When people talk about Malaysia, and Malaysian people, it’s often said that food is more than just the thing that sustains you.
It’s a national past time. A pursuit which is appropriate for any time of day. And usually, it’s the first thing on everyone’s mind.
Sure, there’s time-appropriate meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are standard meal times just as they are in Australia, but there’s also a variety of wonderful “any time” foods which are common.
They’re easy to find at local joints, and they’re the sort of dishes that are excellent company for a cup of Kopi (coffee) or Teh (tea), brewed hot and strong, and laced with sweetened condensed milk.
This week, in hot pursuit of the perfect food for any time of day, J and I visited Mak’s Place in Northbridge.
We started with the classics – a Teh Tarik ($3.00, which literally means ‘pulled tea’ – a reference to the pouring action used to make the foamy ‘head’), and an Iced Kopi Tarik ($3.50).
Both J and I developed quite an addiction to the strong stuff (the caffeinated kind) last year when we visited Singapore and Malaysia. These weren’t quite as strong as we would have liked – I prefer a really strong, deep brown Teh, but they were well flavoured and really well prepared (look at that awesome foamy top on my mug!)
One of J’s favourite Malaysian dishes which fit today’s bill was Roti Paratha ($5.00, sometimes called Roti Canai). A variation on the flaky unleavened Indian staple, Malaysian Parathas are rich with ghee (clarified butter) and made with eggs. They’re flaky and crisp on the outside, with lovely soft layers inside.
Mak’s obviously make their own Parathas, as evidenced by the irregularly folded square, not round, shape of their gorgeously flaky Roti. The outer layers were perfectly browned, crispy and light. You can even see tiny bubbles in the photo above, which just added to the great textural crunch.
The shallow dish of curry gravy which is usually standard with Parathas was included here – most likely a chicken curry, which was deliciously creamy with coconut milk, and well flavoured with turmeric, ginger and all the good stuff.
For our next dish, we sampled another Malaysian great – Satay ($8.80 for five sticks, chicken or beef). While there’s been great debate over the origins of this dish, with many arguing that it all started in Indonesia – I think it’s worth mentioning that there’s also a historical link between these two countries (with the early trade routes which spanned from West Malaysia to Borneo and Indonesia in the east), which no doubt also led to shared cuisine.
Frankly, I don’t care who started it. We can all claim it, just like Australians and Kiwis claim the Pavlova
I’ve eaten Satay for as long as I can remember. When my family migrated to Australia, one of the things my parents and late grandma were keen to continue was the great Satay cook off. This family event was often an annual one, usually as Dad’s birthday celebration, as Satay is one of his favourite foods.
Mak’s Satay was probably the closest I’ve ever tasted in a restaurant to truly home made Satay. Of all the dishes we ate, this one was a stand out. The tender chicken thigh was well grilled with that tell-tale flavour of charcoal (a good sign), and had the perfect sweet-salty-turmeric ratio. I could have closed my eyes and imagined it was fresh off the grill from Dad’s own hands.
The Satay sauce was a well balanced blend of peanuts, chili and spice – with a great texture that was rich with peanut chunks, and saucy enough to coat each bite of Satay. I reckon this is the most delicate balancing act when it comes to making your Satay sauce right. It shouldn’t be liquid. And it shouldn’t be so finely processed it resembles peanut butter. You’ve got to have chunks. But it has to stay on the sticks.
The traditional accompaniments for Satay are chopped cucumber, red onion and Ketupat (compressed rice cakes) featured here in Mak’s version. They may seem like pretty pedestrian accompaniments, but they really work so well with Satay. Most people say it’s just not Satay without these three things!
We also sampled the Tahu Goreng ($9.00, which literally means ‘fried tofu’). Covered in the rich peanutty Satay sauce and topped with crunchy fried shallots, the chunks of fried tofu were mixed with a generous handful of quickly blanched mung bean sprouts and crunchy juicy pieces of fresh cucumber.
Truth time: I’m not really the biggest tofu fan.
Still, I soldiered on. I really wanted to like it. The satay sauce was delicious. But sadly, this one wasn’t for me. J and I both felt it was a little lacklustre – not for lack of trying, but because the blanched sprouts had added a pool of water to the bowl, diluting the sauce and making everything seem tepid. We struggled to finish this mountain of tofu – I would have happily paid the same for half the dish. It was definitely family-sized.
In Malaysia, many interesting and hunger-inducing incarnations based on (or around) the classic Paratha have been made. One of them is Murtabak ($9.50), a traditionally Indian Muslim speciality that features spicy minced lamb and egg, fried inside a flaky paratha outside.
Mak’s place offers two varieties, chicken and beef ($8.50), opting to move away from the usual minced lamb. They’ve also lightened it significantly with the addition of crunchy chopped celery.
To be honest, after reading the description of Mak’s version, I was hesitant. Not at all like the usual Murtabak’s I had eaten. My apprehension turned out to be in vain – I really enjoyed this version, precisely because it wasn’t like the super-rich, heavy lamb versions I’ve eaten in the past.
The chicken mince was quite lean but was held together nicely by the egg. The crunch of the celery was a welcome change which went surprisingly well with the (traditional) sweet soft onions.
Different. But change is good, I think, especially when Malaysian’s love changing up the classics. Just look at Pizza Paratha!
Despite the slight shift from the traditional, I really enjoyed that the food we tried Mak’s Place had a distinctly home made and home-cooked feel. Everything was obviously freshly prepared where it counts (Roti Parathas are not a cook and keep food), and lovingly prepared (Satay prep takes FOREVER. I say this as a person who has endured hours of skewering and turmeric-yellowed fingernails).
It was great to see my favourite Malaysian foods on their menu and wonderful to taste genuinely Malaysian flavours in all the dishes we tried.
I have to say it’s just a shame they don’t keep Mamak stall or Kopi tiam (coffee shop) hours. I know where I’d be when I need my mid-morning Roti Paratha and Teh Tarik fix!
Wednesday – Friday 12.00pm – 3.00pm, 5.00pm – 9.00pm
Saturday 11.30am – 9.00pm
Sunday 11.30am – 8.00pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Juji Chews dined at Mak’s Place as a guest of Malaysia Kitchen.
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