Name: Mamak Roti House
Address: Shop 4, Ground Floor, Ernst & Young Building, 121 Marcus Clarke Street, Canberra City. 2601
Ph: 02 6257 9688
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 11:30am-2:30pm. 5pm-10pm.
In most of the world, the best food is served on the street. Little stalls or trucks, selling the local specialty out of mini-kitchens of questionable hygiene, and yet they are exceptional. The Mamak stalls of Malaysia are a perfect example of this, dishing out food and drink from the side of the road.
Sadly, I have never had the opportunity to go to Malaysia for the authentic Mamak experience, my knowledge of roti and sambal restricted to those restaurants around Australia that serve them.
Mamak Roti House is one such restaurant that has recently arrived in Canberra, and it is an exciting addition to the streets of Civic. Situated at the bottom of the new Ernst and Young building at the university end of town, it is somewhere that everyone from office workers to students can enjoy.
The room is cavernous. A single, huge room with nothing to break it up, it feels like it needs to be full to work. When packed with noisy, probably sweaty people, it would have a real buzz that isn’t there when only a third of the tables are taken. Although, the international students who stalk the floor as waiters, while friendly, often seemed lost as it was. I’d worry what they would be like at capacity.
But no one goes to a joint like this for décor or service. It’s all about the food, which needs to be quick, cheap, and pleasing. On those fronts this roti house delivers.
As the name suggests, a big part of the output is roti, that classic fried Malay bread. Available plain, extra thin and tissue like, or stuffed with eggs, onions or seasoned chicken. Or, as I chose, Roti Planta, cooked with extra butter, making it crisp up with a sweet, caramelised edge. It is completely morish.
All rotis are served with two curry sauces and a sambal. One of the sauces, similar to a laksa base, worked brilliantly with the buttery roti, and the sambal was well balanced, if lacking in heat. Unfortunately the dahl-like side didn’t live up to the others, being distinctly short on flavour.
Nasi Lemak is one of the iconic dishes in Malaysian cuisine, a rice dish that works because of its simplicity. A mound of coconut rice is served with some sambal, ikan bilis (which are crunchy fried anchovies), peanuts, cucumber, and half a hard-boiled egg. This is a solid example, with each element bringing the right flavours to support the rice. Not to mention, being able to order deep fried chicken wings as a side is always appreciated, especially when they are salty and fatty without being too greasy.
One of the most gratifying things about Mamak Roti House is the drinks selection. Alongside the normal things you get everywhere are a number of traditional Malay drinks. Some are refreshing, while others are sweet alternatives to coffee at the end of the meal. A limau (lime) ice belongs in the first camp, with lime-juice, sugar syrup and water making a drink like old-school lemonade.
With dessert I drank the most notable drink from Malaysia, teh tarik. With this, sweetened condensed milk is combined with tea and poured from cup to cup to form a frothy top. Rich and sweet, it’s not something to have all the time, but it is very pleasant.
Sweetness was also the key word for the desset roti. Filled with pandan jam and served with ice cream, the flavours were enjoyable, if not what I’m used to. However, the sweet is so overwhelming that it is hard to eat a whole thing. Definitely a dish to share.
Mamak Roti House is one of those great stand-by restaurants, for when you want something quick and tasty that doesn’t cost too much. It is easy to walk out for less than $30 a head, and there is plenty on the menu to keep you interested for repeat visits.
I can’t say whether or not it is authentic, though I hope it is. Whether eaten here or on the Malaysian streets, this sort of food is easy to enjoy.