Mamak stall

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A mamak stall in Alor Setar, Kedah.

Mamak stalls are indoor and open-air food establishments particularly found in Southeast Asia, especially in Malaysia , which serve a type of Indian Muslim cuisine unique to the region and by its Indian community.[1]


Certain Mamak stalls, such as this example in Kuala Lumpur, may remain open 24 hours a day.

Mamak stalls originate from Tamil Muslim people, whose forefathers mostly migrated from South India to the Malay Peninsula and other locations in Southeast Asia centuries ago. They are regarded as part of the Malaysian Indian/Singaporean Indian community, or "Straits Indian". Archaeological findings in the Bujang Valley of Kedah suggest a trade relationship with India as early as the 1st to 5th century C.E.[2][3] An inscription dated 779 AD that refers to the trade relationship between the Tamilakam and the region was found in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Southern Thailand, dating to the Nakhon Si Thammarat Kingdom.[4]

The word 'Mamak' is from the Tamil term for maternal uncle, or 'maa-ma'. In Singapore and Malaysia, it is used by children as an honorific to respectfully address adults such as shopkeepers. Although the origins of the word are benign and neutral, it can sometimes be used as a derogatory term and insult against the Indian Muslim community in Malaysia and Singapore, and therefore its usage is generally avoided outside of specifically referring to Mamak stalls.[5]

Mamak stalls and Hindu stalls are alike except that Mamaks, who are Muslims, do not serve pork but do serve beef, whereas Hindus serve neither beef nor pork. There are also similar stalls run by local Malays.[citation needed]


Hanging televisions and misting fan systems are commonplace features at Mamak stalls
A Mamak cook preparing Tandoori Chicken.

Mamak stalls' affordable food and unpretentious atmosphere tend to create a casual dining atmosphere. Newer mamak stalls have more of a café aspect, usually being well lit and furnished with stainless steel tables. Some are outfitted with large flat screen televisions, or even projectors, so that patrons can catch the latest programs or live matches as they dine. Some mamak stalls also provide free Wi-Fi service. Despite these innovations, many modern mamak stalls attempt to retain their predecessors' open air dining atmosphere by setting up tables on a patio, the shoplot's walkway, or even on the street.[citation needed]

Mamak Fare[edit]

A classic Mamak dish of Roti Telur and Teh Tarik.

A mamak stall usually offers different varieties of roti canai to eat and teh tarik, coffee, Milo, Horlicks and soft drinks to drink. Most mamak stalls also serve several varieties of rice, such as nasi lemak and nasi goreng, as well as noodle dishes such as mee goreng (fried noodles). Some stalls also offer satay and Western dishes.

A typical Mamak stall will offer the following dishes and beverages, though this differs from stall to stall:

Malay Tom Yam Stall[edit]

Recently, to attract more customers, some Mamak restaurants have added an extra stall in their restaurant. The stall, which is operated individually by either an ethnic Malay from the North East Peninsular Malaysia and the east coast Peninsula Malaysia or an ethnic Malay from Southern Thailand, is known as Malay tom yam stall. This provides customers with more food options, such as:

  • Tom yam
  • Nasi paprik
  • Nasi goreng Kampung (village-style fried rice)
  • Nasi goreng Cina (Chinese fried rice)
  • Nasi goreng USA ["Westernised" fried rice, hence "USA", served with prawn (U-dang), squid (S-otong) and chicken (A-yam)
  • Nasi masak merah (red-cooked rice)
  • Nasi pattaya (despite the name, the dish originated in Malaysia)
  • Telur bistik (stuffed omelette)
  • Sayur campur (mixed vegetables)
  • Ikan pedas (spicy fish)
  • Nasi lala (clam rice)

Tom yam stalls first appeared in Peninsular Malaysia circa late 1970s and early 1980s. Unlike local Malay food, the food is basically Thai based and somewhat similar to the cuisine in the state of Kelantan. The tom yam dishes have a mix of typically sweet, hot, and sour flavours. As the dishes are cooked immediately upon the customer's order, tom yam stalls are the Malay equivalent of fast food outlets albeit with Thai-based cuisine.[citation needed]

Tom yam stalls can also be found by the street or at designated areas such as car parks at night. These stalls tend to be popular. Many tom yam stalls are built illegally, usually on land reserved for public roads. Attempts to remove these illegal stalls have been fairly successful[citation needed] but such attempts can have a political price.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sriramrajan, Visvajit. "How a hunger for home, and rubber, fueled rise of Singapore's 'Mamak' stalls | Coconuts". Retrieved 13 January 2022.
  3. ^ "EurASEAA Dublin 2012, 14th International Conference". Archived from the original on 28 July 2013. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
  4. ^ Arokiaswamy, Celine W.M. (2000). Tamil Influences in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Manila s.n. pp. 37, 38, 41, 43, 45–49, 51–57.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  5. ^ "The Merchants of Penang | The Star". Retrieved 4 April 2021.