The cuisine of Malaysia is dizzyingly global, and that's a challenge for Malaysian restaurateurs outside their homeland. Many respond by going big, offering "a greatest-hits mélange of Malay, Hakka, Peranakan, Singaporean, Chinese, and even Thai dishes," Polecat observes on Chowhound. "The kitchen tends to be spread very thin trying to do all these dishes well, and winds up excelling at few to none." In contrast, month-old Mamak in Flushing goes small. Its relatively brief menu emphasizes flavors contributed by generations of Tamil Muslim migrants—an Indian influence, melded with Malay elements, that's too often missing at Malaysian restaurants in New York.
Polecat says the resulting dishes are "lovingly prepared with a variety of herbs and spices; the aroma grabs you the minute you enter the place." Sambal ikan—moist, meaty, deep-fried mackerel in red chile sauce—delivers deep flavors and pleasing heat. Mamak-style okra (pictured) is nicely seasoned, fried crisp, and served with a sweet chile dip. Teochew-style steamed pomfret comes in a well-balanced sauce of bean paste, chiles, shallots, and garlic that imparts "a bit of a kick but doesn't dominate," pravit reports. Local expats have gotten the word and are lining up for specialties like murtabak (flatbreads filled with minced beef and egg); the combo rice plates called nasi kandar; and assam pedas, a spicy-sour curry of shrimp and okra. "There is a palpable feeling of excitement here," Polecat writes.
The gracious chef-owner, Nani Hughie Yusof, has already built a following through her catering company, which cooks for private events and until recently delivered Malaysian box lunches to grateful Midtown worker bees. Once Mamak is up to speed, Yusof promises, lunch delivery will resume.
Mamak House [Flushing]
35-20 Farrington Street (between Northern Boulevard and 35th Avenue), Flushing, Queens
Photo by Chowhound user pravit