Keeping your nasi kandar yummy

Cleanliness is key: A worker cleaning the food display shelves in a nasi kandar restaurant in Seberang Jaya. — ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: It used to cost only five cents (sen) a plate in the colonial days, and true to its name, nasi kandar literally meant “rice on shoulders” at the time.

Pioneering Indian-Muslims would skilfully balance pots of the rice and flavourful curries on shoulder poles as they walked around the old city to sell lunches to coolies.

Today, this spice-laden heritage delicacy is sold in 306 registered eateries in Penang alone, with hundreds more nasi kandar shops operating in the rest of the country.

To uphold its status as a food paradise, local authorities are warning operators to pay special attention to the quality of Penang nasi kandar and strictly adhere to national and international food safety regulations and standards.

“Cases of unlicensed outlets do arise, prompting swift action from us,” the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) said in a statement.

“Those found operating without licences will be warned and promptly directed to apply for the requisite licences, emphasising the importance of complying with regulations.”

MBPP has over 30 rules and regulations for nasi kandar operators, which also apply to other food sellers, and the compounds for breaking these rules range from RM10 to RM250. It added that of the 306 nasi kandar outlets in Penang, 82 are on the island.

“They are graded every month for hygiene practices and if the score is under 50%, MBPP is authorised to order the shop to close for 14 days for clean-up works,” it said.

MBPP’s licensing department said that while these establishments contribute to the vibrant food scene, authorities are vigilant in ensuring their compliance with licensing regulations and cleanliness standards.

It said only one nasi kandar shop was ordered to close and clean up last year as the majority of nasi kandar outlets maintain satisfactory hygiene standards.

“Operators receive guidance on maintaining cleanliness standards to ensure the health and safety of patrons,” it said.

On mainland Penang, Seberang Prai City Council (MBSP) said there are 224 nasi kandar outlets.

In the course of 29 inspections, MBSP issued two compounds and two notices to nasi kandar shops on the mainland.

Notably, the violations did not pertain to hygiene concerns but rather involved infractions such as neglecting the maintenance of grease traps, hiring undocumented foreign workers and exceeding the approved seating arrangements.

“Offenders face compounds from RM500 to RM1,000 under the Local Government Act 1976 and the Food Establishment By-Laws 1991. These penalties serve as deterrence and reinforce the importance of adhering to licensing and hygiene requirements,” MBSP said in a statement.

Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said the secret to nasi kandar is in the complex blend of spices.

“We frequently remind all members to maintain the use of spices even though the cost has risen manifold.

“We use a lot of onions too, although the prices have gone up so much. But we advise our nasi kandar members not to skimp on this to preserve the quality,” he said.

He added that Presma, working with the Health Ministry, will hold refresher courses for members on food preparation hygiene, with nearly all nasi kandar outlets now up to mark.

State youth, sports and health committee chairman Daniel Gooi Zi Sen said the ongoing efforts of monitoring and enforcement by the local councils are aimed at educating food operators in the state.

He said inspections and food sampling are also emphasised.“Traders must attend the Health Ministry’s food handlers training courses and get typhoid vaccinations,” he added.

Gooi said stern action will be taken against errant food traders who disregard cleanliness at their restaurants and stalls.

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