If you’re a tourist that’s smitten with the idea of “blending in with the locals” and ever decide to visit Malaysia in search of its best restaurants, then take note—those bustling 24-hour mamak stalls that line the simpler, gourmet-free streets of this vibrant country are something you won’t want to miss. Aside from being mealtime powerhouses that dish out the most sinfully appetizing (and sinfully affordable!) arrays of Malaysian ‘peasant food’, they double as fantastic, ever-buzzing microcosms of the races and cultures that make Malaysia what it—very uniquely—is.
Here’s a little background for all you potential new visitors to the scene: mamak stalls are essentially open-air food courts that serve hawker-style food primarily—an assortment culturally tailored to the taste buds nursed in their Tamil Muslim roots. Since the first mamak was established, Malaysian culture has long concentrated itself into these humble, makeshift conversation-halls, where the decadent waftings of curry and roti overlap with banter-in-earnest. You’ll encounter many Malaysians touting these as the best restaurants around—and they just may very well be.
And so, without further ado, here are the best foods to order at a bona fide mamak restaurant in Malaysia:
A prime, familiar fixture no mamak has the (non-)sense to do without! Translating literally into ‘flatbread’, it is a locally-adored cross between roti and Indian paratha, typically served with lentils or a variety of meat curries. The best ones are just the right level of crisp, moist and fluffy. To eat it? After it’s served, break it apart piece-by-piece and dip the pieces into the curry that comes with it—we promise you’ll be craving more with each bite!
Deriving its name from the Arabic word Muttabaq (meaning ‘folded’), murtabak is a folded flatbread typically stuffed with a decadent combo of eggs, onions, ground beef and spices. It is made in a wheat pastry that is so thin you’ll tend to only taste the eggs and meat in the mix. While eggs tend to be the staple of our breakfasts, Malaysians freely tuck into murtabak at any time of the day.
The reigning dish in the minds of Malaysians far and wide. Simplistically composed, and yet promising in flavour. Santan rice, groundnuts, eggs, anchovies, cucumber and sambal (a special hot sauce native to Southeast Asia) are what make up the picture-perfect structure of this local favourite.
Nasi Briyani Ayam
Yet another beloved rice dish of the locals, this spicier take on the East Asian staple will have your taste buds smouldering in pure delight. A milder version of the more well-known Indian biryani, it is made with vegetables, curry leaves and hardly any spices, and is typically served with a crisp helping of batter-fried chicken.
Another fond Malaysian favourite, teh tarik is an aromatic slice of sheer heaven in a cup. True to its name (that literally translates into ‘pulled tea’), once brewed and topped off with sweetened creamer, it is typically tossed from one cup to another to enhance its flavours. This yields a sinfully sweet beverage that more-than-amply graces your tongue.
Be sure to hit those locally-beloved Malaysian mamak stalls and let us know what the best foods are for you!