Roti canai, nasi kandar, maggi goring, pasembur and putu mayam are some of the many items that you’ll find at a ‘Mamak’ restaurant in Malaysia – cuisines that have their ‘base’ in India
India At Large staff
The contribution of the Indian community to Malaysian cuisine is enormous. Indian cuisine has had a strong influence on traditional Malay cuisine resulting in the popularity of curries in Malaysia. Indian restaurants are well received by Malaysians from all ethnic and religious backgrounds. They have become an important fixture in everyday Malaysian life and are the venue of choice for watching live televised football matches.
Mamak restaurants and stalls refer to eateries owned and staffed by Indian Muslims. The word ‘Mamak’ is sometimes erroneously used to describe any Indian restaurant.
Unlike Indian cuisine in the United Kingdom and other Western countries which tend to focus on North Indian cuisine, Indian cuisine in Malaysia is largely based on South Indian cuisine as the Malaysian Indian diaspora is overwhelmingly Tamil, although some northern dishes such as tandoori chicken and naan bread are common. Southern breakfast delicacies such as idli, vadai and dosa (spelled in Malaysia as ‘thosai‘) are common.
Here are a few Indian dishes unique to Malaysia…
Traditionally, roti canai is served with dhal (lentil curry) or any type of curry, such as mutton or chicken curry. However, the versatility of roti canai as the staple lends itself to many variations, either savoury or sweet, with a variety of toppings and fillings, which includes eggs, banana, sardines and onion. In Thailand, it is usually served sweet – typical fillings include condensed milk, peanut butter, jam and nutella, without the curry.
It is a meal of steamed rice which can be plain or mildly flavoured, and served with a variety of curries and side dishes. The word nasi kandar, came about from a time when nasi hawkers or vendors would balance a kandar pole on their shoulder with two huge containers of rice meals. The name has remained and today the word nasi kandar is seen on most Tamil Muslim or ‘Malaysian Mamak’ restaurants and Indian-Muslim stall meals. Nasi kandar is sold exclusively in Indian Muslim restaurants and the recipes are closely guarded secrets.
Maggi Goreng is a style of cooking instant noodles, in particular the Maggi product range, which is common in Malaysia. It is commonly served at Mamak food stalls in Malaysia. The traditional way of cooking Maggi noodles is to boil them in hot water and then to add a sachet of flavouring included with the noodles to the water to create stock. However, Maggi goreng is cooked by stir-frying them with vegetables and eggs. Sometimes, other ingredients such as tofu, sambal (spicy chilli relish), dark soy, and sometimes meat are added. A slice of lime is usually placed at the side of the plate as a garnish. Users also can add an additional flavour such as curry powder or any readily made paste to enhance the flavour.
Pasembur (Mamak rojak)
Pasembur is a Malaysian salad consisting of cucumber (shredded), potatoes, beancurd, turnip, bean sprouts, prawn fritters, spicy fried crab, fried octopus or other seafoods and served with a sweet and spicy nut sauce. The term pasembur is peculiar to Northern Peninsular Malaysia. It is especially associated with Penang where pasembur can be had along Gurney Drive. In other parts of Malaysia, the term Mamak rojak is commonly used.
The appam is a favourite breakfast dish in Tamil homes. Idiyappam is known as putu mayam in Malay and usually sold by mobile motorcycle vendors. The process for making putu mayam (also known as string hoppers in English) consists of mixing rice flour or idiyappam flour with water and/or coconut milk, and pressing the dough through a sieve to make vermicelli-like noodles. These are steamed, usually with the addition of juice from the aromatic pandan leaf (screwpine) as flavouring. The noodles are served with grated coconut and jaggery, or, preferably, gur (date palm sugar). In some areas, gula melaka (coconut palm sugar) is the favourite sweetener.