Sunday, September 08, 2013

#Eatsomethingnice 9 - Nasi Kandar

proudly a part of #Saysomethingnice

image credit: Veronica Ng

Nasi Kandar is an extremely popular northern Malaysian dish which originated from Penang. It is a meal of steamed rice which can be plain or mildly flavored, and served with a variety of curries and side dishes.

The name Nasi Kandar came from the time when hawkers would kandar [balance] a pole on their shoulder with two huge containers of rice meals and roam the streets plying their wares. Tantalizing aromas of fragrant curries, vegetables, fried fish, beef and chicken would precede the vendor’s arrival as he went from house to house, hawking his delicious fare.

Hence the name ‘Nasi Kandar’, came from how this popular dish was delivered - nasi (Malay for rice) and kandar (Malay for yoke). Obviously the name has stuck.

Its humble beginnings started with it being a favorite with port workers and laborers in those old days, and then it moved to stalls in coffee shops and alleyways, providing cheap, delicious and nutritious food. Today the words Nasi Kandar are seen on mostly Indian Muslim (Mamak) restaurants where it is now served in air-conditioned comfort.

While Nasi Kandar is sold in all other towns in the country and even overseas, the name of the shop or stall would invariably carry the "Pulau Pinang" or "Penang" tag to advertise the "authenticity" of the food.

The rice for a Nasi Kandar meal is accompanied by side dishes such as fried chicken, fried quail, cubed beef curry, fried fish roe, large prawns, fish head curry, crab curry, dry fried mutton or squid curry. The vegetable dish would usually be brinjal, lady fingers or bitter gourd. A mixture of curry sauces is poured on the rice. This 'banjir' (flooding) imparts a diverse taste to the rice. Traditionally, Nasi Kandar is always served with its side dishes on a single plate.

In Perlis, the rice is colored yellow with herbs and the dish is referred to as "nasi ganja", though in fact no "ganja" (cannabis) is actually used in its preparation."

The Nasi Kandar curries have a very fragrant smell and the taste is heavy. The saying goes that if you walk past a stall selling good Nasi Kandar, you are supposed to be able to smell the fragrance of the spices in the curry.

One of the spices that are used to make Nasi Kandar curry is kaskas, which is derived from poppy seeds. This ingredient has been wrongfully accused of causing people to get addicted to the curries.

The essence of this delicacy is in 'kuah campur' - the right mixture of the various gravies flooding the rice. This unique feature is what has won the hearts of many Malaysian Nasi Kandar aficionados who come from far and wide for their regular fix.

The growing popularity of Nasi Kandar has led many operators to extend their business to 24 hours. As the business becomes more lucrative and competitive, it is no wonder that some have emerged as giant chains with huge capital investments for their branches emerging not only nationwide but also globally.

Indeed the humble Nasi Kandar which has been synonymous with Penang since the 18th century is now a thriving multi-million dollar business. Long gone are the dirty off white sarongs, the cheap aluminum utensils and broken plastic chairs and stools.

In their place you find smartly uniformed waiters and waitresses, stainless steel chairs, tables and counters and clean air-conditioned restaurants that can rival the best fast-food chains, with many of them having seating capacity for between 300-500 people. Some even feature VVIP rooms decorated with chandeliers and fitted with private lifts for the more privileged amongst their customers.

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