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Sunday April 18, 2010

The best in town

As food goes, nasi kandar is just a meal of rice and some side dishes. What makes it special is the delicious curries poured over the rice. Sunday Metro reveals some of the best places to go for a memorable experience of nasi kandar.

IT has been around for almost a century and its origins can be traced to Indian Muslim food peddlers in Penang.

Nasi kandar, it is said, got its name from the rod these peddlers balanced on their shoulder to carry baskets of their goods, one suspended from each end of the rod.

Although the original nasi kandar peddlers have disappeared from Penang streets, their tasty food continues to be enjoyed as stalls at coffee shops and even 24-hour restaurants have taken over. Moreover, these outlets are now sprouting up nationwide so those who have tasted nasi kandar need not go far for their fix.

Basically, the curries and side dishes such as chicken kapitan, chicken rose, beef rendang, chicken briyani and mutton kurma remain the same. This is because the businesses are mainly family-run enterprises that are passed down from one generation to the next, with each generation continuing the tradition of their predecessor.

Actually, most of the dishes are staples in Malaysian homes. What distinguishes nasi kandar from them is the spicy gravy poured over the rice. This, as well as the delicious side dishes usually prepared using closely-guarded family recipes, is the secret behind the nasi kandar. In the more popular places, and especially those that are not opened all day, long queues are normal as customers wait to be served. In Penang, there is a stall where there is always a long but orderly line of customers queueing up for their food that it is called Nasi Kandar Beratur. And in Ipoh, the nasi kandar in one particular shop is said to be so addictive that it is called nasi ganja.

Exactly what are in these dishes that keep customers going back for more, none of the operators are telling. All we can do is highlight some of the places where nasi kandar has been tried and found to be lip-smackingly good.

And, of course, we should start where it all began – in Penang.

PENANG

Nasi Kandar Beratur, near Masjid Kapitan Keling lane

Worth the wait: Customers queueing up at Nasi Kandar Beratur in Penang. – Photo by K.E. OOI/ The Star

Tucked snugly between the Masjid Kapitan Keling lane and a row of pre-war shoplots, this popular stall comes alive only after 10pm daily.

This stall has such a huge following that people would queue up for almost an hour just to get their meals.

And like all the nasi kandar stalls in Penang, it serves almost all the dishes that can be found in other similar outlets.

The specialities here are fish curry and chicken rose, which both have a rich and distinctive aftertaste.

Its mutton kurma is also very popular. Made with a blend of spices that has been the family’s recipe for 65 years, the mutton gravy has a “kick” to it.

The beef rendang is another must-have.

According to the proprietor, they have hired many cooks over the years to prepare the dishes but none has learnt the family’s secret recipes for the spices, which they have used since the stall started in 1943. Nasi Kandar Beratur is open until 9am daily.

Nasi Kandar Kg Melayu, Jalan Kg Melayu, Kg Melayu

Brisk business at Nasi Kandar Kg Melayu.

This stall is probably Penang’s best-kept secret. Located on the ground floor of Penang’s earliest two-block low cost flats, it is run by Abdul Nazir Abdul Razak and his family. The stall was opened more than 40 years ago and has been operating in this same location in all those years.

If you ask the old-timers who have been patronising the place for a long time, you will be told that this stall has continuously served its beef rendang, rose chicken, strong curry and fish head in their original flavours.

And as with other nasi kandar operators, it is the home-made spices and chili paste (secret recipe, of course) they use that make their dishes stand out from the others.

Kampung Melayu Nasi Kandar is open from 6.30am till noon but make sure to be there at least an hour before closing time or there will be nothing much left to eat.

Nasi Kandar Line Clear, Alley next to 177, Penang Road

This nasi kandar stall has been around for 45 years and the owner has probably been interviewed so often by the media, he can reel of details of his stall without thinking about it.

Nasi Kandar Line Clear is a popular food destination for many visitors to Penang.

Line Clear remains one of the favourite stalls among the locals and visitors to Penang.

Line Clear is located across Argyll Road, near Chulia Street junction in a narrow lane off Penang Road. It got its name from workers shouting “Line clear!” to indicate the bill had been settled and the table cleared so that new customers can come in.

Despite being a small set-up, it is a distinctive stall and is a hive of activity especially around lunch and dinner.

The stall serves a wide range of dishes including a variety of curries, fried and honey chicken, fried fish and fish roe and vegetables.

They use a moderate and balanced mix of spices to make their curries and other gravy, and to give the dishes a unique aroma and flavour.

Hameediyah Nasi Kandar, Campbell Street

House special: Quail curry is one of the 25 dishes available at Hameediyah.

Unlike the other traditional nasi kandar stalls in Penang, Hameediyah is a more up-market place with a nice and cosy eating environment.

It has been a household name in Penang since 1907 and is probably one of the oldest surviving nasi kandar restaurants on the island.

Some say that Hameediyah, which has a loyal following, is an institution that lives up to its nasi kandar fame.

The chicken kapitan, chicken rose, beef rendang, chicken briyani, mutton kurma and murtabak served in this outlet are nicely-flavoured with spices.

Hameediyah serves some 25 dishes with the nasi kandar.

But what really makes this outlet different from the others is that it continues to give you the authentic taste of the nasi kandar dishes, which is cooked in small portions and served fresh.

But be prepared to dig deep into your pocket if you order large prawns, crabs and squids.

And while you are there, try Hameediyah’s famous murtabak – cooked minced meat that is shaped into a patty and wrapped in roti canai dough.

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