Orlando is really booming as a foodie town. With the food truck scene, farm to table movement, celebrity chef restaurants, food hubs and world class theme parks, it is just a matter of time before more and more nationalities present their food. The newest addition to the food scene is Mamak Asian Street Food. The word Mamak loosely translates to street vendor. If you have ever been to Asia, seen a Jackie Chan movie, watched Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern on TV, then you know what I’m talking about. Vendors line the streets with every imaginable delight under the blazing sun. The challenge is to bring that ever moving scene into a sit down restaurant.
Mamak has succeeded on creating the ambiance. What was once a favorite Vietnamese restaurant of mine Ha Long Bistro is now the new home to Mamak. It graces the bustling Mills 50 corridor on Colonial Drive. You can take the risk of parking on Colonial Dr. or go around the block and there is ample parking behind the buildings. From the back entrance there is a long passageway that reminisces the narrow side streets of Asia.
The dining room wraps you in a warm yellow glow. There are banquettes lining the walls, tables in the middle and two long communal tables one running the length of the dining room, the other across to one side. The banquette chair seems a little higher than the other chairs, which could present an issue for taller people. However, the chair to table height works for me. You know those tables that are too high and the seats are too low? I think there is a comfortable medium here.
The ceiling boast a most spectacular rope canopy. Jute rope is strung the restaurant length against a black roof which creates an infinite sight line. If they were going for a night market feel, I think they achieved it.
Carved wooden lamp shade adorn down lights. Clear glass lamp shades gives a feeling of ancient Asia. Clear bulbs are being phased out, in the US, to make way for more energy efficient incandescent and LED technology. A closer glance at these light bulbs shows very sophisticated filaments. My guess is, these are not your ordinary street light bulbs from Asia. But is sure does look that way.
Behind the bar is a modern light sculpture that draws your attention. The bar looks like a swanky perch from Singapore or Tokyo. An understated modernism with clean lines and subtle accents blends old and new Asia. I was told a very young Asian designer from GDP Design and Construction crafted this master piece. If this is a promise of things to come, Orlando is in for a new height in designs.
The restaurant’s namesake suggest “Asian” street food, it is. However, the menu leans more towards Malaysian cuisine. Although, there are sprinklings of other Asian cultures. Asian food is so dynamic that the addition or subtraction of one ingredient can suggest a different country or region. To label this place Malaysian, traditional Malaysian may take offense. To call it Asian may be more accurate. They are not trying to be something they are not. I haven’t been to Malaysia, yet; it’s on my bucket list. But I’ve been to Singapore and these cultures are similar. Singaporean cuisine embraces a myriad of cultures. I’ll venture to say that Mamak may very well be Orlando’s own melting pot. Our Asian community is vast and diverse. Mamak draws from that diversity with an inkling to Malaysian. There is a sizable wine list with some very approachable varieties. The beer list is enormous, with domestic, imports and craft. Is there a Malaysian Beer? I couldn’t find it on the menu. Our server steered us to a Singaporean Tiger Beer instead. We opted for wine.
Cava Brut Casteller Spain – A citrus notes bubbly to start the meal. It pairs well with spicy curries. The little dancing bubbles act to cool the palate.
Pinot Noir Casella Mallee Point SE Australia – Fresh berry like notes with medium body and short finish.
Malbec Cruz Alta Argentina – Intense bold, spicy on the palate with short finish. Enhances spicy flavors.
Moscato Canyon Creek California – Sweet, peach, melon notes with light fresh nose, cools down some spicy flavors in Asian cuisine.
Mamak Roti Canai – Malaysian roti toasted till golden brown, crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. Served with spicy curry sauce. This comes with one roti, which is a crime, because this needs a lot more. You can order more roti. The roti is a neat crisp with suppleness inside. Yes, I see the oil on top of the curry. Hold your horses. Malaysian curry is sauteed in oil to open all the natural flavors, this oil acts as a vessel to combine all the ingredients. So it may be on the oily side, but fair none the flavors are explosive. A little piece of potato sits at the bottom of the bowl. This potato acts as a thickening agent to make the curry even more luxurious. I have to figure out how to get a bigger portion of this next time I go back. Don’t let me lead you, go try it yourself.
Mamak Delight – Stir-fried mixed veggies, fried tofu and shiitake mushrooms, tossed in a brown sauce. Fresh and crispy. Not soggy at all.
Kari Mee – Malaysia’s most popular, egg noodles, shrimp, chicken, hard boiled egg, fried bean curd and veggie, in a curry broth, topped with fried shallot. Spice party in a bowl. I can see why this is very popular. It encompasses all the flavors in one bowl. Shrimp and chicken were not over cooked, vegetables were crisp, broth was well balanced.
Daging Kari – Malaysian Coconut Kari: Malaysia’s most popular dish, your choice of protein; Ayam (chicken), Daging (beef), Sayur (tofu & mixed veggies) curry cooked with freshly ground spices and chunky potatoes, served with jasmin rice and sliced cucumber. We choose Daging. Note to my future dining partners: I will not be sharing this with anyone. Creamy luscious coconut milk blended with earthy spices, makes this dish a wonder. The thickness is very wholesome with rice.
Crispy Tofu – Fried tofu topped with cucumber, jicama, carrots, bean sprouts and roasted peanuts, served with your choice of “pasembur sauce” or “satay sauce. We choose pasembur, a sweet nutty sauce. Fresh vegetables, big nutty flavors with a nice sweetness. Well composed dish.
Coconut Shrimp – Fried coconut shrimp, served with curry sauce. We’ve all had coconut shrimp. But have you had the curry sauce? Oh my, that was spectacular. Almost like the roti canai sauce, this curry was thick, rich, creamy and silky.
Char Kway Teow – Malaysia’s most popular street dish, wok-fried rice noodles, with shrimp, chicken, eggs, bean sprouts, and chives. Firm noodles with wonderfully cooked shrimp and chicken in sweet tangy flavors. This dish comes out of the kitchen with “wok hay” that fills the room. In simple terms, wok hay is when fresh ingredients meets a flaming wok and magic happens. It is that all elusive taste, smell and flavor that only a wok can produce.
Ice Kacang – Mountain of shaved ice, topped with condensed sweet milk, red beans, grass jelly, creamy corn, roasted peanuts and palm nuts, drizzled with red and brown simple syrup. This is presented in layers, you can mix it all up or eat each layer in your own combinations. I like to do both. This way I can enjoy a single flavor or multiple. After all the spices and heat, this bowl of coolness is exactly what the belly needs.
Go check out their full menu: Mamak Menu
Most of the menu items are below $10. They are presented as shares, tapas, or small plates. Some are definitely not to be shared. Yes, I get big eyed. Mamak has managed to capture the essence of Asia in a modern space. This not your corner take out joint. Orlando, please don’t treat it as such. This is a very sophisticated, well thought out space, with a menu that is sure to challenge and compel. The service is warm and friendly, with deep knowledge. Strike up a conversation, don’t assume anything, be open and learn, let the staff guide you. Go with a large group and share to really enjoy this experience. As in anything new, there will be bumps, don’t let the bumps stop you. This restaurant has the potential to be something special. We welcome you to the Orlando Dining Scene.