If Penang were to be identified by just one dish, it would have to be none other than the mouthwatering nasi kandar. Although a multi-million dollar business today, nasi kandar had humble enough beginnings.
Nasi kandar dates back to the 18th Century when hordes of Indian Muslims migrated to Malaysia from South India during the British colonisation.
They brought with them “nasi” (rice in Malay), placed in a wooden basket, and carried alongside curries in pots balanced on a vendor’s shoulders by fastening these to a bamboo pole (kandar) – hence the name nasi kandar.
Essentially, these Indian Muslims made a living selling their homemade curries and rice to dock labourers at Weld Quay in Georgetown, Penang. Among the dishes they paired with rice were fish curry, beef curry, boiled eggs and ladies’ fingers.
Here is a run-down on seven “hidden” nasi kandar gems you simply must eat at when you’re in Penang next.
1. Hameediyah Restaurant, Campbell Street
Established in 1907, Hameediyah Restaurant is one of the longest standing to date. Highly regarded for their famous fish head curry, biryani, and a medley of meat and seafood dishes, their secret lies in freshly ground spice pastes made daily.
This restaurant is also famous for its murtabak, a pan-fried soft bread filled with spiced minced meat. This dish is best eaten with pickled onions and mutton kurma gravy.
Address: Lebuh Campbell, George Town, Penang.
Time: 11am – 1pm (Closed Friday)
2. Tajuddin Hussein Nasi Kandar, Queen Street
Judging from the facade, Tajuddin Hussain looks like a modest restaurant but, looks can be deceiving. Situated in the heart of Little India, this restaurant has been around for decades and is a favourite among locals.
Their meat curries are unlike what you’d find at other nasi kandar restaurants – turkey, duck, and quail, with ayam ros with nasi minyakas being favourites among customers. If you’re the kind who’ll try just about anything, how about some gizzard curry and mutton brain stir-fry instead?
Address: 45 Lebuh Queen, 10200 George Town, Penang.
Time: Mon–Sat: 11am – 3.30pm (lunch); 6.30pm – 10pm (dinner). Closed on Sunday.
3. Nasi Kandar Merlin Hotel, Lebuh Union
A lunchtime favourite among locals, Nasi Kandar Merlin’s best dish is their decadent beef curry with its signature sweet-spicy flavour profile. Another bestseller is their lamb kurma. Their “kuah campur”, a tantalising combination of curries that complement each other, should not be missed under any circumstances. The restaurant is only open during the day for breakfast and lunch.
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Nasi Kandar Merlin Hotel
Address: 1A, Lebuh Union, Merlin Hotel, 10200, George Town, Penang.
Time: 7am – 3pm (Daily)
4. Restoran Mohd Raffe, Burmah Road
This outlet offers the usual amazing Nasi Kandar spread but what sets this place apart is their famous Nasi Tomato Kuah Campur with Ayam Goreng (Mixed-curry tomato rice with fried chicken). Raffe’s curries are slightly richer and sweeter than those in the other joints, a flavour difference that goes well with tomato rice.
Restoran Mohd Raffe
Address: 295-A Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus 10350 George Town, Penang.
Time: 24 hours
5. Nasi Kandar Imigresen, Lorong Pasar
Nasi Kandar Imigresen is a modest roadside stall located off Lorong Pasar and in front of a kopitiam called Asia Cafe. This family-run business started a few generations back, near Penang’s Immigration Department, hence the name.
However, despite the change in location, the name was retained since many locals were already familiar with it. Here, you can’t go wrong with the usual combo of rice, fried chicken/fish, and mixed curry. Though modest in size, they still serve high quality fare.
You can also opt to dine inside the kopitiam as they serve only beverages there. Nasi Kandar Imigresen is one of those places where locals stream in even at around tea time (surprisingly) to have their rice fix.
Restoran Nasi Kandar Imigresen
Address: Lorong Pasar (off Kapitan Keling), 10200 George Town, Penang.
Time: 10.30am – 9.30pm (Closed on Friday)
6. Restoran Kapitan, Bayan Bay, Sungai Nibong
Kapitan excels in finding their niche as a Nasi Kandar outlet that also sells authentic and unpretentious North Indian cuisine. This restaurant is a definite go-to for your tandoori and claypot biryani fix, because truly no one does it like them.
Address: 89B-G Bayan Bay, Persiaran Bayan Indah Sg. Nibong, 11900 Bayan Lepas, Penang.
Time: 24 hours
This article first appeared in uppre.com