Mamak - An Indian Malay Specialist Opens in Flushing
With respect to NYC Malaysian joints, we’ve all become accustomed to the stock menu featuring scores of items spanning a greatest hits mélange of Malay, Hakka, Peranakan, Singaporean, Chinese and even Thai dishes. The result is that the kitchen tends to be spread very thin in trying to do all these dishes well, and winds up excelling at few to none.
The folks who opened up Mamak on May 8th, on a commercial stretch of Farrington Street just off of Northern Boulevard in Flushing, are doing the opposite. These guys are, in the words of the owner, specialists.
The menu, which features what I estimate to be no more than twenty to thirty items, reflects the Penang upbringing and background of Nani, the gracious and friendly chef-owner. Her specialty is Indian Malay dishes, each lovingly prepared with a variety of herbs and spices; the aroma grabs you the minute you enter the place. You won’t find Char Kwey Teow or Hainanese Chicken Rice on the menu here, nor for that matter any pork items, as the place is Halal. But that’s okay. These guys hone in on what they know, and something tells me we’ll all be the better off for it.
I did a solo lunch here yesterday, came in happy, left happier. Had I had a few more diners with me, I would have ordered the fish head curry ($28) in a heartbeat. Being on a solo budget, though, and wanting to try a few items, I mixed things up a bit.
Here’s the line-up:
-Indian crackers with a sweet and hot brown sauce (complimentary): crackling good fun, and I dug the sauce
-Rendang Chicken (complimentary): the owner saw that I’d been waiting a while and brought over this small bowl. The rending was a nice combination of sweet and hot and went well with rice; the bird was fall-off-the-bone tender.
- Sambal Ikan (Sambal Fish): the sambal wasn’t as spicy as I’d expected, but it had a decent amount of heat and a really nice depth of flavor. The mackerel was meaty, moist and not overly boney. Good stuff.
- Fried Cabbage with garlic and turmeric: This had a nice clean taste, wasn’t oily at all and brought good balance to the spicy fish.
- Tomato Rice: When I ordered rice, I was asked if I wanted white rice or tomato rice. I went for the tomato rice. Can you blame me? It was a light-red coated jasmine and was nice and aromatic and absorbed the other flavors very nicely.
- (Ipoh) White Coffee: I’m pretty sure this was instant, probably the same brand I have at home and can get at pretty much any Chinese supermarket, but, hey, these guys are the only restaurant I know of that serve it at all. Even the instant version has a light, unique taste and is an excellent way to cap off a meal like this.
In perusing the menu, there are very few items I don’t want to try. The fish head curry, for one, is calling my name. But then so is the Assam Pedas and the Sambal shrimp. I wouldn’t mind having a halfway decent Mee Goreng either, which is one of only two fried noodle dishes they do here; the few times I’ve tried it in other NYC joints, it has always pretty much sucked. I have higher hopes for Mamak’s version.
There is a palpable feeling of excitement here. Nani told me that, just the night before, there was a long line of homesick Malaysians waiting all the way out the door. On the dreariest, rainy Sunday we’ve had all year, as I was eating, the place filled up pretty quickly.
Mamak is a small, rectangular shaped place, with brick walls, bigger booths lining the walls on the left as you walk in, long and narrow two-tops on the right. The two-tops in particular are so long as to make you feel you’re very far away from your dining partner, but charm and good food will hopefully continue to win the day. At this point, there appear to be some awkward and minor service issues which are made up for an overall, genuine feeling of friendliness and desire to please. At one point, the waitress, noting that I had been waiting a while for my food, looked at me and said, “so how is your day going?” “Good”, I replied.
I didn’t lie.
Thanks to Joe DiStefano for tipping me off to Mamak in the first place. Here’s his post on Chopsticks And Marrow:
There’s also an early Yelp buzz: http://www.yelp.com/biz/mamak-queens#query:Mamak.
Here’s Mamak’s website, with complete menu: http://www.mamakhouse.com.
Was looking for something different for a quiet birthday lunch today in Queens and stumbled across this post. We have traveled in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia - so the food sounded intriguing and worth a short drive from Forest Hills.
The lunch trade is slow - so we were one of 3 tables when we got there at 1:00 - but really enjoyed our meal and chat with the owner.
We opted for the roti chanai - which was completely delicious - a small fresh flaky roti with a rich spicy and complex dipping sauce - small portion but reasonable for price and as a starter.
We decided to go with the lunch specials - a typical malay platter with rice, veggies, curries, meat etc. One featured their ayam rendang - a richly flavored tender chicken curry, with coconut rice, krupuk, and anchovy sambal and the other was a lamb curry (could have been a bit more tender but the curry was outstanding), rice, krupuk of some sort (not shrimp), fresh okra, and delicious sauteed cabbage. Each special was 7.95. We also ordered a black sticky coconut rice dessert which was lovely - not too sweet,and although a bit more soupy than we prefer, still enjoyable. Overall we'd go back and branch out on some other choices next time. Good entry. They need more business. The location is a off the beaten track for Flushing Chinatown, on the "other side" of Northern Blvd, away from the main area - I hope they find more support for this sort of authentic ethnic business and can keep it going. Apparently they are busy during the weekends - but slower during the week and lunch. They offer catering and limited lunch delivery to the midtown area on a daily basis as well.
Went to Mamak for lunch. The roti canai came with a beautifully spiced chicken curry. It wasn't quite as flaky as other roti's I've had in flushing but the curry dipping sauce was far superior in flavor. My only quibbles about the sauce was that it was too salty and there was no chicken/meat in it.
The ayam rendang was spectacularly flavored, very fragrant, the chicken was very tender.
Kambing masala was also wonderful, full of flavor. However, the lamb, while tender, was a bit dry even though the curries are quite oily.
Ordered the pasembur and that was the least favorite item. It was overly sauced, jumbled, was very heavy and too heavy on potato and light on seafood.
Don't like that rice was an "extra".
Lunch wed. solo dinning as in I'm the only costumer.
I was in the mood for roti canai, which they were not serving that day. This was the only off note in my meal.
Lamb satay - Sour Marinate with tamarind and sweet coconut basted. With the lamb the peanut sourish satay sauce was great.
Udang Nasi Kandar - I have no idea of the spicing here, but at this level of cooking who cares.
Ayam Rendang - Unlike any chicken rendang I have had before, and as good as the best. Flavors that registered on the palate and were gone leaving an impression of a lovely visitation. A touch sweeter than most.
If I had a reservation it would be the regions indifference to protein perfection as American taste sees it. For me, this was only important for the salty shrimp in the Nasi Kandar.
Right now the kitchen is willing to make half portions of food when requested, at least during lunch,though I'm not sure this is the most price efective way to handle the lunch menu.
The place is reminiscent of Spicy Mina in that the food is deeply personal, non generic.
The server told me they were proud of serving the Malay and the Pakistan consuls. After my lunch I felt like oriental potentate myself.
I tried this place for dinner last night! Wow, the interior really reminds one of a Korean barbecue, but I like the exposed brick walls and the lighting. The waitstaff are really nice - I knew everything I wanted to order but I heard them patiently explaining the menu to another party who seemed less familiar with Malaysian food.
Crispy Okra Mamak Style - delicious, but I love okra and I love anything fried. Served with sweet chili sauce, it's the same type of sauce Thai people eat with grilled chicken.
Chicken Satay - I liked the sauce it came with but the satay meat itself was just OK, a little dry. I like the rice cubes which you usually don't get in Manhattan Malaysian places.
Mee Rebus Mamak - yellow noodles in a sauce with all sorts of toppings - fried tofu, bean sprouts, etc. I felt like this dish wasn't quite spicy or flavorful enough, or lacking a little something. I'd like to try the Mee Goreng next time, as I'm sure they'd do a better rendition of it here than in the Chinatown Malaysian restaurants.
Teochew Style Steamed Pomfret - this one was great! Steamed fish in a sauce with bean paste and chilis. The sauce gives it a bit of a kick but doesn't dominate the flavor. I'm of Teochew descent myself and I really prefer this dish to the other "Teochew style" fish sometimes served in Malaysian restaurants, which comes in a sweet and sour sauce and has tomatoes and all sorts of other stuff in it.
Cendol - Iced dessert. Coconut milk with red bean and the green jelly "noodles." I've always liked this dessert everywhere I've had it.
Overall great meal, I'd come back again to try other parts of the menu.
nice review...def seems interesting
although just to point out the traditional teochew style steamed fish (which is a very classic and popular dish) does use pomfret except its usually steamed with salted plums and vegetables...its a pretty lightly seasoned dish which is really to showcase the freshness of the fish as alot of teochew dishes are supposed to be relying on very fresh ingredients
Thanks for the report, Polecat. That $28 price tag for curry fish head shocked me, so I was glad you posted the link to their site and that most of the rest of their menu is not nearly so expensive.
I'd like to hear some reports from non-Asian-looking people on their results when they ask for their food really spicy. If they get good results, I'll feel more motivated to go out to Queens and see if this place reminds me of my second home (Malaysia).
re: Peter Cuce
I didn't mention that at least half the dishes are from a steam table up front. That's not an issue for me as a) I got there right after they opened, b) I saw Nani working hard to replenish and keep things fresh and c) some of my other favorite places - Java Village comes to mind - feature mostly slow-cooking steam table dishes.
But from a spice pov, it's definitely best to find out what they cook to order. You might want to call in advance.
Regarding the Java Village mention: I used to think Java Village was a not-very-good restaurant, because I ate a couple of times from the steam table and wasn't impressed. Then an Indonesian friend tipped me to the fact that I should order off the menu, and everything was roses after that.