This article was originally published on Malaysia.my (now defunct) in 2018.
First impressions aren’t everything, and a nasi kandar enthusiast would agree. A Malaysian staple that rests their finesse on flavours than appearance, nasi kandar is the comfort food of many. Originated in Penang, nasi kandar was traditionally served on the go. Back in the days, nasi kandar sellers would balance large containers of rice, curries, and side dishes using a long kandar pole.
Today, nasi kandar has embraced comfort in the form of casual, open-air restaurants. Whenever a Malaysian craves for nasi kandar, their mind wanders to the long queues of Penang’s famous eateries. Thankfully, these nasi kandar restaurants in the Klang Valley provide a delicious alternative minus the expense of a flight ticket.
Mohd Yaseem Nasi Kandar
It’s easy to tell if you have arrived at Mohd Yaseem Nasi Kandar. Fronted by a large yellow and green signage, this restaurant is hard to miss when you drive along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
Established in 1964, this third-generation restaurant is currently managed by a father-and-son duo, Mohd Jalaludeen and Mohd Azlan. Founded by the family patriarch Mohd Yaseen, the story behind the new ‘Mohd Yaseem’ branding was an interesting one.
Azlan shares that the name ‘Mohd Yaseen’ was taken when he tried to convert the business from sole proprietorship to sendirian berhad.
“I had to find a way around it because ‘Mohd Yaseen’ was our original brand name,” he says. “Then, I came across my grandfather’s birth certificate where his name was misspelled as Yaseem. His actual name was Yaseen. So, I decided to use that name when upgrading the business”.
Catering to the demand for variety, the restaurant prepares 30 dishes every day, which includes fried chicken, mutton kurma, and prawn curry. Azlan’s grandfather, Mr Yaseen, was originally from India before he settled down in Penang, which explains the generous use of flavourful spices in their curries. Open 24 hours, you can also savour the popular ayam kicap any time of the day.
Azlan and his father take pride on the tradition that the restaurant upholds. They prefer to maintain the authenticity of its Penang recipes, right down to the way their steamed rice is displayed in a rattan basket.
“My father told me not to change anything. In terms of cooking, we just modernise a bit to make things better,” says Azlan who prefers to improve their production than the menu.
Nasi Kandar Kudu Bin Abdul
It’s hard to imagine Chow Kit without Nasi Kandar Kudu Bin Abdul. Since 1968, this laidback eatery has been serving Penang nasi kandar to hungry locals and homesick Penangites, which includes the legendary actor and composer, the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee.
A restaurant that peeks from the corner of a congested street, owner Haja Noordhin and his two sons have taken the baton from his father-in-law, Mr Kudu. Today, you can still savour Mr Kudu’s family recipes that was originally concocted in Penang.
Most days, Haja Noordhin orchestrates the food preparation in the kitchen while his sons manage the restaurant’s operations.
With over 20 sides to prepare, Haja Noordhin rises early to cook the dishes together with his kitchen staff. After the morning prayers, the shutter opens to welcome their first wave of customers.
Come lunch hour, locals would beeline for their signature ayam sambal bawang. While you watch the wait staff dousing your serving of steamed rice with curry banjir, ask yourself if there’s room for ayam goreng masala, fish eggs, or ayam masak merah on your plate.
When nudged about the resemblance between their nasi kandar and the Penang versions, Haja Noordhin humbly diverted the question back at us. “Since you’ve tried it, you tell me,” he smiles. “So far, my customers said they don’t have to travel to Penang to eat nasi kandar, but that’s what my customers said”.
Zainul Nasi Kandar
Mak Cik Zainab’s friendliness radiates when she serves her customers at Zainul Nasi Kandar. A business that started in the 1980s, this nasi kandar restaurant was named after her Penangite father. An homage to her hometown, Mak Cik Zainab’s authentic Penang recipe shines through with every mouthful.
Business is brisk at PJ Old Town food court where her restaurant is located. She loves the fact that nasi kandar is a round-the-clock meal. “You can enjoy nasi kandar any time. You can have it for breakfast, lunch or supper. In Penang, you can even enjoy nasi kandar at three in the morning,” she beams.
Similar to other local eateries, the cooking process begins as early as 7am where she leads the kitchen with the assistance of two kitchen staffs. Serving over 20 dishes daily, cooking is much faster and easier thanks to her years of experience.
“I have been cooking for 30 years now, and we maintain the same menu every day,” she shares. Take a quick glance at the menu, and you’ll be greeted by a variety of tasty dishes. Ranging from mutton curry and daging kicap to tauhu bakar and fried fish, every dish comes with their own distinctive flavours.
“For vegetables, we only prepare taugeh, cabbage, and lady’s finger. If you go to Penang, they also serve the same thing”.
Apart from their signature fish head curry, there’s another popular dish that steals the spotlight. “Our most famous dish is the fried chicken. We always served it hot and fresh from the fryers,” she shares.
Publication: Malaysia.my (2018)