MamaSan has been preceded by a pre-opening buzz like no other restaurant in Bali! 5 years ago when Sarong opened, intending to offer Asian street food, it was deemed a giant gamble. Full from early days and forced into a higher level of dining by constant customer request [continually ordering the more expensive menu items], it remains one of the very few Bali restaurants that require a reservation most nights of the year [real as against propaganda].
Now we have the Asian street food restaurant that Sarong was meant to be. MamaSan is amazing! First impression upon entering the main downstairs non-smoking dining area is a similarity to pictures seen of 1930's Shanghai tea rooms. Only missing is the smoke haze and the clunk of mah jong tiles on the marble table tops.
From the far wall MamaSan herself, looking similar to The Singapore Girl, gazes down on all. The leather wall lounges, red brick wall, stained wood, black and white picture gallery of Asian people scenes all combine to create an unique atmosphere, captivating upon initial entrance. On an island that normally goes safely sama-sama, refreshingly different!
The extensive menu offers 'street food', from every corner of central and south-eastern Asia, but prepared in a high-tech hygienic kitchen by Will, Palm and the team of eager young chefs. Secret recipes gleaned by Will Meyrick during his Asian travels and reproduced here in original form. All dishes are as they are supposed to be, whether that be hot, sour, sweet or fragrant. Flavours that explode in your mouth!
I thought that I knew dumplings, a myth that was exposed when I attended a dinner with the famous Chairman Wang, as she calls herself, at Sarong earlier this year. For most of us Chinese food has mainly been Cantonese, but there is so much more in the other regions. They all do dumplings and all are very different. Beijing style stuffed with snapper, chilli and black beans, steamed and full of surprise, really pack a wallop! The first dumpling leaves your mouth numb with the fire but strangely the 2nd and 3rd are soft by comparison.
Lamb and Pumpkin Potstickers [steamed then pan fried on one side] inside is chilli oil and black vinegar, another taste explosion. Rice-flour Dumplings, spinach, bamboo and chilli bean paste. Others are with beef and bamboo shoots, with red vinegar and ginger.
Steamed Buns filled with Pork and Korean Kim Chi [chilli cabbage], Siew Mai stuffed with pork and prawn meats. Another bun is a bit of cross fusion with duck meat combined with Japanese shiitake mushrooms and hoi sin sauce.
From Vietnam Grilled Pork Belly encased in betel leaves. Indian Chicken with betel leaves, ginger, mustard seeds, pickles, lime and coriander. Peking Duck rolled in what are commonly referred to as Mandarin pancakes, with hoi sin, fresh cucumber sticks and green shallots. Peking Duck features in a number of dishes [as at Sarong the real machine sits in the kitchen] but none more surprisingly than with San Choi Bow. This classic Cantonese dish [normally minced pigeon in a crisp lettuce cup, eaten with the hands, more commonly nowadays with chicken] this variation has minced Peking Duck, crispy skin, soft meat and plum sauce, messy but nice!
The range of salads is what you expect. The Roasted Pork Belly [zero fat just tender flesh, almost sweet, encased in a crunch] is tossed with sour shreds of green mango and nam yan, classic Thai. Cha Ca is Vietnamese, turmeric fish with dill, shallots both green and pickled together with crushed peanuts. Black Pepper Chicken Wings are crunchy, with Kaffir lime and tamarind sweet chilli sauce. Most expensive dish on the menu [and the only one over Rp.100,000, most being well under] is The Asian Charcuterie; Shanghai Sausage, Vietnamese Pate and Laotian Grilled Pork?what contrasts!
And those are just some of the appetizers, for me a selection of which would provide perfect dining on many different visits! Serves are larger than I expected, but that makes them perfect for sharing between two, always the best way with flavours as intense as these. In fact just sit there and order another dish every 10 minutes or so, so keeping all the flavours separate, whilst sipping between.
Mains are a mix of stir-fries, claypots and meats in broths. The menu is still in the experimental stage, more dishes being introduced gradually so as to maintain the high kitchen standard required.
Szechuan Short Beef Ribs, slow braised served with egg noodles and a hot bean paste, Lamb from the Tandoor in a fig garam masala yoghurt, chilli and cumin, Hokkien Noodles with pork and prawn, fresh coriander and poached egg, Nepalese Tandoori Fish with chilli, tomato and kasooremethi garam masala, Mixed Seafood with XO and ginger with Chinese ham and Hokkien noodles. These are just a few of the magic dishes from all over Asia.
The perfectly Steamed Barramundi is covered with finely diced green chilli,lemon and Asian celery, Curried Noodles [a mix of Hokkien and Vermicelli] are tossed with shrimp and shredded chicken and a crisp tofu, on top a soft boiled egg. A few Indonesian dishes are included, such as Dendang Belado, crispy short beef ribs that have been cooked in fresh chilli, lime leaf and palm sugar, that wonderful dried beef dish from Padang.
With more than 50 dishes to eventually be on the menu the variety of tastes will be unrivalled in Bali [dare I say Asia, as I know of nowhere else where quality food, is available from so many different traditional cuisines. I could dine here every day for a month and rarely have to re-order the same dish.
In true café style MamSan operates on a first in first served basis, no reservations, no wi-fi, just great food and drinks. If the dining room is full then a pleasant wait in the upstairs lounge area is no great problem. Some even return to the lounge later for further sipping after eating!