Keywords Mamak Stalls, Malaysia, Multicultural Society, Ethnic groups introduction

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An Image of Multiracial in Mamak Stall

Siek, Hwee Ling1, Tien-Li Chen, Jen-Hui Tasi3

1,2,3 Graduate Institute of Design, National Taipei University of Technology

Taipei, Taiwan


Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual society and each of the ethnic group has their own dietary requirements however all Malaysian patron Mamak stalls. Mamak Stalls are Malaysia’s typical hawker stalls serving economical Muslim’s food which commonly found in every corner of Malaysia. This research is to investigate how Malaysian can eliminate the differences regardless of creed, gender, races and cultures in visiting these Indian’s Muslim food stalls.

Based on the results, analyzed was performed to distinguish the subjects’ perceptions and accepting that the ethnic tensions are reduced in Mamak stalls which in facts helping towards promoting nation harmony. The implications of differences in the social phenomena of multicultural society in Malaysia are discussed.


Mamak Stalls, Malaysia, Multicultural Society, Ethnic groups


This research is to investigate how Malaysian can eliminate the differences regardless of creed, gender, races and cultures in simultaneously with the campaign by Malaysian prime Minister Dato Sri Najib Tun Razak’s political concept of ‘1 Malaysia’ campaign which announced on September 16, 2010, the goal of this campaign is to preserve and enhanced the unity in nation and ethnic tolerance as well as to soften the underlying tensions since the New Economic Policy implemented in 1971 in giving preferential treatment to the Bumiputra (indigenous people of the Malay Archipelago) which creating inequality towards other races (Lokasundari V.S. 2009).

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual society; the population is at 28.5 million. It includes three major ethnic groups, namely Malay (Bumiputra), Chinese and Indian. The ratio is at 67.4%, 24.6% and 7.3% respectively. (Statistic Malaysia 2010) (see figure 1) with the balance of 0.7% is the tribal people mainly at East Malaysia.

Figure 1: Percentage distribution of the Ethnic Group

Malaysia is a multi religion nation; Islam is the largest and official religion of Malaysia and by constitutional definition that all Malays are Muslims, which approximately at 61.3%, it includes a small number of Chinese and Indian Muslim. The second largest religion in Malaysia is Buddhism 19.8%, Christianity at 9.2%, Hinduism at 6.3%, the balance of 3.4% are Confucianism, Taoism, Tribal, folk and etc. (Statistic Malaysia, 2010) (See figure 2), it is agreed by Somayeh (2009) that Malaysia religion is highly correlated with ethnicity

Figure 2: Percentage distribution of the population by religion, Malaysia 2010

Food is the first necessity of people which is one of the basic survival needs for human; it was mentioned since 200 B.C. in ancient Chinese in the renowned Han’s script that “A good ruler has his people foremost on his mind whereas the people have their stomachs foremost on their minds."

Considering the objectives of this research, the approach had started by understanding the dietary of the various ethnic groups in Malaysia.

Ethnic Groups Dietary

The ethnic groups in Malaysia have their own dietary requirements and their own distinct style of culinary. For Malays, they are Muslims. They can only eat meat that is Halal and no consumption of alcohol whereas for Chinese majority of them have no specific requirements. For Indian, according to their beliefs if they are Hindus, they do not eat beef. However, these various cultural communities could still live together, maintaining their own original identities and integrate with one and other by respecting religious and cultural beliefs of each others.

It was notified that almost all Malaysian regardless of age, gender, religions and races are patrons of Mamak stalls as Mamak Stalls are serving Halal1 food and majority of Malaysian regardless of religious are able to visit. (see Table 1)

Table 1: Flow chart of analyzing various ethnic groups are patrons of Mamak stalls

mamak Stall

In Malaysia, Mamak means Malaysia Indian Muslims. They are originated from the Madras, southern India, they were in Malaysia since 19th century doing business trading and they had also brought their culinary to Malaysia.

Food served in Mamak stalls are Halal Indian food; common dishes like murtabak, roti canai, mee goreng, nasi kandar , chapati and etc; and the most popular drink is teh tarik2 . (figure 3 & 4)

Figure 3 & 4: spinning of dough, making

the ‘pull tea’

In 2006, press reported by the chairman of Muslim restaurant owner association, Mr. Jamarulkhan Kadir that the annual turnover of Mamak stall’s consumption was four billion Malaysia Ringgit(US$ 1.25 billion) and almost all the traveler articles, books and blogs had non-stop describing or reports about the phenomenon of these food stalls, articles from Audrey Lim(2001), CNN (Derrick Chang, 2010) and BBC (Jennifer Pak, 2010) from United Kingdom had also describing the features, the context which operated by Mamak though out Malaysia.


Mamak Stalls are located in every rural and urban in Malaysian community; and most of the mamak stalls are operate 24 hours a day and 365 days per year. Cleanliness and hygiene standards are not expected in these stalls but will be concealed from public sight.


The ambience is casual and light; most of the patrons are wearing shorts, tees and sandals moreover everyone are free to use hand or utensil when eating the popular dishes- Roti Canai. (See figure 5) and summon the mamak anytime when you are in need of services.(see figure 6)

Figure 5 & 6: Eating the Roti Canai, Placing order or settling bill

Table setting

The sizes of roadside mamak stalls can be from two three tables setting to those which can occupied hundreds of people along the roadside at any one time. The tables are mainly in foldable plastic tables (30 x 30 inches square size table) and plastic chairs (see figure 7);

Figure 7 : Various ethnic groups gathered at the same mamak stall

Some roadside Mamak stalls had upgraded their stalls to restaurants and upgraded their plastic tables & chairs to aluminum tables & chairs. In order to accommodate more customers, the setting of the aluminum tables are lining in a row as showed in the figure 8. Patrons will have to sit side by side to one another.

Figure 8: Mamak Stalls upgraded to restaurant


Observations of this research were focused on the interactions of individuals with one another and the responses of the individuals to the environment in order for the benefit of primary data collections as identified by Siu (2007). Photos of mamak regular activities at the stall and various sites have been taken in Kuala Lumpur.

In-Depth interview

Andranovich and Riposa (1993) suggested ‘Casual conversations’ as a way to explore the descriptions of everyday life in the public spaces.

The research method based on Kansei Engineering approached in sentences of feeling as parameters (Tharangie, 2008) by combining the approached of casual conversations (Andranovich et al, 1993); an informal questions and answer generate opportunity to stimulate the psychological feelings and sharing out the images by analyzing, grouping, realizing or evaluating the mind when recall the circumstances or situation; after which solutions, clarification, results, explanation or even realization are noticeable from signals sending consciously or unconsciously from the mind (Buck, 1980). (see figure 9)

Consciously or unconsciously sending out signals

Figure 9: Processing System for Psychological feelings

Predetermined relevant questions regarding about the images of Mamak stall have been structured for this qualitative research by the researcher on the topic based on why, how and when for this face-to-face open-ended manner and informal questions and answer interviews:

  1. The reason of appealing

  2. The experience in the mamak stalls

  3. The way they conceive in this public space

  4. The communications of individuals with one another

  5. The interactions with the environment


Proportionate Sampling

A total of 20 subjects are invited for this proportionate sampling (Kish, 1965) structure face-to-face group interviews: 13 (65%) Malays, 6 (30%) Chinese, and 1 (5%) Indian. It was conducted at office environment by applying cross-sectional retrospective studies. It was scheduled in 3 different periods (regardless of races), majority of the subjects are under the same group of incomes. The ratio of Muslim to non-Muslim is 65%:35% (13:7) (See table 2)






Malays (M)




Chinese (C)



Indian (I )






Table 2: Grouping of the 20 subjects


Kansei Assessing Process

The assessing process which structured in this research is discussed in details in the following section:

After casual conversations with 20 subjects in 3 different sections, the assessing process of inductive coding was begun with finding the regularities of multiple mention codes that were inherent as raw data; Once the data was gathered, analyzed to identify the positive or negative adjectives that frequently used in expressing the feelings by the subjects.

Finding the regularities of multiple mentioned codes

imilar adjectives had been shorted and grouped; segments of text were labeled before categories in images were identified and complete by explanation of results. (see figure 10) .

Identify the frequently used adjectives in expressing

the feelings

Sorting and grouping similar adjectives

Analyzed the results based on the percentage of selected multiple mentioned codes

Mentioned codes

Categories of inductive coding which derived from the analysis

Explanation of results and categories in images were identified

The meaning of the multiple mention codes were elaborated at below:

1. Head bobble: Head bobble is the cultural trademark of Mamak in expressing his understanding of the communication; 70% of total subjects agreed that it was acceptable as a sign in responding to customers and they respect their cultural behavior.

2. Respect: 50% of the subjects enjoyed ‘..mamak only come near when we in need of him, they respect us.. ’; ‘mamak show respect by not disturbing the long sitting patrons..’ among the 3 categories: Chinese is at the highest frequent rate 83% in this multiple mention code

3. Trust: The positive image of mamak in this coding is the trust which 85% of the subjects received. Multiple- mentioning code are: ‘felt mamak trusted us,..not worry that we just walked away without paying’. ‘Mamak will on the spot counting numbers of glass of tea that we had consumed and glance at our leftover food at the plates to calculate how much we have to pay, they trust and respect us..’ ‘Respect us in telling him what we eat…” “.. We sat far away from his sight, which is about 30 to 40 feet away! they don’t worry we just walk off..”

  1. Free Changing table setting: 55% of the subjects feel free in changing the table direction or setting in mamak stall. It is totally not restricted.

  1. Freedom in long sitting: ‘That the reason I am there all nights..” claimed by most of the respondents. ‘We are delighted! Enjoy the ambience of the freedom..’, The best place to gather, I am relax at mamak stall..’ “freedom is the spirit of mamak stall..” A total of 90% answered and mentioned the key code of it.

  1. Open air and borderless feeling:‘Watching Fifa at this economy mamak stall, is the best of the best..the open air shouting in supporting our beloved team…’, ‘..spending all night long there..’, these codes had been addressed several times at a total of 80%.

  1. Eating with hands: 55% of the subjects notified and agreed in eating with hand although the utensils are provided. ‘We are okay when colleague of different races joined us for meal but using the wrong hand’, ‘ I am eating with hand, my habit..’.

  1. Ramadan period priority given to Muslims is at 55% ‘we knew they are hungry..’, ‘ Is fine to let mamak served Muslims first..’ .

The total percentage for Chinese was 4/6(83%), Indian was 1/1 (100%), and the total of non-Muslim was 5/7 (71%).

  1. Narrow alleyway between tables: 75% responded ‘ It is narrow between tables’, ‘ I don’t mind sitting back to back with strangers’, ‘.. to save place, I am with others races…I am fine..’ (See table 3)

Unit: Subject: Percentage





Multiple-mention Code




20 (100)


Head bobble

9 (69)

4 (83)


14 (70)




5 (83)


10 (50)






17 (85)


Free changing table setting

7 (54)

3( 50)


11( 55)


Freedom in long sitting

11 (85)

6 (81)




Open air and borderless feeling

9 (69)

6 ( 81)




Eating with hands

7 (54)

3( 50)


11( 55)


Fast-breaking of Ramadan priority given to Muslims

6 (46)



11( 55)


Narrow alleyway between tables


4 ( 83)



Note 1: M : Malay/ C : Chinese/ I : Indian

Note 2: N: number of subjects

Table 3: Multiple-mention Codes

The results were analyzed based on the percentage of multiple mention codes based on the segments of text. Based on the above results, it is able to distinguish that various images were unconsciously transmitting the cultural behaviour in mamak stalls by multi-mention codes. In this research, cultural behaviors and cultural differences were recognized in all the inductive coding, like; non-verbal communication and comfort distance for interactions based on the summary of the above elaboration:

  1. Accepting the cultural behavior of Mamak’s head bobbles as a way of their communication.

  1. The social behaviors like the manner in summon the Mamak and eating with hands became a non-verbal communication between various races.

  1. Regardless of races everyone at mamak stall are making minor self-adjustments of space along the narrow alleyway to accommodate next table patrons.

  1. Priority in food serving will be given to Muslims are widely acceptable in fast-breaking times during Ramadan. This segment text was mainly describing the emotion feeling towards cultural behaviors of religion.

Key factors which lead to the measure the communication codes of Ray Birdwhistell (1952) in Kinesics are raised on gestures of different races in the results at the same time other non-verbal communication codes are also identified under Proxemics by Hall E(1966) . According to anthropologist Hall E (1966) the distance for interactions among good friends and family members are 2.5 to 4 feets for personal distance among people whereas the coding of trust that elevated at the sitting of 30 to 40 feet away from the sight of mamak without in advance settling the payment of food consumed; it helps to reduce the gap between ethnic.

Three main categories of inductive coding derived from the analysis are:

A) Trust and Respect,

B) Free and Relax,

C) Thoughtful and Considerate


These results lead us to an understanding that instead of demanding others to accomplish us; the cultural codes had actually cultivated the Malaysian unintentionally in their daily life by the three categories of images:

  1. Trust and Respect each other’s cultural behavior.

  2. Free and Relax are the expectations of all races

  3. Regardless of races, creed, social status and cultures; all are able to accommodate by being Thoughtful and Considerate.

Kansei Engineering approaches in measuring the emotional science of human being are applied in the images of multiracial in Mamak stalls which also reflects the social phenomena of multicultural society in Malaysia. Final image of coding of Harmony had developed based on the understanding of the three categories when cultural behaviors are identified and value by one another which helps to dilute the ethnic tensions, promote nation harmony and unity in nation (See table 6).

Head bobble

Summon mamak


Trust & Respect

Trust and respect inbilling

Free changing table setting

Freedom in long sitting

Freeing & Relax


Open air and borderless

Eating with hand


Ramadan priority given Muslim

Thoughtful &


Narrow alleyway between


Table 6: Flow Chart of analyzing segments of text to image of harmony


This research covered the primary stage of analyzing the image of multiracial in mamak stall; what is the bona fide factor or factors that cautiously or unintentionally promote the ‘harmony’; it can be as an extension in future of this research in Semantic Differential (SD) method of bipolar adjective scales to examine the relationship between the presentational codes in kinesics, proxemics relationship and kansei engineering & emotional research on the underpinning of this phenomena.


The author would like to acknowledge Ms Camila Pan and Mr. Jack Ng for assisting on taking photographs of mamak stall during the field’s visit.


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on 27th November 2011.

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1 Halal food means food that has been specially prepared as according to the religion's dietary requirements.

2 Teh tarik (‘pull tea’), it is a ceylon tea where the tea is prepared by using out-stretched hands, pouring the piping hot tea from a mug into a waiting glass.


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