I’d heard a lot about Mamak, a Malaysian restaurant in Sydney, long before this recent trip. It’s my sister Jaded and her hubby JM’s favourite Malaysian restaurant. I’d read reviews of Mamak by various Sydney food bloggers and drooled over the photos. When the Sydney food bloggers I met at Tetsuya’s heard I was planning to eat at Mamak, they all said “Good!” and told me how much I’d love it. I was really looking forward to having lunch there with Jaded and JM.
Mamak is in Haymarket on Goulburn Street right on the edge of Chinatown. I mentioned in my Saké post how I love to watch chefs at work in their kitchens. You can stand at the front of Mamak, look in the window and watch the chefs making roti by hand.
There’s usually a wait for a table at Mamak, especially on weekends and at dinner time. We were quite lucky at 1 o’clock on this particular Saturday and only waited about 5 minutes in the queue before we were ushered into the heart of the crowded restaurant to a free table. A couple of readers have told me the interior space of the restaurant has been expanded since the time Mamak first opened – I can’t believe it used to be smaller! The whole time we were there, there was a steady stream of people in the queue waiting patiently for tables – Mamak’s customers could easily fill a bigger restaurant space for sure. As you wait in the queue for a table, the sounds of happy eating and the delicious smells of food, not to mention the sight of chefs busily making roti will all conspire to make you even hungrier. Maybe this is part of Mamak’s genius and diabolical plan ;)
Jaded and I ordered limau ais (AU$3.50), an iced fresh lime drink – “limau” means “lime” and “ais” is “ice”. It was lovely, cool and refreshing and not too sweet. If I’d needed a second drink, I’d have ordered another. Our waiter brought water for our table, so a second drink wasn’t necessary.
When JM eats at Mamak, his must-have drink is teh tarik. “Teh” means “tea” and “tarik” means “pulled” – it’s “pulled tea”.
To make teh tarik, hot tea is poured back and forth repeatedly from one cup/container to another from a height – that’s where the “pull” comes from. The pouring back and forth gives the tea a frothy top and also cools it down to drinking temperature. It’s usually a sweet tea, made with condensed milk and sugar.
I remember as a kid in Malaysia watching teh tarik being made – it can be quite a impressive sight, especially when the teh tarik maker’s a bit of a showman and pulls the tea with a flourish from cup to cup at quite spectacular heights. At Mamak you can also get kopi tarik (AU$3.50 “pulled coffee”) and Milo tarik (AU$3.50, you guessed it – “pulled Milo”). If I’d felt like a hot drink, I would’ve ordered Milo tarik for sure, but it was a warm day and I really craved something cold.
JM and Jaded told me the food comes out very quickly at Mamak and they were not exaggerating! Our first dishes appeared not even five minutes after we ordered. I was impressed – the restaurant was pretty busy the whole time we were there. I was also really pleased as I hadn’t eaten breakfast and was feeling ravenous by this time.
Roti is one of the Mamak’s specialties and must-try dishes. We ordered two roti dishes – the first was the classic roti canai (AU$5.00). All the savoury roti dishes at Mamak are served with two curry dips and a blob of spicy sambal sauce. They have sweet roti dishes available too.
As the menu proclaimed, the roti was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. I love how they served it “zhushed up” in a crispy, fluffy ball. You just tear it up with your fingers and dip pieces of roti in the curry or smear it with sambal (only a little sambal for me, it had quite a bite!). When you eat properly made authentic fresh roti canai you will end up with oily fingers and mouth, but this roti wasn’t overly greasy – in fact, the two roti dishes we ate tasted great without being too oily.
JM and Jaded ordered a serve of nasi goreng (AU$10.50) to share. “Nasi goreng” is Malay for “fried rice” (“nasi” is “rice and “goreng” is “fried”). According to the menu, Mamak’s fried rice includes egg, prawns, assorted vegetables and French beans (most Australians call them “green beans”, but many Malaysians, including my mum, tend to call them “french beans” :)). The rice was topped with chopped fresh spring onion and a sprinkle of crispy fried shallots. Today’s nasi goreng’s assorted vegetables appeared to be mostly cabbage and carrot with a garnish of sliced fresh cucumber and tomato, but not so many french beans. It smelled really good – I didn’t try any because I had more than enough to eat. :)
I love nasi lemak and was eager to try Mamak’s version. The basic nasi lemak (AU$7.50) comes with coconut rice and sambal, peanuts, ikan bilis (crispy fried anchovies), cucumber and hard-boiled egg. You can then choose to add curry (chicken, fish, lamb or vegetable AU$3), sambal (prawn or calamari AU$4) or fried chicken (AU$3). I ordered the basic nasi lemak because we ordered curry AND fried chicken (see below!).
We shared a kari kambing (lamb curry, AU$15). The lamb pieces were tender and the gravy was spicy, richly flavoured and really delicious.
The second roti dish we ordered was roti telur bawang (AU$6.50). “Telur” means egg and “bawang” means onion – this roti is stuffed with egg and sliced red onion.
By the time this dish arrived, we had to get creative with dish placement, as we were fast running out of space on the table. In the photo below you’ll see we balanced the roti telur bawang plate on top of the kari kambing bowl. You can also see that while JM and Jaded have begun to eat nasi goreng and roti canai, I haven’t even touched my nasi lemak because I’ve been too busy taking photos! That’s the story of my life. :D
I ate my roti more with kari kambing gravy than with the curry dips the roti was served with. That kari kambing gravy was drinkable! I shamelessly kept drinking spoonfuls of delicious pure curry gravy after I’d finished the rest of my meal, before our table was cleared.
We also ordered ayam goreng (AU$12 for 4 pieces or $3.50 per piece). “Ayam” means “chicken” and “goreng” means “fried”; ayam goreng is Malaysian-style fried chicken. We ordered 4 pieces for $12 – JM ate 2 pieces with no argument from Jaded or myself. We received four of the most enormous chicken thighs I’ve ever been served in a restaurant. The chicken had been marinated with herbs and spices and deep-fried till golden-brown (more brown than golden!) and crispy on the outside. It was served poppingly fresh and finger-burningly hot, and the skin was so crispy it crackled when I poked it with my fork. It was just wonderful to eat. Inside that crispy exterior was amazingly succulent and juicy tender flesh. As a lover of fried chicken, I absolutely loved the ayam goreng. Every time I think about that crispy hot chicken skin crackling under my teeth, I think (in the words of Liz Lemon): “I want to go to there” :D
We were all too full to order dessert, which was a pity. I did, however, secretly take a photo of the roti tisu (AU$9) served with scoops of vanilla ice cream at the table next to us. Roti tisu (“tissue”) is super-thin (like tissue, or at least paper!), usually even crispier than standard roti and served in a tall teepee shape that catches the eye of customers (“Ooooh, what’s that?”) as the dish is brought to the table. You can eat it as a savoury dish with curry, or, as it was being eaten here, as a dessert, with ice cream. The two girls eating this roti tisu looked like they were enjoying it very much.
A big thumbs up for Mamak. I can understand why it’s so popular and enthusiastically recommended by Sydneysiders. The food is quite cheap and utterly delicious, the service no-nonsense and efficient. They feed you quickly because they know there’s always someone else waiting in that queue for your table! With moreish roti canai, drinkable curry gravy and crackling fried chicken to look forward to, my eating pants and I will definitely be back!
If you’re a Mamak fan, what’s your must-have dish?
15 Goulburn Street, Haymarket, Sydney
Telephone: (02) 9211 1668
The whole time I was eating my lunch I kept thinking how much Jac would love the food. I’ve told her the next time we’re in Sydney we must definitely eat at Mamak.
Actually, the whole time I was in Sydney, I thought about Jac a lot. Not in a mopey sad way – I don’t tend to mope when we’re apart, even though I miss her – but I wished she was with me enjoying all the delicious food. We’ll visit Sydney together in the future for sure, and there’ll definitely be plenty of eating. But I reckon next I need to go to Melbourne – I’ve never been!
See the list of posts from my Sydney trip.