... and never can the twain compete

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 22 Jan 2006

REGULAR patrons of mamak restaurantsPhilip Augustine, 24, AnansaJacob, 24, Ho Chieh Peng, 25,Xaviera Wong, 26, and MelatiRahman, 23, usually congregate atthe mamak restaurant in SeriHartamas area because of the location,variety of food offered, ambienceand its big screen television. 

Apart from Melati, however, theyall dispel the perception thatmamak eateries are taking overfrom the traditional Chinese coffeeshops. 

“Being a Muslim, I only patronisehalal outlets, so for me eatingChinese food in a mamak shop is anadded incentive to come here,” saidMelati, adding that she still noticesthat traditional Chinese shops arecrowded during breakfast andlunch. 

“To me, the mamak restaurantmeans any hour of the day, multiracialscenario plus the relaxedambience of the place,” saidAugustine, who enjoys garlic cheesenaan and chicken satay served at themamak restaurant he patronises. 

Mamak restaurants and Chinesetraditional restaurants are placed indifferent categories, Ho added. 

“In a typical Chinese restaurant,you know the drill of ordering yourfood, eating and leaving the placeonce you have finished. But in amamak restaurant, there is no suchrule. And people who patroniseboth places abide by the differentrules,” explained Ho, who stillprefers to eat Chinese food in a traditionalChinese coffeeshop or evenits modern kopitiam version inmalls. 

“In Cheras where I live, there arestill many traditional Chinese shopsthat are flourishing while the fewmamak restaurants are also doingwell,” Ho said. 

Hailing from down south,Johoreans Anansa and Xavieraobserved that because there are anumber of mamak restaurants inKlang Valley, the traditional coffeeshops appear to be on the decline. 

“Chinese coffeeshops will alwaysremain because of their signaturefood and the fact that they servealcohol. People will make the effortto eat tasty Chinese food minus theambience or the location,” Xavierasaid. 

“At the end of the day, althoughsome of the mamak shops havestarted offering Chinese food toattract more patrons, the traditionalChinese coffeeshop remains,” saidAnansa. 

Restaurant Sun Raj, in the JalanGasing area of Petaling Jaya is aboutthree years old and enjoys a steadystream of patrons every night. Thesupervisor, K. Shanmugam, 34, saidhe does not think the mamakrestaurants are taking over from thetraditional Chinese coffeeshopsmainly because they offer a differentvariety of food. 

“Our clientele know our menulike the back of their hand. Besidesthe famous teh tarik, they enjoyvarieties of roti such as roti pisang,roti tisu and roti bawang. They havenever complained that we need toinclude a different menu,” he said. 

Furthermore, said Shanmugam,Seng Kee, a Chinese coffeeshop, islocated a few doors away and offerstraditional Chinese fare like Hokkienmee and Cantonese fried mee. 

“We allow patrons to order foodfrom them if they want to, and viceversa,” he said. 

Overall, Shanmugam refuted theclaim that mamak restaurants aretaking over from the traditionalChinese shops. 

“The style of cooking is differentand Malaysians as a whole are discerningeaters,” he explained. 

“If they want teh tarik, they willcome to us, and if they wantCantonese mee, they will go to theChinese shop.” 

Michelle Nair, 29, a resident ofJalan Gasing and a regular patron ofboth Sun Raj and Seng Kee agreedwith Shanmugam, saying thatmamak and Chinese eating shopsoffer different food to their patrons. 

“If I wanted to eat noodles otherthan mamak mee, I would go to aChinese restaurant. The style ofcooking is different and I prefer myHokkien mee to be of the non-halalvariety,” she said. 

A call centre manager, Michellebelieves that traditional Chineseshops still retain their simplicityand charm and the food served isdelicious and value for money. 

“Both mamak and Chinese traditionalshops should remain as separateentities offering their ownfood,” she said. 

Related Stories:Chinese, mamak or both? How dad’s coffeeshop changed with the timesThe Mamak vs The Traditional Chinese Coffeeshop

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