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Nasi Kandar

Nasi Kandar is the original “fast” food from Penang which harks back to the British colonial period. Rice and an accompaniment of curry dishes were originally sold by travelling Indian-Muslim vendors which balanced two heavy containers laden with food on each end of a yoke (or pole) on their shoulders. These food containers were conveyed to the jetties to satisfy hungry immigrant workers at the port looking for a quick, affordable, hunger sating meal. Today Nasi Kandar, which literally means “rice carried on shoulder with stick”, is only found in Indian-Muslim restaurants or stalls and is a national favourite of Malaysians. You will be able to find popular Nasi Kandar chain restaurants across Malaysia, but the most authentic experience is to savour this dish in its birthplace, Penang.

To partake in Nasi Kandar is an event. Firstly, you queue by the food counter to make your individual choice of dishes. Everything starts with the rice, of which a generous mountain of fragrant white rice is heaped onto a plate. You will proceed to point out your selection of curried dishes which will be ladled on top of the plate of rice. The choices will depend on the restaurant but some common selections will be Sambal Udang (giant tiger prawns soaked in an array of spices), Daging Kicap (beef simmered in thick soy sauce), Burung Puyuh (tasty marinated quail), Ketam Masala (stewed crab with spicy masala curry), Kari Kepala Ikan (fish head curry), Gulai Sotong (squid curry), Kari Kurma (a mild, non-spicy curry which can be of chicken or lamb) and Ayam Kampung Goreng (deep fried free range chicken which is coated in aromatic spices). Vegetable or non-meat dishes are generally considered side orders, but will nevertheless be heaped onto the same plate as well. This selection includes Kacang Bendi (curried okra or lady’s fingers), Kacang Panjang (stir fried long beans), Sayur Kobis (cabbage stir fried in turmeric) and Telur Dada (vegetable omelette).

After your selection of dishes, you will then be asked what Kuah (gravy) you would like on your rice.  It does not really matter if the rice is now buried under the selection of meats and vegetables, you will still be given the option of gravy. If you would like to experience the dish in a truly authentic manner with the richness and flavours of all the spices used, you can reply “Banjir” (which means to flood the plate with an assortment of curries). Alternatively, for the timid of heart, you can point to the curry of your desire and say “Kuah Sikit” (a little gravy). When you think that the plate can hold no more, it will be crowned with few pieces of crunchy papadoms.

A note of caution, the prices of your meal will depend on the choice of your selection. A simple selection of a chicken drumstick with curry and one vegetable side dish with white rice should average around RM5.00. This may rise dramatically if a giant tiger prawn (averages around RM9.00 per prawn) is selected or if Nasi Briyani (long grain biryani rice cooked with herbs and spices, around RM6.00 per serving) takes your fancy over white rice! For the truly adventurous, Nasi Kandar is best eaten with your fingers!  Do it the Malaysian-way using your right hand only (if you are right hander) by using your fingers to form a mix of rice, curry and a small piece of meat into a mound. This is then balanced on your index, middle and ring fingers as a scoop and your thumb to push the mound of food into your mouth politely. A tip is to start with a small mound if you are worried about making a mess!

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