Much has been said about Penang’s famous nasi kandar; people from other states come in droves for a taste of the fluffy white rice drenched in a spicy mix of curries served with a wide array of dishes.
There are two distinct style of nasi kandar available in Penang. First, there is the Indian Muslim style that is a marriage of local flavours with spices and herbs.
The curries are often of a darker reddish tone, thick and usually spicy, depending on the stall.
The second style is a more localised Malay one with simpler, straightforward flavours that are less spicy and yet fragrant with hints of turmeric and local spices.
It is believed that the name nasi kandar was derived from rice (nasi) and balance (kandar) because in the old days, the Indian Muslims hawkers selling rice would carry it in buckets hanging from a pole balanced on their shoulders.
Essentially, the nasi kandar was founded by Indian Muslims, who originally came from India decades ago, and usually, the recipes for the curries are handed down from father to son.
As any nasi kandar connoisseur would tell you, the best way to enjoy a plate of nasi kandar is to have a steaming plate of white rice “banjir” (flooded in a medley of curries) accompanied by dishes of your choice.
Most nasi kandar stalls have their own signature dishes but the common ones available are the likes of ayam ros which is a reddish chicken curry that is spicy and bursting with spices, ayam goreng (fried chicken) that has been marinated in spices
before being fried to a gorgeous crispy brown, fish curry, crab curry, cubed beef, minced mutton, onion omelette and for vegetables, boiled bendi (ladies’ fingers) that are usually served in fish curry and stir fried cabbage in turmeric.
Of course, some places offer specialties that seafood lovers would approve of such as fish roe, squid eggs, squid curry and tiger prawn curry.
These may all be curry dishes but each and every one is different in flavour, aroma and texture, some redder and spicier and others are less spicy but flavourful with other spices.
Find the original MMO article here. Photography for the article was by K.E.Ooi or Steven Ooi.