Living overseas and traveling from one country to another, Malaysian food was what we as a family missed the most. So, it is without question that almost every time we arrived back on Malaysian shores after years of being away, we would immediately stop by a Mamak stall and just enjoy the simple everyday fare that is often taken for granted.
You really don’t know how much you miss teh tarik (pulled milk tea) until you can’t get a hold of it. Dishes like roti canai (Indian-influence layered flatbread) were also a must and daging masak hitam berempah (black spiced beef) on top of steaming hot fluffy white rice, most definitely! I’m just salivating thinking about it.
What Would We Do Without Mamak Stalls?!
Malaysians love to catch up with each other over food. In fact, food represents camaraderie, love and opens up the channels of communication. Therefore, any meet up session is really just sad and incomplete without food.
We meet up often, gossip about the important things in life – like where to get the best teh tarik in town – and a couple of hours later, we fight over who is going to cover the bill. I can’t remember a time when we haven’t had food and drinks in front of us as we chattered away.
Mamak stalls are the preferred choice of many a casual gathering. These stalls are Malaysian Muslim-Indian easy-going cafes that are light on our pockets with an extensive menu that we know and love well. Not to mention, they also happen to be common ground where all races converge.
You’ll find all sorts happily hanging out at the Mamak. This convergence is also represented in the food they serve too – from Mee Goreng Mamak (Indian fried noodles) to Bee Hoon Goreng (fried rice vermicelli noodles) to mango lassi to nasi lemak (potentially the national food ambassador for Malaysia which requires a whole other lengthy love rant).
If you’re looking for simple Malaysian food, there really is something for everyone at the Mamak.
Replicating Black Spiced Beef a la Mamak
Going back overseas after all to brief visits home, my family found ways to recreate food we missed. Seriously, can you imagine being away for a whole year without having access to Mamak classics? Being able to cook them up at home was essential!
Thank god my mother, affectionately known as Aunty Zah, is such an amazing cook! She replicated the daging masak hitam berempah and made it even better than the ones we’ve had at the Mamak itself.
So, if you’re missing food from home or just curious about this classic Mamak dish, check out my mama’s recipe for Black Spiced Beef or daging masak hitam berempah! The beef is tender and has that perfect balance of flavours we Malaysians love so much – spicy with a touch of sweet and salty.
While the list of ingredients may seem on the longer side, don’t be intimidated. Simply measure everything out beforehand and you’ll find that it’s an easy yummy dish to make. Give it a try.
Serving size: 8
- 1 kg beef fillet
- 4 big onions
- 2 inches peeled whole fresh ginger (equivalent to 2 tablespoon grated ginger)
- ½ cup water
- 2 tbsp chili paste
- 1 three-inch stick cinnamon
- 1 tbsp white pepper
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tbsp fennel
- 2 tbsp curry powder
- ½ cup tomato paste
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- ½ cup thick sweet soy sauce
- ¼ cup curry leaves
- ¾ cup cooking oil
- Salt to taste
- In a blender, pulverize the onion and ginger with ½ cup of water. Set aside.
- Heat ¾ cup cooking oil in a medium sized wok or deep pan. The wok is preferable.
- Add the chilli paste to the oil and cook for 1 minute.
- Pop in the cinnamon stick and cook for another 1 minute.
- Add the blended mixture of onion and ginger and continue to cook for another five minutes.
- All the spices go in next including white pepper, cumin, fennel and curry powder.
- Stir for another 2 minutes or until it starts to smell aromatic. In Bahasa Malaysia we refer to this as “naik bau”.
- Add in the beef fillet and cook for 5 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato paste and salt. Leave it to cook for another 1 minute.
- Add in the sugar and sweet soy sauce.
- Let the mixture cook for 2 minutes then lower the heat to a simmer and add the curry leaves.
- Leave to cook on low to medium heat for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
- Add ½ cup of water so that the sauce doesn’t go dry.
- Cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.
Some Tips to Keep in Mind
- The key is to use high quality ingredients. A good fillet of beef makes all the difference! As the gravy dries up, the meat becomes increasingly tender with flavours immersed into every last bite. Pair it with good hot fluffy white rice and you’ll be going back for seconds and thirds.
- Tougher cuts of beef may require longer cooking times of 15 to 30 minutes in order to get it to a tender stage. Add an additional quarter to half cup of water if you intend to simmer it for longer than the time stated in the recipe.
- Measure out all your ingredients beforehand to make following the recipe steps quick and easy.
- The recipe should make enough to feed at least 8 people. If you’re not feeding a big family, make your life even easier by putting aside the amount you plan to serve for the day and pack up the rest into appropriate portions. Pop it into the freezer and when you’re craving a little bit of Mamak Black Spiced Beef, you can just take out what you need and re-heat it. Voila! One dish done.
Beat the Blues with Black Spiced Beef
Hopefully this is a recipe everyone enjoys and can recreate anywhere in the world. So, if you’re craving Mamak food and can’t get to one, you can give this one recipe a shot.
By the way, I find that for some reason, spicy Malaysian food tastes so much better in cold weather. There is really something about it being freezing outside while you’re in a warm cozy kitchen tucking into steaming fluffy white rice with a side of hot curry, beautiful red sambal and this Black Spiced Beef.
Are you hungry yet?
Learn Essential Malay Cooking
For those wanting to learn how to cook some essential Malaysian dishes, you can do so with my mom! She has classes ranging from how to make roti jala to nasi tomato to roti canai.
Come on over and cook with Aunty Zah at her home. You’ll have tea, coffee, learn to cook, enjoy the fruits of your labour and get to know one amazing big-hearted lady. Mari makan. Click here to register!