Malaysian Food Fight

Good Gado Gado

Mamak and Banana Leaf are fighting it out in Chinatown

By Robb Walsh August 22, 2013

The gado gado at Mamak Malaysian Restaurant at 9889 Bellaire is a wonderful mix of boiled and fresh vegetables in a salad served with lots of spicy peanut sauce with a sliced boiled egg on the side. Gado gado (it means mix mix)  is one of the most popular dishes in Indonesia. In East Java, it's a salad of boiled vegetables heavily covered in a pre-made peanut sauce. In West Java, street vendors grind the peanut sauce to order in a mortar and pestle. You specify how hot you want it, and that determines how much chile oil the vendor uses. The version at Mamak is pretty tame.

We also sampled the chicken satay, which my kids call chicken lollipops. It comes with a different, milder peanut dipping sauce. For yet another appetizer, we got roti canai, an Indian-style flat pancake that is shaped by tossing it in the air. Roti canai is traditionally served with mutton curry, but at Mamak Restaurant, it comes with chicken curry.

If you are thinking that these appetizers appear to be Indonesian, Thai, and Indian, you would be right. Malayasia is one of the most multicultural places on earth, and their cuisine is extremely popular in Houston's Chinatown because it offers such a wide range of interesting flavors.

The first Banana Leaf restaurant is just a few steps across the parking lot from Mamak. It was so busy when it opened, the owners built a second location across the street at 9896 Bellaire. So now there's three Malaysian restaurants within a stone's throw of each other.

Mamak Restaurant, the new contender in the Malaysian race is named after the "mamak food" sold in shops, stands and carts in Malaysia. The Mamak are Tamil Muslims whose ancestors migrated from southern India centuries ago. They are regarded as part of the Malaysian Indian community.

There wasn't any beer available at the restaurant. The waiter told me there was no corkage fee if you want to bring your own bottles, so I went down the street and got some brews.

On the basis of just one visit, I'd say the food at Mamak seems to be about the same quality as Banana Leaf. I think I like the wide open interior of Mamak a little better than the more cramped Banana Leaf. And I love watching the roti maker throw the dough in the air.


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