Murtabak – a hearty meal all by itself
Hameediyah Restaurant in Campbell Street serves good Murtabak. Established in 1907, this is one of the oldest Indian restaurants in Penang.
My late father of Chinese descent could converse fluently in Urdu and Hindi, and were good friends with the owner, Abu Bakar and Abdul Sukkoor as well as the staff of Hameediyah. Through the years, they have built good friendship and food was always the catalyst of their meetings. My love for curries must have grown from here. As a young boy, I was always fascinated with the culinary showmanship of the roti canai maker, twirling the dough in mid-air to stretch it into a very thin sheet. I would also observe how from this dough, one of my favourite Indian meals - Murtabak is being prepared.
The key components of Murtabak are a mixture of beaten eggs and pre-cooked filling of, minced meat, diced onions and spices. After whisking these components thoroughly in a metal cup with a fork, half of this mixture is poured into the frying pan, topped with a square-shaped roti canai sheet before pouring the rest of the mixture on top of that. It is then sprinkled with ghee. When both sides are cooked, it is removed from the hot plate and placed in the middle a large thinly stretched pastry. The filling is wrapped in the pastry like an envelope and returned to the hot plate and fried till golden brown on both sides. Straight from the hot plate, this paper-thin outer skin is crispy encasing a delicious filling within. Murtabak is commonly served with pickled onions and or your choice of curry.
This dish that is unique to Malaysia and Singapore is believed to have been created by the Indian Muslims (mamak) from South India who migrated to the shores of the Malay archipelago in the late 19th century. You would most probably not find this dish in India.
Some believe that this dish could have Arabian origin since the name Murtabak, written in Arabic as "mutabbaq", means folded.
Hameediyah offers a variety of Murtabak – chicken, mutton, beef, prawns and vegetarian. Throughout Penang, you could also sample this savoury dish at most hawker centres, pasar malams (night markets) and Nasi Kandar shops (e.g., Kapitan and Kassim Mustafa in Chulia Street) as it is quite popular among locals and tourist.
164A Campbell Street, Penang | T: +604 2611095
The founder of Hameediyah Restaurant, Mr Mohamed arrived in Penang, then "Prince of Wales Island" in 1890, seeking better opportunities and a brighter future. Little did he realised that through his determination and perseverance, he would leave behind a lasting legacy that span a century long. Although he was not trained as a cook, he pursued his dream and through the years, perfected his curries and dishes. His humble beginnings as a Nasi Kandar peddler changed in 1907 when he started his restaurant business at 164A Campbell Street. Mohamed passed away in 1927 and his son Kader took over the helm and eventually, his three sons joined in the business too. After WWII, Abu Bakar, a grandson of Kader took over the business and later, passed the restaurant business to a relative, Abdul Sukkor. Today, two of his sons, Seeni Pakir and Syed Ibrahim run the restaurant and still serves authentic recipes that has been handed down through generation.
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
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15 June 2014