There are places that are famed for the long queues streaming outside their door. Mamak is one of them — any time someone brings it up, it’s accompanied by a comment about the long wait. For waits for lunch, what they don’t tell you is that they wanted a table during the lunch hour between 1 – 2pm. Visit any earlier and you’re shown to a table immediately. And that’s what we did when T’s workshop was cancelled and came into the city to have lunch with N and me.
First off are drinks. N ordered the teh ais (an iced milk tea, $4, not pictured) and I went for a kopi ais (an iced white coffee, $4, pictured above right). T ordered a mix of the two drinks, a cham (a half milk tea and half coffee, $4, pictured above left).
The teh ais is rather milky, and while I like dairy products generally, I do not enjoy the taste of milk itself. The kopi ais, however, tastes exactly like a Kopiko candy. It’s strong coffee that’s sweetened with condensed milk and without obvious milky notes, which is just the way I like it. As for the cham, it tastes exactly like a hot version of a drink that’s a mix of the teh ais and koi ais. It’s a marked improvement on the teh ais, and I’d probably like it better cold, and even so I’d still prefer the kopi ais.
N and I share the roti canai ($5.5), which is the original roti and comes with two curries and sambal sauce. The roti is delightfully fluffy, and its sweetness went well with the curries. The curries are fragrant and pack a healthy dose of heat. It’s a pleasant sort of heat — the kind where your mouth burns and it’s all right because the tastiness of the food makes it worthwhile. I’m not too sure what curries they were other than one had a chickpea base.
T ordered half a dozen chicken satay sticks with sweet and spicy peanut sauce to share ($9). The chicken was tender with a subtle smoky flavour to them from being grilled over flaming charcoal. The sweetness of the sauce was delicious (I really do like my curries sweet, which is why I’m also very fond of Japanese curries.).
And for my mains I went for the kari ayam with rice ($11.50), a ‘classic chicken curry cooked with freshly ground spices and chunky potatoes’. It’s a very spicy and hot curry — the kind that makes your nose run after a few bites. It’s also a pleasant heat. The chicken was juicy and fell off the bone. The potatoes were super fluffy and soaked up the curry, just the way I like it. I love potatoes in curry. They’re one of my absolute favourite comfort foods, so there was no chance I would pass this dish up. Now, if only there were more than 2 – 3 chunks…
A couple of weeks later, Sydney was going through one of its ‘polar blasts’, so N and I returned for some warming curry. This time I went for the kari sayur with rice ($10.50), a ‘vegetarian curry cooked with lentils, fresh tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and eggplant’. I usually dismiss vegetarian dishes on a menu, so overlooked it on previous visits until N pointed out that it had all these yummy non-green vegetables that I like eating. There two generous chunks of each vegetable, which are all cooked perfectly — the tomatoes, carrots and eggplant are firm, and not crunchy or mushy, while the tomatoes are fresh, as if they were just tossed through before serving.
This is the mildest of the curries at Mamak — having visited for a work lunch once meant I’ve tried almost all the mains on the menu — and also my favourite and coincidentally the same as the lentil curry in the roti canai.
We also tried the roti kaya ($8) that I’d been curious about. It’s a roti ‘filled with a traditional spread made from pandan and coconut’ and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Sadly, it’s a disappointment — the kaya is spread rather thinly and there’s only a subtle coconut flavour and no pandan flavour whatsoever. The kaya tasted much like half caramelised sugar that was grainy and also stuck to all the nooks between your teeth with each bite.
I’ll be sticking to the savoury options at Mamak in the future.
Mamak is located at 15 Goulburn St, Sydney NSW 2000.