The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Friday, 9 July 2010

Malaysian @ Mamak, Sydney

All of my sisters and I got together again to have dinner before my younger sister Honey was due to fly back to Tokyo. It was great to have everyone together at one place, including our respective partners and kids, although perhaps Mamak wasn't exactly the best place to enjoy a leisurely dinner. For some reason or other, this restaurant has gained enormous popularity since opening 3 years ago, that I'm told there is ALWAYS a long queue outside every evening. The restaurant does not accept bookings, and customers are seated on a first-come-first-served basis. Some of us arrived 15 minutes before it opened on that Friday evening, and there was already a line! The dining area was crammed with as many tables and chairs as is practically possible, and diners don't generally hang around long at their tables after they are done with their meals, because there are still poor souls standing outside waiting for a table. So you understand, the food may be great, but not the place to enjoy 'slow food' and company. The upside is that service was prompt and efficient, and the food got to the table in a surprisingly short amount of time after placing the order.

The long queue to get in about 10 minutes before the restaurant opened its doors for the dinner service. We were behind about 20 people, and there were at least another 20 behind us extending out onto the Friday night market on Dixon Street. (The dude smiling in the photo thanked me after I took the photo!):

We actually have been to Mamak before, on our previous trip to Sydney in October 2009, when we went in search for some ais kacang after lunching with family. After failing to find the iced treats elsewhere in Chinatown (Haymarket), we headed to Mamak because I'd had a vague memory of seeing a Malaysian restaurant on Goulbourn Street before. However we were less than impressed with the ais kacang and cendol (although the Malaysian-style coffee and drinks made a good impression on my father-in-law and his wife), especially because there were those in our company who were eating these (usually delicious) iced treats for the first time. Truth be told, we probably wouldn't even have considered going back to Mamak if I hadn't read a rave review by Perth blogger TFP a few months ago. Rob, my sister and I wanted to eat Malaysian food before going back to Japan, but neither of my Sydneysider sisters could think of a Malaysian restaurant in the city other than Mamak. I guess the lack of other Malaysian restaurants around helps explains Mamak's tremendous popularity, and one sister reckons that my mum would make good business if she opened up shop selling her Malaysian cooking in Sydney city.

The calm before the rush: a view into the kitchen while waiting for the restaurant to begin serving dinner. The staff are huddled at the dark corner of the kitchen, presumably for a pep-talk to prepare for the Friday night dinner crowd:

We ordered individually (as opposed to banquet-style), and our table ended up with a lot of food. We were quite pleased to find that dishes were like the stuff back home in Malaysia (except with a much higher price tag!), and the roti and murtabak were even served in those metal trays that is a familiar sight at mamak stalls (see my post on making murtabak for pictures at a mamak stall in Malaysia). Due to the placement and joining of our set of tables to accommodate the size of our group, it was unfortunately impractical for me to take shots of the dishes out of reach. My brother-in-law got a Nasi Lemak with Kari Ayam (coconut rice with the optional extra of curry chicken). I had a taste of it so I knew that the fried ikan bilis (dried anchovies) were deliciously crispy, the rice was sufficiently fragrant with coconut milk, and the sambal was more sweet than spicy. A plate of nasi lemak is of course not complete without half a hard-boiled egg, crunchy roasted peanuts and fresh cucumber on the side.

Nasi Lemak with Kari Ayam:

Two of my sisters ordered Roti Telur Bawang (Malaysian-style "bread" with egg and red onion) each. These omelette-like roti came with two types of curry and a dollop of sambal, and were quite good.

Egg and onion roti:

My 7 year old nephew ordered a Mee Goreng (fried noodles) and received the biggest plate at the table. It was a huge serving, and he obviously couldn't finish the whole thing.

Oodles of fried noodles:

Rob and I ordered four dishes, but before you consider us the gluttons that we actually are, we shared three of them around the table. Rob had a Lamb Murtabak, a omelette-pancake hybrid stuffed with lamb, cabbage, eggs and onion (it's a choice between chicken and lamb, and Henry said that the chicken one was pretty good too).

Lamb murtabak:

The plate of a dozen Mixed Chicken and Beef Satay was delicious, especially doused in the sweet and spicy peanut sauce.

Yummy satay sticks:

We also got a plate of Rojak, a vegetable-only salad that's sweet, spicy and peanut-y. Mamak's version had prawn and coconut fritters, cubes of fried tofu, hard boiled eggs, fresh crunchy cucumber and crispy yam bean. A nice combination, although quite different to the rojak I've had where the vegetables and fruit pieces were marinated in a sweet, spicy and sour sauce. (Looking up the wikipedia entry on rojak, it looks like Mamak's version more closely resembles mamak rojak than the mixed fruit and vegetable ones I'm used to. Makes sense, I guess, since the restaurant is named Mamak.)

Mamak rojak:

I've really missed eating kangkung (water spinach), so I had to order Kangkung Belacan (stir-fried with shrimp paste). Yum!

Spicy stir fried kangkung:

Another sister got Roti canai as well as a plate of Ayam Goreng (Malaysian-style fried chicken, 4 pieces), but these plates were at the other end of our set of tables, so were not photographed. Also not photographed were the desserts and drinks: Ais Kacang, Cendol, Roti Pisang with ice cream (roti with sliced bananas), and various Malaysian-style drinks such as Teh Tarik (literally "pulled tea"), Milo Ais (iced Milo) and Limau Ais (lime with syrup on ice).

I think everyone was pretty happy with their food because I didn't hear any complaints. I'm glad to say that we walked out of Mamak feeling more satisfied than our first experience. There was still a pretty long line to get inside when we left around 7pm.

Mamak on Urbanspoon


  1. Mmm yum! Despite being full from dinner, your photos are making me feel hungry again!
    My hubby and I eat here every time we visit Sydney. I love the roti! The cendol is great, but I'm used to seeing it served in a glass rather than a bowl. The teh tarik is great as well.

  2. Hi laruth, thanks for reading my blog! I'm glad we gave Mamak a second chance because they do the savoury dishes so much better than the sweets. The cendol we ate in Malaysia were almost always in a bowl (see this post for example pic), and but the ones I've had in Australia were always in a glass. I wonder if it's because non-Malaysians (or non-Asians in general) may find it strange eating sweet cold soupy stuff from a soup bowl?

  3. Oo, the photos in the other post is also making me hungry.
    Come to think of it, my experience of cendol must have come from the Perth eateries!
    I'm not aware of any authentic Singaporean/Malaysian restaurants in Canberra. I tend to fill up when I head back to Perth to visit family :)

  4. You're right - Malaysian cuisine is quite well represented in Perth.. It's certainly not in Tokyo, nor in NYC, and - as I'm finding out - not in the eastern states either! I actually think that Perth's general dining scene kinda suck in comparison to Japan, NYC and HK, but you can get reliably good Malaysian food quite easily in Perth :)