Capturing the essence of Malaysian cuisine through my friend chef Wanitha Tanasingam (The Love Goddess) www.wanitha.com is a wonderful experience of colour, flavour, texture, smell and mouth feel. Trotting off to the second Mamak restaurant, this one in Chatswood, last week left our tummies full of rich and aromatic flavours of Malaysia – a cuisine that I have grown to love and to enjoy through Wanitha’s eyes, as she teaches a number of regular Malaysian cookery courses through VictorsFood. To ensure we better appreciated the vast array of flavours we were enjoying, our Love Goddess, Wanitha, took our whole table on a journey through the history and the essence of Malaysia and its various styles of food, born from its amazing cultural elements mixing Chinese, Indian and Muslim cuisines.
Mamak grew to fame years ago from the success of their first operation on Goulburn Street in Chinatown, Sydney. There is always a standing line to get in (no reservations, of course), the food is delicious and great value and you get the entertainment of watching their chefs prepare roti – sublime, elastic & flaky, crepe-like bread used alternately to dip or to wrap.
Mamak’s new venture in Chatswood is a big operational step up from the original with its modern fit out and enough space to handle around 100 diners. The pace is fast, the staff are super friendly and the food is fiery. It’s hawker-style Malay cooking that suits large group dining, as you can taste so many dishes. The ever-popular roti hit the table in three forms this day, the traditional – crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside – and the Murfabak (filled with chicken and lamb), which I had never had before, served with two curry dips and spicy sambal sauce that got our mouths watering.
The Kari Ikan (tangy fish curry with tomatoes, okra and eggplant) was a hit, as was the Sambal Udang (stir-fried tiger prawns with fiery sambal sauce). As always in Malaysia and most parts of the world the fried chicken was a big favourite. (I remember years ago in Thailand, my Thai friend’s mother bought fried chicken from the train station for us – she said it is a “must have” if going to Thailand, whether or not you’re travelling by train. I’d have to agree.)
I loved the Kangkung belacan (stir-fried water spinach with chillies and shrimp paste), which makes steamed English spinach seem insipid in comparison. Rojak, spicy salad, is another favourite and a great dish for crowds – we do a version of this dish in many of our VictorsFood team building cooking events. Mamak’s version, with prawn and coconut fritters, fried tofu, hard-boiled eggs, yam bean (also knows as jicama in Central America) and cucumber makes my mouth water just thinking about it. The spicy peanut paste on top brings the sweet and savoury all together in one big taste explosion.
We couldn’t leave without trying a few desserts as they are always so strange to westerners and so delicious! The Ais kacang of shaved ice, red beans, corn, grass jelly, rose-syrup and sweetened condensed milk was surly invented as a balm for a hot tropical night in Malaysia. As I watched the group gobble down the Cendol (starch noodles made from fresh pandan leaves with gula-melaka syrup, coconut milk and shaved ice) I was again convinced that ‘food is love’.
Mamak is really good hawker style Malay food. It’s simple by Malay standards, but delivers quick and unique dishes that keep the laughter and the smiles going for a long time. Do you have a favourite Malay dish you can share with us? We’d love to know.
Shop P9 1-5 Railway Street, Chatswood, NSW Sydney
02 9411 4411
15 Goulburn Street, Haymarket, NSW Sydney
02 9211 1668