Nasi Kandar is a popular northern Malaysian dish, which originates from Penang. It is a meal of steamed rice which can be plain or mildly flavoured, and served with a variety of curries and side dishes.
The name nasi kandar came about from a time when nasi (rice) hawkers or vendors would balance a kandar pole on their shoulder with two huge containers of rice meals. The dish is also of Malay Indian origin, and while the Chinese influence in Malaysia is there for all to see (especially here in Penang), the Indian-influenced dishes are not so well-known.
The rice for nasi kandar is often placed in a wooden container about 3ft high, giving it a distinctive aroma. The rice is accompanied by side dishes such as fried chicken, curried beef spleen, cubed beef, lamb, fish roe, fried prawns or fried squid, in addition to the vegetables. A mixture of curry sauces is poured directly on the rice. This is called ‘banjir’ (flooding) and imparts a diverse taste to the rice. I am told that, traditionally, all of these dishes are served on the same plate, making it quite an eyeful! However, it is now quite common to have the side dishes (remember the nasi kandar is the MAIN dish) in separate bowls or plates.
It wasn’t until my second visit to Penang that I discovered Nasi Kandar, but now I have a much better understanding of this popular Penang dish. Needless to say, it is a dish I will continue to enjoy throughout my future experiences throughout South East Asia.