaysia a long time ago, and have been regarded as part of the local Indian community. They also brought elements of their culture with them, such as their food, thus sowing the seeds for mamak stalls to thrive here.

How is it unique?
People enjoying food outside a mamak stall in Selangor, Malaysia. Most mamak stalls have “restoran” (meaning “restaurant” in Malay) on their signboards.
Image source: Time Out (timeout.com)

Mamak stalls can be big or small; they can either take up a shoplot (sometimes one in the corner), or can be set up with a small canopy and some chairs, though this is less common in large cities. Mamak stalls are also known for their open-air dining atmosphere, though you can also dine indoor sometimes. Many mamak stalls are open 24 hours, especially in urban areas, so you can go there for a quick meal at any time!

Mamak stalls have gained a reputation of providing affordable, yet tasty food. One of the main dishes to try out when visiting a mamak stall is the roti canai, a type of flatbread dish, and its nearly countless variations.

Other dishes that can be found in mamak stalls include murtabak (savoury pancake stuffed with minced meat), chapati (another flatbread dish), mee goreng (fried noodles), as well as rice dishes like nasi kandar (steamed rice served with side dishes such as meat and curry), nasi lemak (steamed rice served with anchovies, peanuts, cucumber slices, hard-boiled egg, and usually, meat), and nasi briyani (mixed rice dish with Indian spices, meat and vegetables).

Should you need refreshments, you can order a cup of “teh tarik”, a type of milk tea which is “pulled” – or poured repeatedly – to produce a thick frothy layer on top. Mamak stalls also offer Milo, a popular chocolate drink in Malaysia, served hot or cold, in a variety of ways.

What else to do there?
People watching a football match via projection screen in a large mamak stall.
Image source: TheSmartLocal

Mamak stalls with indoor dining usually have TVs so that customers can watch programs or sports events, especially football matches. Some even set up a large projection screen outside!

Due to its casual, open-air ambience, as well as cheap and delicious food, it wouldn’t be surprising to see many Malaysians frequent mamak stalls. For foreigners and expatriates, a visit to the mamak stall is one of the best ways of getting good food on a budget, trying some new delicacies, and getting accustomed to Malaysia’s unique and vibrant culture in the process.

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