Everyone in Malaysia has their own favourite mamak place for midnight meals, casual hangouts and fast local dishes. With so many brands and branches around, have you ever stopped to compare prices? Aishah Azali investigates.
Where will Malaysians be without our 24-hour mamak? It is hard to imagine a world without this kind of restaurant. Where will people converge to watch football matches on huge screens or find a decent meal to eat during an ungodly hour? It is safe to say that the mamak restaurants are a big part of our Malaysian food culture that I find myself wondering why restaurants overseas close as early as 9pm in some countries.
Generally, people associate mamak food with affordable food. I have reached a point where I don’t look at the receipt when I ask the ‘anne’ or ‘boss’ to calculate my bill. But this made me wonder if there is a difference in price when it comes to our favourite mix rice meal or ‘nasi kandar’? So, I went out on a comparing spree just for you.
What is Nasi Kandar?
A dish served in every mamak restaurant far and wide, nasi kandar is the quintessential meal that is made up of rice and various side dishes. Its popularity started from the northern parts of Malaysia with Penang known as its birthplace.
A choice of white or briyani rice is placed on a plate while the mamak waiter awaits your selection of condiments to complement your meal. The choice of side dishes can be overwhelming, from a variety of vegetables like cabbage and ladies’ fingers or okra to a plethora of spicy Indian curries cooked with protein.
The best part about a plate of nasi kandar, in my opinion, is the mix gravy where the waiter takes a dollop of each curry available (can go up to 8 varieties) to drown your rice in flavourful goodness.
I went to 3 popular mamak branches and ordered the same mix rice meal (Nasi Kandar) for lunch.
• White rice with mix gravy
• Fried chicken
• Cabbage vegetable side dish
• Ice Milo
• Ice tea with lime
Mamak 1 – Nasi Kandar Pelita
Nasi Kandar Pelita or just Pelita is a popular mamak franchise and the biggest one in Malaysia. It began in Butterworth, Penang with multiple outlets now in states like Kedah, Perak and Selangor. The popular branch visited by city slickers and tourists alike is located along Jalan Ampang and is one of the few big mamak restaurants in the city centre.
The fried chicken I had here was definitely the best, where the crispy exterior is packed with spices. Plus, the portion of rice is heftier than the other two places I patronised. The only slightly pricey difference is that Pelita charges for the poppadom chips that are pre-packed in a plastic bag. Serving the poppadom this way made me received a less-crunchy version due to its unknown time in packaging.
Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur
Mamak 2 – Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar
Another popular chain for Nasi Kandar is the Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar or just Kayu by the locals. I went to the branch in the neighbourhood of SS2 in Petaling Jaya andlittle did I know that the brand has its roots there. The nasi kandar eatery started as a small stall in SS2 before opening the spacious 2-storey restaurant.
Eating there, I preferred the curries they served. Though the variety of curries and gravy were messily drenched on my plate of rice (just the way I like it), the flavours and spiciness were just right for my palate because I actually cannot tolerate spicy food as strongly as a normal Malaysian. Downside is that out of all 3 places, Kayu was definitely the most expensive when it comes to the meal and drinks.
SS2, Petaling Jaya
Mamak 3 – Bestari
I first experienced Bestari not for its nasi kandar but an ingenious invention where they mix indo mee with shredded beef patty. It was a popular hangover food and is still ordered by many till this day where the branch in Desa Sri Hartamas still cooks the best.
This time around I went for the nasi kandar. The variety of curries and gravy were not as vast as the previous two restaurants but they still serve the staples like fried chicken and mix vegetables. The plate of ric was good as it is, nothing explosive to shout about but decent enough for me to want to go back. One thing I have to highlight is that the drinks here are hands down the best. Their milo was dense and they did not skimp on the lime in my tea
Desa Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur
Where Is Your Favourite Mamak Spot?
Everyone has their mamak restaurant preference so we asked our readers to share their favourite mamak spots in Klang Valley.
Mansion Tea Stall at Masjid India, Kuala Lumpur
MUST TRY: Roti banjir special
Darussalam at SS15, Subang Jaya
MUST TRY: Nasi lemak
Q Bistro at Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI)
MUST TRY: Putu mayam
Suzy’s Corner at Ampang
MUST TRY: Naan with potato chutney
Kanna Curry House at Puchong Jaya
MUST TRY: Banana leaf
Words & Photos by Aishah Azali