That was the prank note our common friend on the fridge of her Staffordshire university flat shared with other fellow Malaysians, in the spring of 1990. Growing up in suburban Petaling Jaya in the 70s, the phrase was most probably used by her family to daily breadman serving the neighbourhood almost on the dot every evening.
That was before the time Mamak eatery shops were popular. In fact, it was a rare treat to get a roti canal. Let alone a complete set nasi beriyani-ayam kurma, with popadom. It is often factored in with the treat of watching football matches in Stadium Merdeka.
Those were the days teh tarik wasn’t the nation’s most favourite beverage.
In the mid-80s, ‘Go Mamak’ amongst the youths of suburban Pee Jay and Kay El, mainly students of sixth forms and external accounting and law courses in private colleges in the neighbourhood of China-town simply connotes having stall food.
It was the boom-time stalls in the same area, notable for the banking and capital market staffers along ‘Benteng’. Otherwise, the real Mamak restaurants were a few along Jalan Masjid India and Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
Social behaviour professor Dato’ Dr Shamsul Amri has the opinion it is the Mamak phenomena which brought Malaysians closer together.
UKM unveils ‘Mamakization’ theory
BY KOI KYE LEE – 6 JANUARY 2016 @ 11:24 PM
KUALA LUMPUR: In an age when the very foundation of Malaysians society is being tested with numerous challenges, a humble Malaysian institution may be responsible for keeping the diverse people in this country together.
The ubiquitous ‘mamak’ stall, often overlooked in the grand scheme of things, is currently the subject of an academic study which seeks to understand how it contributes to social cohesion in the country.
In the paper ‘Mamakization’: Food and Social Cohesion in Multiethnic Malaysia, authored by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s (UKM) Institute of Ethnic Studies (Kita) director Distinguished Professor Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, and Eric Olmedo, the ‘mamak’ is scrutinised for its role in nation building.
“Food is a vital social cohesive element and also welding force for the nation. ‘Mamak’ shops are famous amongst Malaysians and even foreigners and is seen as a social gathering centre positioned in the same vein as cafes and coffee shops. Food is the universal language to bring people together, across age, income, race and even culture.
It also plays an equally important role in society, as everyone has to eat and this helps to cultivate the nature of bringing multi-ethnic Malaysians together.,” said Shamsul Amri.
Speaking to the New Straits Times recently, he said: “People of different ethnic groups and also various social standings gather at mamak stalls for meals.”
Shamsul Amri added that mamak restaurants were able to accommodate and incorporate different cultures under one roof and this has indirectly led and encouraged further social cohesion in the country.
“There are different things going on at a ‘mamak’ shop. You can see that they are able to serve various dishes that come from Malay, Indian and even Chinese cultures.
“It is also a place for Malaysians to gather and catch a game of football, which is of a totally different culture, since English, Spanish, Italian leagues football matches are also aired,” he said.
He further added the trait of social cohesion was strong at ‘mamak’ shops, making all Malaysians feel comfortable. It is considered as a place for all regardless of their race and religion.
Based on lessons from the field, Shamsul Amri said the research also found empirical evidence of inclusivity as Malays, Chinese and Indians all crowded the food outlets.
“Not only that, we have also observed that workers use Tamil language to communicate, but they have also managed to adjust to their customer’s language, regardless if it is a mixture of Bahasa Melayu and English. It is a striking example of ethnic alignment which leads to social cohesion,” he added.
Shamsul Amri said the research had summarised that mamak shops play an active role in social innovation, especially on how people behave and interact which in the end creates social cohesion.
Asked what was the purpose of his research into finding the ‘mamak’ theory, Shamsul Amri said it was to show that Malaysians are innovative in solving ethnic problems, and it was not the sole responsibility of governments or politicians.
Shamsul Amri said this study could help the public to look at things from a different perspective, via the lens of social cohesion or symbolic interactionism.
He said it was impossible to stop negative news from circulating via social media platforms, but this ‘mamakization’ theory can show Malaysians how to focus on the good things that make the country wonderful.
“This study will expose the social cohesion in our country through a connector such as ‘mamak’ shops. It will also allow the public to see for themselves how they are creating an initiative through social innovation that fulfills social cohesion,” Shamsul Amri said.
The other more common Mamak then was the rojak-cendol phenomena, mostly found under the most tree shaded corner spots all over in Petaling Jaya.
In many places, Mamaks were offering mi-goreng from their pushcart for a small affordable price, even for boys coming from from rugby or hockey practice for the annual inter-school district and state level games.
We must admit we have not gone through the study yet. However, the anti-thesis to Shamsul’s opinion is the term Mamak do come with a negative connotation of overcharging, inconsistent of charge and short selling at an eatery.
Never the less, otherwise it is a typical eatery where the standard for service, price and value is almost expected.