mama, mamak /mah-mah(k), ˈmɑmɑ(k)/ n. [Mal. mamak maternal uncle; (loosely) any uncle (Wilkinson); Minangkabau & Negri Sembilan Mal., maternal uncle; a polite form of address to half-Indian half-Malay elders (Winstedt) < Tam. மாமா māmā, மாமன் māman, மாமான் māmān mother’s brother, maternal uncle, father-in-law, father’s sister’s husband; மாமகன்māmakan maternal uncle (Burrow & Emeneau, Tam. Lex.) < Skt. मामक māmaka my, mine; maternal uncle < Skt. माम māma my, mine; mother, uncle (Monier-Williams)] derog. An Indian person.
2005 Colin Chee The Electric New Paper, 12 July. We were comfortable calling each other names. Our Punjabi friends became ‘Ba-ees’. Our Indian pals were ‘Mamaks’, our Malay friends were ‘Oi-Ahmad’, and our Eurasian friends were ‘Gragos’. And they would all call us ‘Chinks’ or ‘Paleface’.
A Dictionary of Singlish
and Singapore English
Launched in 2004
The True Mama
Singaporeans quite flippantly refer to people of the indian race as “Mamas”.
No they are not singing the opening strains of bohemian rhapsody.
They are calling out to my brothers from another Mother.
There is some confusion as to whether it is a term of respect or endearment, or it is rude and offensive.
How do you identify who is a true Mama?
There are 3 things a true mama will do
1. Crazy love their Amma
2. Beat their wife (or pretend to)
3. Swear that Rasam Sambar and Pachadi are the best food on earth
What ? Too soon?
So you can laugh at Hokkiens, Hakkas, Cantonese etc but when it comes to mamas suddenly you’re all prissy and politically correct ?
Look – I’ve insulted the Chinese dialect by dialect and the Malays.
If I don’t insult the Indians soon, they will feel slighted and start drinking excessively (just kidding there’s no such thing) and run amok overturning electric cars and scooters.
The magic of the sari – Amma loves you
It’s true – ask anyone who knows a mama. Their bond with their Amma (“Mother”) is a mystical one.
No one truly understands why but there are several theories.
The starting point of course is that the Indian mother will smother the indian boy with love and guilt from a very young age. She uses her sari to stroke the boy’s face to sleep every night.
You may have seen this done with a tissue paper.
Well it can be done with a Sari too
“Wait!” Some of you might proclaim ” I see no baby in the box”
The baby is below the toys you fool . She needs a few minutes to prepare the magical sari.
So when a full ass grown Indian man now see his Amma’s sari, he craves for his Amma to lift her sari like a magic tent and he will crawl under the sari for his face to be stroked.
This is the reason why grown indian men try to avoid going out too much with their mothers.
It’s a conditioned reflex and they have no control over it.
So when it comes to the power his Amma wields over him, the typical average mama stands no chance whatsoever.
The handsome village inspector and the village villain
In Hindi movies, you will see the malevolent and severely facially disadvantaged village villain killing everyone (especially Hakkas) mercilessly, but when it comes to his Amma, he is a tender sari face stroking wuss baby.
And watch out for the handsome village inspector who comes to arrest him.
Brave inspector will arrive with 36 sari wearing and midriff baring supple lasses as they need to help with the synchronised dancing when he does the arrest.
If Amma appears during the last climatic scene when the villain and handsome inspector are wrestling on the ground in a death struggle, Amma will dance around a coconut tree and will reveal that they are actually long lost twins (although the genes seem to have been skewed to one side) tragically separated at birth.
As proof, Amma will triumphantly rip off the half jade pendants each of them are wearing stylishly around their necks and put it together to form a perfect fit.
After all, she was the one who purchased it 30 years ago from Mustapha’s (the Indian megastore selling all sorts of shit from gold to onions) for $3.99 after buying her cumin and garam masala.
Villain and Inspector will then wail and embrace, break out into animated synchronised dance and song, then both will retire beneath Amma’s sari tent for a bit of face stroking.
The Indian mother treats her beloved son like there is no other.
I witnessed this personally some years ago when I accidentally and without planning drove my indian friend home, and was invited in for lunch cooked by his beloved Amma.
It was a vegetarian curry meal cooked authentically and not expecting any chinese guests so the curry and spices were not modified or toned down.
It was truly a spectacle to behold.
Amma squatted not far away from us and made puri (indian unleavened deep fried bread) from scratch. The hot crusty puris were lovingly brought to us by Amma one by one.
And each time it was served she would lovingly incant ” Kulantai (“Baby”) Amma loves you and for today, Amma loves your fat chinaman friend too”.
Such smouldering, smothering and suffocating love. It’s no wonder today I curl up in a fetal position whenever I get too close to some Ammas with a flowing sari, or when I smell freshly fried Puris, whichever comes first.
Beating the wife
There are principally 2 reasons why they do it:
- To keep up with the Jones (or more accurately to keep up with the Gopalans)
- Because they have high cholesterol
Mamas are a judgy lot. So there is a lot of peer pressure.
“Vai (“why”) Muthu? Vai you don’t beat your wife? You don’t love her?”
“Oh shoulder injury? You want me to help beat her for you?”
And the wives will also get suspicious if the beating stops.
“Aaaaieeeeeee he doesn’t love me ….. he must be beating some other wanton women outside” she will slap her forehead and beat her breast, wailing and gnashing her teeth.
(Yes I know this is a terrible taboo subject to make fun of and I’m going straight to hell for this)
So all that curry and alcohol (mamas are health conscious and wants to stay hydrated) gives them really high cholesterol. Every mama skinny or fat has a beer gut and high cholesterol.
There is usually an hour or two before happy hour that mamas all over the island will go back home to beat their wives before they come out again to drink.
It is the only exercise they get. They are not proud of it but they take their health seriously.
My Mama friends
Some of my best friends are Indians.
Three in particular coincidentally didn’t get the memo and are married to Chinese women.
One to a Cantonese woman🤢
My favourite pastime is to invite the couples to my place for dinner. And just before saying grace (most of them are Christians) I will ask cheerily
“So when was the last time you beat your Wife ?”.
And the three men will look down trying to act nonchalant and the women will glare at their men and yell “so mama. answer your Friend!”.
And my friends will say “why ? Why do you always do this ? That’s why you have no friends. We are lucky we are dark so our bruises don’t show you asshole”.
Love it. Totally worth it for the 2 seconds of mirth.
Times of India
Rasam, chaaru, saaru or kabir is a South Indian dish, eaten with other dishes or by itself traditionally prepared using tamarind juice as a base, with the addition of tomato, chilli, pepper, cumin and other spices as seasonings.
lands of flavours
Sambar, also spelled sambhar or sambaar, and pronounced saambaar, is a lentil -based vegetable stew or chowder, cooked with tamarind broth, originating from South India.
Pachadi refers to a traditional South Indian fresh pickle served as a side dish. Broadly translated, it refers to food which has been pounded.
In Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, pachadi is a side dish curry similar to the North Indian raita, and is made with vegetable, yoghurt, coconut, ginger and curry leaves and seasoned with mustard.
Understanding these dishes
Why is it important what Rasam, Sambar or Pachidi is ? It’s mainly for you Chinaman to understand so you don’t embarrass us.
Rasam may look and taste like diluted dishwater but the Indians believe that it is pivotal in preventing indigestion with all that curry and spice you are about to have in an Indian meal.
So be brave and ingest it politely. Do not decline politely and whip out your alka seltzer as a substitute. It is not gangsta and you will alienate your Indian hosts.
You will be slapped and called a “CPK” short for Cina (“Chinese “) Picācu (“devil“) Kulantai (“baby“).
Incidentally, when the British colonised the Indians, they had a love-hate relationship. The Indians loved the British for teaching them how to wear top hats and go horse racing but hated their sneering upper class accent, and tried to poison them by cooking them rasam.
Surprisingly, the British loved the “delightful exotic soup” which tasted like the kitchen sink (because it was water used to rinse the kitchen sink) and renamed it Mulligatawny because “rasam” was just too difficult to pronounce.
Sambar is really the same as rasam but a more tasty version the Indians cooked for themselves. Also, if you accidentally took Rasam, your arse will burn long into the night so lentils were added into sambar to aid in roughage.
Take two servings of Sambar to one serving of rasam you accidentally ingest, and drink lots of beer.
Pachadi is an important dish created in Indian culture.
Because Indian men are so close to their Ammas, they typically breastfeed until about 15. They had to stop about that age because it was reported that they had strange unnatural stirrings.
Also some of them started smoking and inviting their friends over to feed so Amma was not impressed.
Some of them have had to share the breastfeeding so they are militant and never feel that enough was enough.
So Ammas concocted milky yoghurt pachidis which closely resembled breast milk so that the Indian boys will leave the sari tent. To this day, it you watch an Indian man consume pachadi, you will see that faraway look in his misty eyes if you are alert.
Some of my Indian friends know more about chicken rice than the dishes above. If they are not careful, those end up marrying Cantonese wives and into a life of beating.
But they pretend and order the above dishes when we go for a banana leaf meal cos those dishes are the very essence of Indianness.
Also, they brag about the brutal beatings without clarifying who was being beaten.
The Cantonese women are very good at it and leave no marks.
Prata or Roti Canai
A South-Indian flat bread made by frying stretched dough flavoured with ghee (Indian clarified butter), it is usually served with fish or mutton curry.
Roti means ‘bread’, and prata or paratha means ‘flat’ in Hindi. Some believe the dish evolved from original pancake recipes from Punjab in India, but across the causeway in Malaysia, the flat bread is called roti canai, which some say is a nod to its origins from Chennai.
Passion made possible
Say what you want but Prata has got to be the most famous quintessential mama food in the world.
We all grew up on prata and Singaporeans of all races and backgrounds claim it as their own comfort food. This is the beauty of the humble prata.
Finally I answer the age old debate – is prata (so named in Singapore ) and roti canai (so named in Malaysia) one and the same ?
Many will say it is exactly the same. These people are ignorant, probably unattractive and certainly Chinese.
Let me clear it up once and for all:
1. Roti Canai literally translated is “manly gonads pancake “. In malaysia, the mamas preparing this will not be wearing any sarong and will be completely au naturel. That’s why he stands behind the counter not moving.
Also when he kneads the dough with a smile and makes them into shapes, what do those shapes remind you of ?
2. The singaporean mama tried to outdo Malaysia and came up with their own erotic version to defeat the gonads version.
He called it tissue prata.
3. That’s why in an apparent snub to Singapore, Malaysia built not one but two tissue prata structures in 1996.
4. In line with the government’s effort above to pour scorn on Singapore’s phallic tissue prata attempt, the mamaks in Malaysia came up with a prata with two testicles proudly offered at Mansion Tea stall called Roti Canai Banjir Special.
Another stall owner changed his name from Mazlan Ahmad Abdullah family stall to Lan Roti Canai, Lan being “penis” in Chinese.
5. Malaysians often jeer and say that our most famous prata joint has been overtaken by pig farms. They therefore claim superiority and point to the name of this joint gleefully as being named Jalan Kayu prata . “Kayu” being “wooden (ie stupid) ” or “blockhead” in Malay.
The ordinary patrons
The proprietor of Jalan Kayu prata got so enraged he added in the word Thasevi to his shop name . Thasevi meaning “magnificent gigantic gonads and phallus”.
No one has been able to confirm whether this has boosted his sales.
Suggested places for Prata in Singapore
In no particular order of merit or phallic endowment:
1. Casuarina Curry
138 Casuarina Rd, Singapore 579526 | Monday to Sunday 0700-1200 | Tel: 6455 9093
2. Sin Min Roti Prata
#01-51, Jin Fa Kopitiam, 24 Sin Ming Rd, Singapore 570024 | Monday to Sunday 0600-1900 | Tel: 64533893
3. Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata
300 Joo Chiat Road Singapore 427551
4. The Roti Prata House
246 Upper Thomson Road, Singapore 574370
5. Springleaf Prata Place
Springleaf Prata Place (Thomson): No.1 Thong Soon Ave, Singapore 787431 | Monday to Sunday 0700-0000 | Tel: 6459 5670
6. Mahamoodiya Restaurant
335 Bedok Rd, Singapore 469510 | Monday to Sunday 24 hours
7. Rahmath Cheese Prata
74 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh, Singapore 310074 | Tuesday to Sunday 0600-1600, Closed on Mondays
8. Thasevi Food Jalan Kayu Roti Prata
237 & 239 Jalan Kayu
Opening Hours : 24 hours
9. R K Eating House
1 Kensington Park Road, Singapore 557253
Opening Hours: 24 hours
10. Enaq Restaurant
303 Jurong East Street 32, 600303 (this is the recommended outlet)
Opening hours: 07:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
[…] I alluded to this phenomenon in my earlier blog about Indian mothers under the section “The magic … […]