GST. 1MDB. The Sedition Act. There are a lotta things that the government can throw at the Malaysian people that they’ll eventually forgiven for, but there is a line that has to be drawn somewhere – and that line is the 24-hour mamak.
SERIOUSLY, DON’T MESS WITH OUR FOOD.
This whole debacle started last week when Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, a minister in the Prime Ministers Department, revealed that there were proposals to limit the operating hours of mamak stalls in certain areas to midnight due to social ills brought about by 24-hour eateries. Of course, this news didn’t go too well with many members of the public – many of whom questioned the “social ills” that the mamaks were accused of contributing to. In addition, the Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Operators Association took offense at the insinuation, saying that if anything, they were keeping people away from vices such as clubs and bars.
Thankfully, PM Najib flew in to save the day – declaring that 24-hour eateries will be allowed to operate for, well, 24 hours.
So with that, (almost) everyone’s happy that mamaks are here to stay, don’t actually contribute to any social ills, and CILISOS wasted about 3 hours writing about a topic that’s already resolved. So for fun, since we already started on it, let’s discuss what’s actually wrong with mamaks today. Because this is a sensitive topic and we have a mamak two doors away who can easily set fire to our office, we’re gonna clarify and say that we refer to “mamak” in this case as the type of food outlet and not anything derogatory. Also, we’re including nasi kandar restaurants because…
1. Mamak food isn’t really mamak food (anymore)
Not that we’re saying it’s a bad thing, but either mamak shops have diversified their menus or other shops have been included into the “mamak” category over time.
While we’re pretty sure nasi kandar outlets and mamaks were separate categories at one point of time, the lines have been blurred with places like Nasi Kandar Pelita being considered a “mamak”. Some have even diversified their menu to include Thai and Western dishes such as tom yum or even….steak??
This is a pretty far stretch from even the early 90’s, when mamaks were called “mamak stalls” because they still operated from stalls rather than shoplots and menus were limited to the basic roti-egg-packet nasi lemak combo. But maybe it’s because of this blurring of lines that…
2. Mamak is ‘cheap’? HAHAHAHA LOL
Awright, so price is something that’s really subjective – some people might consider RM2.20 for a kopi ais expensive, and some reasonable.
However, there are times when you start questioning if you got the bill for the big table behind you because there’s no way your dinner would have cost so much! The receipt on the right was posted on Facebook by a customer claiming that he was overcharged on account of having four foreigners with him – pointing out the RM60 charged for a plate of sotong. While there aren’t any pictures to show what they actually ate, it isn’t the first time this particular restaurant chain’s prices were called into question (writer’s personal experience included).
Interestingly, The Star interviewed the manager of the nasi kandar outlet over the RM312 bill and were told by the manager that they “had a fixed pricing system” and that the accusations were unfair because the “receipt did not clearly state how many of each item was bought”
This is kinda a two-way street, really. Most mamaks don’t have a menu/price list and very rarely do we look at the prices of the ones that do. Honestly, do any of ugaiz know how your mamak bills are calculated?
While it’s easier for straightforward items such as maggi goreng or rojak, it’s much more subjective when it comes to nasi campur or nasi kandar – especially the self-serve ones. While unrelated to the topic, this subjective price thing also applies to chap fan (just in case you say we rasis).
So how do they calculate it?? Well, the geniuses at the Lowyat forums came up with a pretty good guess at how it’s done:
Which brings us to our next point:
3. Things are either not written down or hilariously mispelt
Most of the time, you’re supposed to kinda know what you want at a mamak but in instances where they actually have a menu, you’re liable to be endlessly entertained by gems such as this:
We took a trip to one of the mamaks with a menu near our office and found this:
It’s even applicable for bills. CILISOS editor Chak relates an incident where his group of friends received a bill for an item called “KBN”. Wanna take a guess as to what that might be?
Give up? So did they. When they asked the bos what KBN was, the reply was:
“Karlic Butter Naan”
ಠ_ಠ Maybe that’s the tactic. Distract us with weird menu and bill items so we won’t see the prices. Well, that’s assuming you aren’t already distracted by the oft-chance that they might have gotten your order wrong cause…
4. “Kosong” is never really kosong
With everyone being health and/or weight-conscious nowadays, it’s not uncommon the words “kosong” or “kurang manis” being tacked on to whatever drinks we’re ordering. We checked in with two people on this: CILISOS editor Chak, and this writer’s sister (last-minute article okay).
Chak was on a 40-day no sugar diet for an article while my sister… is just weird that way.
^Sorry about your eyes.
While both say the order rarely comes out wrong, Chak mentions it’s because he repeats the “kosong” part over and over. My sister does it as well, come to think of it. However, it’s in the drink they get where the experience differs.
Chak mentions that instead of a teh c kosong, he sometimes gets teh c biasa tambah air. On the other hand, my sister regularly gets a kurang manis instead of kosong, or in her words,
“It’s like they cannot sleep if they don’t add sugar to the drink.” – UiHua’s sister, in real life experience.
This is probably more noticeable for “kosong” drinks rather than kurang manis, unless you’re familiar with the sugar level in that particular shop. However, do stir your drink slowly because…
5. Everything seems to be made out of cardboard!
How many of ugaiz have personally experienced or seen someone prepare to dig into a fresh plate of maggi goreng with a spoon and fork only for this to happen:
… or be seated in a group with friends chilling only to hear a loud “CRACK” and:
We kinda understand that constant use of tables, chairs, and kitchenware would lead to some wear and tear; and that some customers really need to learn that chairs function best on four legs and leaning on two or one would eventually cause them to break. However, we really can’t offer an excuse for bendy forks and spoons.
Either way, it’s been shown that heavier utensils make food taste better (reference here), and non-breaking chairs keeps customers uninjured and less embarrassed (common sense here).
So are mamaks a social ill?
At the notion that mamaks have become places “for the young to spend too much idle time,” we also wonder where else they would be able to go if these places weren’t available; cause we’re fairly sure they won’t be going to bed early either way. Also, without mamaks around as a place to sober up after a night of partying, can we assume that the next best solution would be to drive home drunk?
While it seems we’re focusing on all the small things (ohai Blink-182) and bypassing larger issues like cleanliness or health issues from mamak food, we figure you’d probably be reading those types of stories a lot more often. Besides, these smaller issues still contribute to your overall experience at the mamak and, if anything, would hopefully give operators some…..food for thought.
Despite all these little niggles though, we still love our mamaks not only as a place to grab a quick bite (roti canai still affordable) but also as a convenient meeting point for conversation – social ills or not. And perhaps that’s what we need – a nice wholesome place for open conversation without government involvement.
That is, if people still have conversations anymore la.