Nasi Kandar

Nasi Kandar

During the pre-war and early post war days in Malaysia, itinerant food hawkers were common sights both in the rural and urban areas. These hawkers who were usually Chinese, Malay and Indians go around on foot hawking food such as noodles, nyonya kuehs, laksa, satay and of course the ever so famous nasi kandar. In fact the word kandar refers to the pole which the hawker used to carry his wares on his shoulder. In addition to the day's work, the hawker using a kandar pole had to have a good sense of balance as all his paraphernalia which at times even included a small charcoal stove was balanced on both ends of the pole.

The present day nasi kandar seller has, in a manner of speaking, taken root and now carries out his business from shophouses although some still operate from hawker stalls but the kandar carrying hawker is a thing of the past. Nasi kandar remains the forte of the Indian - Muslim or Mamak community, who also happen to be known for their fish head curry. Nasi kandar has always been associated with Penang and most lovers of this dish will have their favorite nasi kandar stall in Penang and KL with its relatively large population of Indian - Muslims.

Nasi kandar is essentially a rice based meal where there is a spread of curries for the diner's selection. The meal has traditionally been a personal selection of the diner's own favorites to go with his plate of rice. After selecting the dishes which are added to the plate of rice, the seller will then add his own mix of gravies from the different curries that will give the dish its distinct flavor. A nasi kandar meal has always been a casual affair with the diner standing in line waiting to select and be served his meal which he will then carry to his seat but nowadays there are nasi kandar restaurants where curries are ordered and served to the seated dining party.

While a nasi kandar has easily twenty or more varieties of dishes, the key reference dishes that can make or break the business are just a handful. The first of these is the fish curry  which is fish cooked in a spicy curry gravy together with okra or ladies' fingers, whole green chilies and onions. A good curry will have a gravy that one will die for and the fish used should be the bawal hitam or black pomfret but this is quite often replaced by the tenggiri or mackerel which is but a poor substitute. A good beef curry with tender chunks of beef in a spicy rich and thick gravy has to be available for the diner, cooked in the Mamak style. Other dishes include the onion omelette done the Mamak way with a generous portion of turmeric powder, squid in sambal and the humble sambal belacan which transforms the food and makes the diner return for more. To sum it all up, a good plate of nasi kandar should not overpower the diner with its spiciness and rich gravies but allow the diner to savor the differences in the various curries and leave the table contented.

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