Mamak

Posted on February 4, 2013

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It’s no coincidence that Malaysian food has seen a surge in popularity around the same time Poh Ling Yeow and Adam Liaw found success both on and after Masterchef. I’m willing to bet that there’s at least a little bit of cause and effect going on. It’s actually a little surprising that it took so long for Malaysian cuisine to find popularity here given our nation’s term term love affair with Thai food. Malaysian cuisine shares a number of similarities with their neighbouring country Thailand.

On cue with our growing appreciation of Nonya curries, roti and the like, came Mamak (366 Lonsdale Street, VIC). What started out as a little market stall, become two much loved restaurants in Sydney. And finally in September 2012, Mamak opened its doors in Melbourne to an already waiting fan base. Lines can still be expected on some nights, with the crowd outside hungrily eyeballing the chefs hand making the made-to-order roti. On my two lunchtime visits however, I’ve managed to walk in without a wait.

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The venue itself is quite a large space, with the big front count area taken up by the roti station and another kitchen tucked away in the back pumping out the satay skewers and other meals. Mamak has a fairly small menu, largely focusing on Malaysian favourites including their roti, satay skewers and curries (a la nasi lemak). Service was pretty quick and efficient, with the longest wait being for their skewers (up to 20 minutes as advised by the wait staff on both occasions).

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The roti canai ($5.50) is the traditional version of the flatbread with a crisp exterior and fluffy centre. It comes served with a dahl (mild lentil curry), hot curry sauce and spicy sambal (chilli sauce).  Looks and tastes just like being in Malaysia – delicious! For an extra $1, you can get the roti with egg (the roti telur, $6.50), but personally I prefer the classic roti instead. When cooked with the egg, the roti becomes a bit more dense and thus loses some of the crispy/fluffy texture that makes it so appealing to me in the first place. I also found it a little bland as the egg bit doesn’t have any seasoning and it isn’t very good at soaking up the curry sauces. Pictured below are the roti canai offerings from Mamak and a store from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Very similar no?

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The mixed dozen, chicken and beef satay ($16) is again served like you would expect when visiting hawker stalls abroad; with a generous side of peanut dipping sauce, chopped red onions and diced cucumber. Overall a tasty dish, but the chicken is better than the beef because it’s more flavoursome and the meat is still moist. The beef, both times I’ve had it, has been a touch on the dry side. Not such a big deal I guess because you can smother it in the super addictive sweet and spicy peanut sauce. This sauce really makes the dish, it’s so good I could eat it on its own. The only minor whinge is that the sauce isn’t served warm.

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For dessert we tried the very impressive looking roti tisu ($9.50). It is a paper thin layer of crisp roti, cooked with sprinkling of sugar, rolled up into a tall cone and presented alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This dish is worth trying this at least once for the novelty factor. Actually eating it was a little perplexing; should we smash it up or just gradually peel bits of the thin layer off? Looking around, it seemed like most people was going for the latter approach and like little sheep, we followed. You might be fooled into thinking that the roti tisu is easy to finish because it’s such a thin layer of roti, but the sweetness does get a bit intense towards the end. We found it to be a little too much for 2 people to handle. I would suggest sharing between 3 or more if you want to be sensible about your sugar intake for the day.

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After two visits, I still have not ventured out of the roti and satay zone. It’s very hard not to be tempted into ordering roti when you see it being freshly prepared. It’s such a rare treat, and the sight of it being made really primes your brain into craving it. My friend who has eaten at Mamak more times than me, in both Sydney and Melbourne venues, still not been able to stray from a roti and satay order! Such is the power of seeing roti being stretched and pulled to order. I shall really try to sample their other menu selections in future visits. So as you can see, I already view Mamak as a venue worthy of  repeat visits. This is a great addition to Melbourne’s cheap eats and also feeding our love of Malaysian food. Tick and tick!

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