I think it's safe to say that Malaysians are obsessed with food. And that may not be such a good thing, considering the expanding waistlines of many Malaysians (including myself.) But I'm not here to lecture you on healthy eating habits; at least not this post, this week. That can come later.
What I want to talk about is the one place that bring Malaysians together. The humble “mamak” restaurant. While there are many other food establishments to choose from I'd like to think that the mamak restaurant is unique to us. Kinda like fish and chips in England. Now you could probably open up a fish and chip shop in KL but it just wouldn't “feel” the same.
As someone who lives in KL whenever I'm in doubt as to where to have my next meal the mamak is where I turn to. Especially since I'm that type of guy who can't/won't cook. This is slightly off topic but while I do subsribe to a lot of cooking channels on Youtube I can never seem to bring myself to actually cook the meal. C'est la vie....
There are certain things that I find endearing about eating at a mamak be it a stall, van or proper restaurant. First of all the mamak is a place where all Malaysians converge; we may worship in different places but whether you are down-and-out or well-to-do, you will visit the mamak at least once during the week. Unless, of course you're a yuppie/hipster; in which case you'll never find yourself outside a Starbucks. Gawd those people annoy me...
Another thing that I quite like is that everyone is called "Boss", from the server to the customer. When you want to order you just raise your hand and call out “Boss” and when it's time to pay get called “Boss” as well; it's almost utopian. Why should we have to use names?
And the mamak is a cheaper alternative compared to some other food outlets, though that's not always the case. Once I got charged RM7 for a mee soup which is scandalous. These mamaks are what we call "cekik darah" and must be avoided at all costs so that they will die out.
The standard meal at any decent mamak is roti canai and teh tarik. Just to illustrate how important roti canai is a few years ago when the Government was planning too reduce the subsidy for flour the mamaks were threatening to stop making roti canai. And over the years the menu at a mamak has diversified, you can now find Thai and Western dishes on the menu. There is even a variation on the basic foodstuff like roti tisu, roti milo, naan cheese, naan keema and many more.
It's not all great. Service and cleanliness can be a factor. The standard excuse at a mamak is 'It's on the way'; once it took forty five minutes before our food arrived. A girl I knew in sixth form told me that once she saw the waiter at a local mamak drop a fried chicken drumstick onto the floor, he then picked it up, brushed it off and put it back on the plate. Another negative in my opinion is the yuppie culture creeping into the mamak (many now have wi-fi). Occasionally you can find people with laptops sitting there (it's amazing that they get upset when you look at their screen); personally I think they should just stay at Starbucks.
Sometimes you can find mamak culture abroad, a friend of mine living in Sydney (Rachel Kelapakepala; that's her actual name) went to a restaurant called "Mamak". She ordered a rojak and paid AU$12 (total rip btw) and she says that over there they eat roti canai with Vegemite; it's not the same. I'd just like to point out that Australian mamak culture doesn't even come close to MALAYSIAN mamak culture which is the best.
Above all else the mamaks serves an important social function as a place where people gather to meet with one another. One of the most frequent sights you see at the mamak are many "Shadow Governments"; these are small groups of mostly retired men (with nothing else to do) sitting at tables discussing how the country should be run. Now I'm not the one who is in a position to judge whether the various ideas on domestic and foreign policies are infeasible or otherwise.
But seriously, when you spend most of your time at a mamak you're probably not going to effect government decisions very much. The mamak also plays an important role during live sporting events; this is because they usually have satellite tv and there is the added convenience of having food and drinks just a few feet away. So during this years world cup you can expect many people to spend their nights there.
My favourite mamak is near Masjid India by the river, it's very small and basic compared to most mamaks but it does very good business. As far as I'm concerned it has the best teh tarik and I do enjoy having a "roti special"; what's so special about it? I guess you just have to go and find out yourself.