Now you can eat nasi kandar like a local when you visit.
If Penang were to be identified by just one dish, there is no doubt nasi kandar is one of the first few food items to be paired affectionately to the state. Here is the inside scoop of where Penangites go for their nasi kandar fix in Penang—you know it’s good when it doesn’t involve fancy chairs or air-conditioned space.
Just like all the good things in life, nasi kandar too had a humble beginning. The origin of nasi kandar dates back to the 18th century when Malaya witnessed the migration of Indian Muslims from South India during the British colonisation. Nasi refers to rice in Malay, that was placed in a wooden basket, and carried alongside pairing curries in pots which were balanced on the vendor’s shoulders by yoking it with a bamboo pole. This technique is referred to as “kandar” in Malay, hence the name nasi kandar came into play.
Essentially, these Indian Muslims made a living by selling their homemade curries and rice to dock labor workers at Weld Quay in Georgetown, Penang in the 1900s. Of course, the dishes were limited however, and the available pairing dishes were said to be rice, fish curry, beef, boiled egg and ladies’ fingers. Since then, the Nasi Kandar fare evolved to modest businesses by the roadside, under trees, coffee shops and now, a multi-million dollar F&B business which paved ways to the 24-hour, reliable mamak we’ve all grown up with and cherish till now.
On this Nasi Kandar reporting, we decided to take a little excursion back to Penang, where it all began.
1. The Historical Hameediyah Restaurant, Campbell Street.
Established in 1907, Hameediyah Restaurant is one of the longest standing Nasi Kandar restaurants till date, and its popularity is still growing until today. Highly recognised for their famous Fish Head Curry, biryani, and the medley of meat and seafood dishes, it is easy to agree that the taste they offer here is truly unbeatable and one that cannot be matched with any other Nasi Kandar. Why? Well, it all lies in their freshly ground secret spice paste which they make daily and their distrust in preservatives.
Also, we recommend their best selling Murtabak, which is another drool-worthy selection from their extensive menu. Murtabak is essentially soft bread filled with spiced minced meat that is then coated with egg and toasted thoroughly on a hot plate. It comes with a pickled onion relish that makes a killer combo when eaten together, and our little tip would be dipping this combo into their delicious Mutton Kurma gravy, and you will never look back.
2. Exotic Temptations at Tajuddin Hussein Nasi Kandar, Queen Street.
Judging from the facade, Tajuddin Hussein may seem like a modest restaurant. However, looks are deceiving. Situated right in the heart of Penang’s Little India, Tajuddin Hussein is another veteran in the Nasi Kandar league for decades and we’ll tell you why.
Here, they do things a little differently as they offer meat curries such as turkey, duck, and quail, and they do it excellently. Apart from that, definitely try their Ayam Ros with Nasi Minyak as it is a tried and true dish. It is best to hit them up as early as 11 am for a hearty brunch while all the curries and rice are still hot and fresh for the lunchtime buzz. In short, Tajuddin is the place to go to try something outside of your comfort zone (gizzard curry, mutton brain stir-fry, etcetera) because they cook it right. If you’re not one for some adventure, you will definitely won’t go wrong by going for the best selling combo of chicken and rice.
3. No Frills with Great Thrills at Nasi Kandar Merlin Hotel, Lebuh Union.
There’s something charming about Penang’s Nasi Kandar outlets, where you find hidden gems at the most unconventional places. Often times, that is how they adopt the name of their outlet, with reference to the spot which they are located in. For instance, we hit up Nasi Kandar Merlin Hotel, which was just an outlet located on the ground level of Merlin Hotel.
This joint serves authentic Indian Muslim curries with a plate of hot rice which makes it a lunchtime favourite with locals. Nasi Kandar Merlin’s best dish in our books is their decadent beef gravy which has a sweet and spicy kick. Also, another favourite is their Lamb Kurma which is a crowd favourite. And definitely opt for “kuah campur” because the combination of the curries compliment each other and it is a gastronomical party in the mouth. Nasi Kandar Merlin operates only during the day for breakfast and lunch operation, thus, please show up early to avoid disappointment.
4. Different Rice, Same Bliss at Restoran Mohd Raffe, Burmah Road.
Though a plate of plain rice and ‘kuah campur’ brings happiness (arguably even mends a broken heart), it is also nice to have something different for a change. If you ever grow tired of Nasi Kandar (gasp, blasphemy), it is a great idea to have Nasi Tomato instead. Not just from anywhere—it has to be from Restoran Mohd Raffe at Burmah Road.
This outlet offers the usual Nasi Kandar regulars and they are amazing too. But we love their Nasi Tomato Kuah Campur with Ayam Goreng because it is a ballad to the taste buds. Raffe’s curries are slightly richer and sweeter than the other joints which go well with tomato rice. Raffe is usually a favourite spot for post-school munchies as they are several schools around the area. Here you would not be disappointed despite whichever time you turn up.
5. Late Lunch and Tea Time at Nasi Kandar Imigresen at Lorong Pasar.
Nasi Kandar Imigresen is a modest stall by the road off Lorong Pasar in front of a kopitiam called Asia Cafe. This family-run business started few generations back, near the Penang’s Immigration Department back in the days. That was where they adopted their name and still kept it despite the change of location now. Also, this joint is majorly known amongst local Penangites only and some like it just as it is.
Here, you can’t go wrong with the usual combo of rice, fried chicken/fish, and mixed gravies. Though modest in size, they serve quality and taste with a little price to pay.
You can also opt to dine in the kopitiam as they serve only beverages. Nasi Kandar Imigresen is also one of those places you see locals come in for tea time (yes, to have rice) and as previously mentioned here, you can get yummy karipap bawang from a vendor who frequents the area regularly.
6. Chasing Chappatis at Restoran Maj, Lebuh Ah Quee
Have you ever reached a point of food coma where your body craves for something healthier? We got you covered for that. Restoran Maj at Lebuh Ah Quee is Penangites’ idea of a “light” meal option as they serve soft, blankety chappati bread along with scrumptious side dishes of spicy sardines or mutton leg stew. Fancy, we must say.
Personally, we loved the chappati and stew combination because it was unique and truly a relish. The stew portion was generous, though it doesn’t stop one from finishing the rich and spicy stew, one chappati bite at a time. This killer combo is a favourite brunch option before Maj starts their lunch hour crowd, who come in for their rice fix. However, chappati operation resumes for tea time till late.
7. Feast Like Mughals at Restoran Kapitan, Bayan Bay, Sungai Nibong.
When it comes to restaurant chains, Penangites are picky as they rather go to a least commercialised outlet such as above. However, they do not discriminate if one comes in great (taste) package and unique in concept. Three branches strong, Kapitan stands out from the rest with their unique take on North Indian menu in the likes of tandoori, naan bread, butter chicken and sorts.
Kapitan excels in finding their niche as a Nasi Kandar outlet that also sells authentic and unpretentious North Indian cuisine. Kapitan is a definite go-to for your tandoori and claypot biryani craving, because truly no one does it better than Kapitan.
Sadly, this is the end of our Nasi Kandar edition in Penang this time but definitely check this space for more updates on our upcoming food trails. To check out our past food stories, do drop by here and here, and if you feel like planning your own food trail in the Klang Valley, we have you covered here.
Hameediyah Restaurant, Campbell Street
Add : Lebuh Campbell, George Town,10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Time: 11 am – 1 pm (Closed Friday)
Tajuddin Hussain, Queen Street
Add: 45 Lebuh Queen, 10200 George Town, Penang.
Time: Monday – Saturday from 11:00 – 3:30 pm for lunch and 6:30 pm – 10:00 pm for dinner (closed on Sunday)
Nasi Kandar Merlin Hotel, Union Street
Add: 1A, Lebuh Union, Merlin Hotel, 10200, George Town, Penang
Time: 7am – 3pm (Daily)
Restoran Mohd Raffe, Burmah Road
Add: 295-A Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus 10350 George Town, Penang
Time: 24 hours
Restoran Nasi Kandar Imigresen, Lorong Pasar
Add: Lorong Pasar (off Kapitan Keling),10200, George Town, Penang
Time: 10.30 am -9.30 pm ( Closed Friday)
Restoran Maj, Lebuh Ah Quee
Add: Lebuh Ah Quee, 10200, George Town, Penang
Time: 7am-6pm (Closed Sunday)
Restoran Kapitan, Bayan bay.
Add: 89B-G Bayan Bay, Persiaran Bayan Indah Sg. Nibong, 11900 Bayan Lepas, Pulau Pinang
Time: 24 hours