Malaysian Mamak are collectively the people whose origins are from when their forefathers migrated from the Southern parts of India to Northern Malaysia. The term Mamak stall is used to refer to an outdoor vendor, small in its appearance, that operates across all hours of the day. Traditionally Mamaks serve the locals, Malay brewed teas and quick snacks. The existence of such stalls has become more profound and they are most popular with the youth of Malaysia that are out for a quick socialising session over a cuppa. More modern Mamaks have taken on the guise of cafés and have extended their menus to accommodate the tastes of their ever-growing numbers patrons.
Mamak style of cuisine varies slightly from the usual Malay dishes you would be accustomed to at your favourite Malaysian restaurant. The Mamak people of Malaysia have used the influences of their Indian background to fuse dishes together that represent both cultures. Old Town Kopitiam has two outlets in the CBD, one in Chinatown, offering traditional Malaysian and the other in the Queen Victoria Building that is predominantly a Mamak restaurant. Totally uneducated in the slightest way on Mamak cuisine I tagged along to a lunch get together expecting a nice serve of Beef Rendang – this was definitely not on the menu at the QV Building store, head to Chinatown for that one (I will review the Chinatown outfit in due time).
Nasi Kandar is the Malaysian Mamak equivalent of rice with curry combination that is prevalent in take away shops boasting bain maries stocked with different curries and other dishes. I ordered rice with two curries, ($8) these being Stewed Beef, Red Chicken Curry. The beef dish was a mellow tender serve of beef cheek presumably but it had a very sweet flavour to it, almost an overpowering pungency of star anise and/or cinnamon. The chicken dish was not sweet in flavour but was dotted with whole spices that you bit on if you were not lucky enough to spot them and segregate them to the side of your plate. Unfortunately the taste of whole cardamom does not satisfy my palette’s requirement for a good restaurant meal. My colleagues ordered the biryani ($9)as their rice portion and found that they would need to go on a whole spice treasure hunt before proceeding to eat. The yellow chicken curry was more appetising and the vegetable dishes are simple and satisfying.
These dishes served in the rustic way that they were, would probably garner more charm and appreciation coming from a street vendor somewhere in Kuala Lumpur. In an establishment like Old Town Kopitiam Mamak, in quite an architecturally swish restaurant, in the middle of the QV Building, alongside other fine eateries, I find it somewhat unacceptable. I would be half comforted if told that the dish was served from the take away food court section within the shopping complex. There is a certain expectation that you have when sitting down to a meal in surroundings where the shop designers have put much thought into, and unfortunately, Old Town Kopitiam Mamak has left a bad (cardamom!) taste in my mouth.