When I was a kid back home, there was a stall under a huge tree down the road from our house run by a Mamak gentleman. The word “Mamak” as it is used in Malaysia refers to the Indian-Muslim community.
Thanks to the Indian-Muslims, we have such famous Malaysian dishes as roti canai, roti telur, murtabak, rojak, teh tarik and mamak mee (aka mee goreng) – a glorious plate of spicy, savory noodles with fish cakes, fish balls, tofu puffs, boiled potatoes and a dense fried cruller in a delicious egg-y sauce. Yummy, yummy mamak mee – how fondly I remember thee! The stall near our house made the most delicious, addictive version ever. I’m quite sure they had other things on their “menu” as well, but all we ever went there for was the mamak mee. It was close enough to our house that mum could send either of my brothers on their bicycle or me walking with a friend down to the stall to pick up dinner. We’d walk down to the large tree, put in our order and sit at one of the rickety old wooden tables to wait – inevitably there was a crowd of folks waiting for their orders. Everyone would stand around watching the chef take the orders and fry up each serving of the noodles one at a time. It was almost like watching a magician at work. There was the huge gas stove, old-fashioned but blazing with BTUs. There was the glass case filled with all the cut up ingredients. There was the mound of fresh yellow noodles and the numerous bowls of sauces and chilli pastes. He took everyone’s order and remembered each one in sequence. “Satu mamak mee, tak mau taugeh. Satu mau semua. Satu tambah pedas. Satu tambah pedas, tak mau cucur udang” which translates to “One mamak mee, without bean sprouts. One with everything. One extra spicy. One extra spicy without the fried cruller”. And this was just one person’s order! How he kept it all straight without writing it all down is a mystery to me. It was showtime at the Mamak stall! I always made sure I had the best view and watched with eyes big as pies.
Unfortunately “progress” and municipal improvements have done away with the beautiful big tree that provided the shade and the space for the stall. The spot is now a huge four-lane road. Traffic zips by at breakneck speeds but when I drive by I go real slow and remember the exact spot where many a serving of mamak mee was ordered to go and enjoyed by so many. I wonder where Mr Mamak is today? If he’s set up somewhere else and you know where, please do tell. Until then, I’m left with the memory of the perfect plate of mamak mee.
Back here in Brooklyn, I’ve been cooking up my version of the dish. A few months ago, I posted a picture of a wokful of noodles on my Facebook page and a few friends have been asking for the recipe. Here’s the AMK version of mamak mee. Very tasty and quite easy once you get the hang of it. I’ve left out the boiled potatoes and the fried cruller because seriously, how much deep-fried carb-y friedness does one noodle dish need? :o)
Mamak Mee (serves 4)
3 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon corn oil
5 cloves of garlic – peeled and minced
1 red onion – finely sliced
1 chicken breast – sliced
8 – 10 fish balls – halved
4 fish cakes/fish tofu – sliced
8 tofu puffs – sliced
1lb Lo Mein noodles
Large handful of Chinese greens*
1 tomato – cubed
Large handful of beansprouts
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
3 tbsp Sriracha*
2 tbsp ketchup
1/4 cup water
Salt to taste
White pepper to taste
Sliced scallions, cilantro and lime wedges to garnish.
1. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a wok. Add garlic and onions and fry til very lightly browned.
2. Add the chicken and stir fry until no longer pink. Then add fish balls, fish cakes/fish tofu and tofu puffs. Stir to combine then move on to adding the sauces.
3. Add the soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, Sriracha, and ketchup. Stir to combine. Add a dash of salt and pepper. You can add more later if you need more.
4. Add the 1/4 cup of water and stir to combine. At this point I added more Sriracha as it didn’t look red hot enough for my taste. Add the noodles and greens and stir to mix evenly. Cook until the greens begin to wilt – about 1 minute.
5. Move the noodles over to one side of the wok. Add tomatoes over the noodles. Add a tablespoon of oil to the empty side of the wok and crack the eggs onto the oil. Leaving the noodles to one side,scramble the eggs until almost completely done.
7. Add a large handful of sprouts and stir to mix them in. And there you have it – mamak mee! Garnish with the sliced scallions, cilantro and a wedge of lime. Now all that’s left to do is to eat it. Squeeze the lime over everything and you’re in heaven!
If you’re like me and nothing’s ever hot enough, have a little dish of sliced bird eye chillies in soy sauce on the side. Ooooh, my mouth is on fire. Exactly as it should be!
* The mamaks usually use Sawi or Kai Choy (mustard greens) for this dish. I believe that one can use most any Chinese greens for this dish. If the stems are particularly tough, separate the stems from the leaves while prepping. Add the stems when you add the chicken, so they have more time to cook and become tender. Then add the leaves when you add the noodles. For this recipe, I grabbed a bag of greens at the Chinese supermarket without actually looking at them. When I opened the bag to cook last night, I found greens that I had never laid eyes on before. I tasted them raw and they were slightly peppery with a great flavor. They worked more than well for this dish – the stems were not too tough so I was able to cook them together with the leaves. Here’s a picture of them – if anyone knows what these are, please enlighten me! :o)
** Sriracha is not usually used in mamak mee. A chilli paste of ground dried red peppers is cooked and used to add heat to this dish. In Malaysia, we get little bags of chilli paste called “chili boh” at the market. In most households you will find some in the refrigerator as there are many uses for it and a home cook always finds themselves in need of it. I decided to eliminate the step of blending the red chillies and cooking them to make this recipe a lot easier. One could also use the easily found Sambal Oelek as a substitute. If you do blend your own chillies or use Sambal Oelek, make sure to cook it long enough until the raw chilli smell is gone.
All ingredients for this dish can be found at most Asian supermarkets. Here in NYC, I shop at New York Mart, 128 Mott St (between Hester St & Grand St) New York, NY 10013