Chinese, mamak or both?

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 22 Jan 2006

The mushrooming of 24-hour mamak restaurants around the Klang Valley has given rise to the perception that while stamping their mark in the food arena they have also taken the business from traditional Chinese coffeeshops. But have they? Sunday Star investigates. 

ARE mamak shops, which offer everything from roti canai to Chinese style noodles, taking over from traditional Chinese coffeeshops? 

Samantha Chong, 24, who was enjoying lunch at an old-style Chinese coffeeshop in Brickfields, thinks not. 

“Mamak shops offer different food compared to the coffeeshops,” she said while pouring soup into her bowl of dry noodles. 

Chong believes there is no real competition between the two categories of eateries. 

“I go to both,” she said, adding, “It depends on what I feel like eating at the time.” 

Chong said the upmarket kopitiam, which can usually be found at supermarkets and malls, is also not a threat to the humble traditional Chinese coffeeshop. 

The food tastes much better at traditional Chinese shops and is much cheaper compared to the contemporary kopitiam, she said. 

But the traditional coffeeshops can sometimes be hot and crowded, she admitted. 

“You should go there to eat the food, not to sample the environment.” 

James Gnanapragasam, who frequents the Chinese coffeeshops near his office in Sunway and was having a plate of chap fan (mixed/ economy rice) for lunch, said they offer a variety and they serve pork. 

“Chinese shops also tend to specialise. There's usually a ‘specialist' for chap fan, pan mee or pau,” he explained. 

The 33-year-old engineer said he goes to both mamak and Chinese shops for lunch with his bosses and colleagues. 

“Although, come to think of it, most of my Indian colleagues prefer the mamak and, of course, my Malay colleagues don't go to Chinese shops because they are not halal.” 

Like Chong, James thinks that the traditional Chinese coffeeshop is here to stay despite the proliferation of round-the-clock mamak shops. 

Patricia Wong, the owner of a traditional Chinese coffeeshop, said she is not at all afraid of the “mamak threat”. 

As the owner of Rocky Restaurant, a name that is synonymous with Bangsar, she should know what she is talking about. 

The restaurant opened in Dec 1974 and although Wong has seen a lot of changes, her clientele has never dwindled. 

So what's the secret to the longstanding success of Rocky? 

“We have retained the feel of a clean Chinese coffeeshop rather than a coffee house,” she said. 

“The moment you put in an air-condition, people think you are going to raise the price.” 

Wong said it was also easy to maintain competitive prices as she owned the restaurant and does not have to pay rent. 

“We have mostly office workers and family people as our regular customers,” she said 

Wong has no fear that the mamak shop that has sprung up just around the corner will ‘snatch’ her customers away. 

“In general, I don’t think mamak shops are taking over the Chinese shops. 

“We just offer different things,” she said, confidently.  

Related Stories:How dad’s coffeeshop changed with the times ... and never can the twain competeThe Mamak vs The Traditional Chinese Coffeeshop 

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