Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Mamak Stalls - the Great Unifier?

Written by johnleemk on 2:51:05 am May 15, 2005.

To Malaysians, mamak stalls represent an important piece of our culinary culture. They don't just offer a wide range of foods, but actually sell them for decent prices. But what I've just realised is, they also could be a potential cornerstone for creating a true Malaysian race.

As some sociologists have noted, food is probably one of the easiest ways for cultures to assimilate one another. While doing a traditional Malay dance would be liable to get you lynched if you're not Malay, almost nobody can find anything wrong with consuming nasi lemak. Food is the easiest way to get to know another culture without looking like a traitor to chauvinists from your own race. My guess is this probably stems from the fact that food is a basic human need; if you don't eat, you die. But I digress.

Mamak stalls just unify Malaysian society. The name — mamak — itself denotes people of a mixed Malay-Indian breed. The variety of food offered is also diverse — you can have mee (Chinese), roti canai (Indian) and satay (Malay) all in one meal. And then you can wash it down with the quintessential Malaysian drink, teh tarik. You can't get any closer to a melting pot of cultures than that.

And it goes further. Just about anybody can patronise a mamak stall. The Malays need not fear non-halal cuisine; mamak stalls are run by, well, mamaks, who are Muslim Indians. The Chinese love the killer deals you get there; where else on Earth can you get a filling meal for less than three US dollars without facing a potential risk of cholera, hepatitis or other such diseases? And the Indians will just like the predominantly Indian dishes. Nobody can object to an invitation to dine at a mamak stall.

Yet, this hasn't even begun to touch on how mamak stalls connect all social strata. Only in a mamak stall can you find corporate executives and manual labourers dining together — of their own free will. Just about any class of society can be found having a meal at a mamak stall. An office worker on his lunch break can get a cheap, filling meal there. A bunch of construction workers who just finished their shift can afford to frequent a mamak stall. Computer geeks who need nourishment to avoid retina burnout from overdosing on pornography can find edible food at a mamak stall, while still managing to retain enough money to buy another 24 hours of computer time at the cybercafe. Families dine at mamak stalls. College students hang out there. Practically anyone can be found eating at a mamak stall.

So, are mamak stalls a possible precursor to a more Malaysian race? I would definitely presume so. After all, only at a mamak stall can you find Chinese digging into Malay dishes, and vice-versa. Only at a mamak stall do class divisions dissolve. Mamak stalls, in short, represent the future of Malaysia.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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