Photo: Eddie Jim
ONE of the greatest things about hiring a Proton car on a trip to Malaysia - apart from hurtling down lebuhrayas (highways) at full pelt and overtaking vehicles on back roads by playing chicken in the secret ''middle lane'' - is being able to pull up at the roadside mamaks for made-to-order roti hot off the grill.
So I am super excited about the opening of Melbourne's Mamak - along with most of the local Malaysian population, with more than 100 diners piling into the big, rowdy dining hall on day one.
It all began when Malaysian lads Julian Lee, Alan Au and Clement Lee started a market stall in Chinatown, Sydney, selling roti canai and teh tarik (tea) every Friday. It was an instant hit. They followed up with a Chinatown restaurant in 2007, expanded to double the size a year later, and opened a Chatswood Mamak in 2010. At only five years old, it's already something of a Sydney institution.
The show is in the front window, where people press up against the glass to see cooks stretching sheer-thin roti, folding it, shaping it and watching it puff up on the grill. Roti comes 10 ways, the original a beautiful sculpture, almost like a rosette, crisp and soft in all the right places. It's served with lentil curry, a fishy gravy and a dollop of the fiery house-made sambal - delicious.
Mamak's fish curry is no namby-pamby affair, with a full-bodied, pungent curry gravy with fishy, tamarind notes that hit you in the back of the throat. Poke around and you'll find a meaty cutlet of Spanish mackerel and another belly section, plus chunky hunks of eggplant, tomato and okra.
Rojak salad is a high mound of yam bean and cucumber batons, topped with crunchy deep-fried coconut fritter and more fritters embedded with tiny school prawns to be crunched on whole. There's a boiled egg, too, and fried tofu, all of it slathered with a jammy peanut sauce.
Nasi lemak (a national staple) is authentically rendered - the rice cooked with coconut milk, the peanuts hot and pan-fried, the ikan bilis (dried anchovies) super crunchy, plus cucumber and half a hard-boiled egg. Adding a piece of deep-fried chicken, sambal prawns or curried meat is optional.
Dessert is cendol, teh tarik and sweet roti, such as a tall, sweet cone of tissue-thin sugar-crusted roti, with a total head-turning ''wow'' factor.
''Let's just meet at Mamak'' - it's that kind of place, a big 100-seater space with fast service, where you hook up for a quick, unfussy meal.
Expect to queue, but it's a transitory crowd, with a constantly rotating sitting, just like the open-all-hours mamaks in Malaysia.
On behalf of your southern devotees, now and to come, welcome to Melbourne, Mamak.
Where 366 Lonsdale Street, city, 9670 3137
Prices Roti and satay, $5.50-$16; mains, $14-$19; sweets, $6-$9.50
Cards Amex DC MC V eftpos
BYO ($2 a head)
Open Daily 11.30am-2.30pm and 5.30-10pm
- 9670 3137
- Cuisine - Malaysian
- Prices - Roti and satay, $5.50-$16; mains, $14-$19; sweets, $6-$9.50
- Cards accepted - AMEX, Diners Club, Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Daily 11.30am-2.30pm and 5.30-10pm Website mamak.com.au
- Author - Nina Rousseau