The Mamak Scene

teh tarikTeh tarik, quintessentially mamak!  Teh tarik is pulled tea literally. Hot piping black tea sweetened with condensed milk (with the option of adding ginger or not) – being poured from one container to the other, to create the froth and cooling down the tea a little. There are thousands of these mamak stalls/’coffee shops’ (for a lack of better english term) all over Malaysia particularly Kuala Lumpur and Penang. It is Malaysia’s equivalent of the coffee culture you find in Italy, Spain or France, and in our case it is tea!

Together with teh tarik , a common accompaniment is Roti Canai or Mamak Mee Goreng or Nasi Lemak. Roti Canai is basically a bready pancake (similar to the indian roti paratha) eaten with dhal curry (lentil curry). Mamak Mee Goreng is fried noodles street style, usually spicy with a slight tomato base taste and Nasi Lemak – coconut rice with spicy condiments like sambal (chilli paste), curries, fried anchovies and a hard boiled egg. In Penang, nasi kandar is added into the food repertoire of the mamak.


 from left to right : Roti canai, Teh tarik and Nasi lemak

So what is ‘mamak’? It is the local Tamil Muslims in Malaysia whose eateries serving the above mentioned (amongst others) teh tarik and roti canai, a must-have at the mamak’s, that have carved a dominant part of the ‘cafe’ lifestyle for Malaysians!  These establishments continue to thrive.. evenmore so now with the financial crisis.You can find mamak food establishments ranging from a modest stall by the road side to an air conditioned restaurant. Some of them even have cable tv hooked up, televising the latest sporting event (soccer being the most popular) especially matches from the English Premier League, UEFA Champions League and World Cup qualifying and finals. They also tend to operate 24 hours – hence allowing many youngsters to make these places their favourite ‘hangouts’ late nights and on weekends.. as they are affordable – especially for students on a shoestring budget!

For a truly localised experience besides Penang’s hawkers or street food in other Malaysian cities, one should also try the mamak stalls at the local neighbourhoods.

Tip: One of the best ways to stave off hangovers the next day after a night’s heavy drinking is to have either the Roti Canai or Nasi Lemak and finishing it off with Teh Tarik!


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