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Sunday April 18, 2010

Draw of a spicy fare

KEDAH

Nasi Lemak Zam Zam, Lorong Merpati, Alor Setar

WHAT’S in a name? Not much, as far as the nasi lemak at Zam Zam restaurant in Alor Setar, Kedah, is concerned. Those who love it, especially the out-of-towners who frequent the place when they are visiting, consider it a variation of nasi kandar.

And they swear the food here fully lives up to its reputation.

M. Abdul Jalil S. Maharikavirah, with a plate of his nasi lemak at Zam Zam restaurant.

Located at Lorong Merpati, the restaurant was opened way back in 1964 by S. Maharikavirah Syed Ghani. When he passed away in 2003, his son M. Abdul Jalil S. Maharikavirah, 36, took over and continues to serve the same types of dishes as his late father. These include Daging Kicap (beef in soya sauce), spicy squid, chicken rose, prawns, fish, ladies finger and cucumber pickle with five types of gravy spread over a plate of rice – in this case a specially cooked nasi lemak. The use of the different types of gravy might explain why some tend to call it nasi kandar.

For best friends R. Soundarajan, 56, and M. Yowvarajan, 59, nasi lemak Zam Zam has a unique taste that they have yet to savour in other similar restaurants.

“The rice is soft and tasty and the food tastes the same as when I first started eating in the restaurant some 30 years ago,” said Yowvarajan.

Wan Norashikin Abd Aziz, 46, from Bedong, said she would always stop by the restaurant when she is in Alor Setar.

“You cannot find nasi lemak like this anywhere except at Zam Zam restaurant,” she said, adding that she would always buy packs to take back to her family in Bedong.

Abdul Jalil, who has 10 siblings, said his late father taught all of his children the recipe for nasi lemak Zam Zam.

Come right in: Zam Zam restaurant’s nasi lemak draws customers from far and near.

“Now, five of my brothers have opened branches of Zam Zam restaurants all over Alor Setar,” he said. There are two branches at Jalan Teluk Wanjah, and one each at Jalan Putra, Jalan Langgar and Jalan Kilang Ais. Four of the branches are open from 5pm until 11pm. Abdul Jalil runs the restaurant at Lorong Merpati with his wife, two sisters and his mother, Subaidah Abdullah, 68.

His customers come from as far away as Kuala Lumpur, Johor and Singapore, he said.

“Some have even bought nasi lemak Zam Zam to send to their families overseas, including in New York.” For the “flying” nasi lemak, he normally asks the customers where they want to take it and he then mixes the gravy to last the trip. “I was told by my customers who sent the nasi lemak overseas that they froze the rice before packing it,” he said.

He said the family hopes to take nasi lemak Zam Zam to places outside Kedah. – By EMBUN MAJID

PERAK

Nasi Kandar Ayam Merah, Yong Suan Coffee Shop, Jalan Yang Kalsom, Ipoh

IPOH’S famous nasi ganja is still getting locals “high” after 50 long years.

Available from a stall known simply as Nasi Kandar Ayam Merah, fronting the Yong Suan Coffee Shop on Jalan Yang Kalsom, the nasi kandar here has enticed the taste buds of patrons from all walks of life and there is never a day when there isn’t a long queue in front of the stall at lunchtime.

Yong Chuan Coffee Shop owner Ang Kuang Ngiap, 60, said during a visit there, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had noted the diversity of the huge crowd at the place and called it a 1Malaysia eatery.

“The Prime Minister, who managed to taste Kasim’s nasi kandar (it was packed for him) called us a multiracial restaurant,” Ang said.

“It is also a favourite of Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir, who eats here regularly.”

Nasi Kandar Ayam Merah is currently run by the fourth-generation descendants of its founder Kasim Mohamed, a migrant from Tamil Nadu, who used to peddle his rice and curries from door to door.

Thameem Amsari, 29, one of Kasim’s two great-grandsons-in-law who now run the show, said many people would buy take-aways as it was almost impossible to get a seat between 11.30am and 3pm.

“We have kept as closely as possible to the recipes developed by our wives’ great-grandfather and that is what helps us keep our customers,” said Thameem, who with his brother-in-law Sajid Hasan, works with a team of 13 workers to cope with the thriving business.

“Our cook has been with us since Kasim’s time. He is 75 years old now and still prepares most of the ingredients and curry pastes by hand.”

Curry lovers queueing up for their daily fix of nasi ganja.

As the name implies, it is the ayam merah dish that is the star attraction there. “The recipes of the family’s famous ayam merah and gravy were Kasim’s own. He developed them using a secret combination of spices,” Thameem said.

“And instead of cooking the chicken in gravy, which makes the meat soft, our ayam merah is deep fried till crispy and then only served with our kuah merah over rice and ladies finger.”

Generations of customers have been hooked on Kasim’s curries, hence the moniker nasi ganja, which literally means marijuana rice. “You get hooked on it and come back for more,” said a proud Thameem. “Many who are now living overseas tell me that they make it a point to come eat our nasi kandar when they are back in Malaysia.”

Besides this, Kasim’s nasi kandar is also known by two other nicknames: Tanjung Rambutan bus stop curry rice, as there used to be a bus stand opposite the road; and “vanggey, vanggey”, meaning “come, come” in Tamil.

”That is how we call out to our customers from the five-foot-way – vanggey, vanggey,” Thameem explained.

Due to the popularity of Kasim’s nasi kandar, several other restaurants have sprouted in the city and calling themselves nasi vanggey.

“We only have one stall, which is here on Jalan Yang Kalsom. We do not have any branches,” he clarified.

Ang said he was about nine years old when his father opened the coffee shop and invited Kasim to set up stall there. “Kasim was living next door and was introduced to my father by our landlord.

“Since then, our two families have been working side by side and that is how long I’ve been eating their nasi kandar,” Ang said.

Besides ayam merah, the stall is also famous for its mutton kurma, sambal prawns, beef rendang, curry sotong, fish and fish head curry, and fish roe curry, which are served with coconut shaving sambal and ladies finger.

Occasionally, it also serves fried crabs.

The stall is opened daily from 9.30am to 7.30pm. – By CHAN LI LEEN

The lunch crowd queueing up for their makan at Kudu bin Abdul’s nasi kandar stall.

Kudu Nasi Kandar, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur

THERE is no denying that Kudu bin Abdul’s nasi kandar shop, located along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, is one of the best in the heart of KL for nasi kandar.

This place is so well-known, the present owners can boast of their achievements with press clippings on their wall.

According to Neesa Kudu, the late owner’s daughter, her father started the nasi kandar business after settling in Kuala Lumpur from Penang. Today, Kudu’s daughters run the shop with a handful of workers.

Kudu’s speciality is the kari ikan bawal (black pomfret curry) and daging masak kicap.

These dishes are second to none around the neighbourhood, and my favourite is the sotong masak kari.

Why? It’s rich in flavour and goes down really well with the black pomfret curry.

Where prices are concerned, expect to pay a premium as a simple dish with vegetables and a piece of meat would cost you RM6.50.

Kudu’s shop is located opposite Tune Hotel and is not hard to find during lunch hour: there is a steady stream of customers queueing up for the nasi kandar. – By SAM CHEONG

Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar, SS2/10, Petaling Jaya

Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar Sdn Bhd managing director Burhan Mohamed

IN Petaling Jaya, Kayu is the name to look out for when it comes to indulging in a plate of hearty nasi kandar. A restaurant set-up now, it used to be stall in SS2’s Chow Yang and was run by the father of the present managing director Burhan Mohamed.

Burhan said his father started the business in 1974, selling nasi kandar from 7am to 11pm. In 2003, it was expanded into a restaurant set-up and the stall was closed down.

Today, Kayu is open round the clock, and it has four other restaurants in the Klang Valley and one in Penang.

The restaurants offer deep fried dishes like fried prawns, fried squid, fried chicken, fried fish and fried fish roe, among others.

“We have our own selection of spices which are sent to the mill and all of our restaurants use the same spice blend,” said Burhan at his restaurant in SS2/10.

As I tasted the rich Jenahak Fish Head Curry, its sweetish sour tamarind flavour made me think of my mother’s insistence in only using tamarind from Penang, Kedah or Perlis in her curries.

Some of the dishes served at the Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar.

So I was not surprised to find out that Kayu’s tamarind paste was sourced from a supplier in Perlis.

Burhan further pointed out the difference in taste between the Penang and the Klang Valley nasi kandar, attributing it to the water used for cooking.

“At our restaurant, we use filtered water to maintain the flavour of our food,” he said.

The weekend business is brisk as regular customers especially families gather for a meal of their favourite Kayu dishes.

The queue starts at the buffet of curries – kandar curry (also known as onion curry), chicken curry, sotong curry and fish curry. Rendang ayam, kicap ayam, ayam madu and stir-fried vegetables are also available to complete the meal.

The kitchen staff are quick with the ladle as they expertly skim off a little curry from each pot (five types) unto your plate of white rice before topping it off with the restaurant’s signature Kandar Ganja. The Kandar Ganja, I learnt, is the secret behind Kayu’s nasi kandar success.

Deep-fried prawns to go with your nasi kandar meal.

A special seasoning, it is cooked on low heat for more than two hours with a blend of onions, ginger, chilli powder, cumin, fennel, curry leaf and other secret ingredients that are closely guarded.

An ingredient that is obviously not a secret is onion, which is used in large quantities in many of Kayu’s dishes. Burhan said the kitchen used up to 200kg of onions a day!

A plate of Kayu’s nasi kandar can cost between RM6.50 and RM15, depending on what you order.

Fridays and Saturdays are special because diners can also feast on Kayu’s briyani fare.

Burhan said there were plans to franchise Kayu nasi kandar in the near future.

So be on the look-out; there might be a Kayu outlet in your neighbourhood one day. – By ESTHER CHANDRAN

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