Nasi kandar is a classic and popular northern Malaysian dish originating from Penang. It was popularized by Tamil Muslim traders from India. It is a meal of steamed rice which can be plain or mildly seasoned, 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 name has remained today and Nasi Kandar’s word appears in most Tamil Muslim or “Mamak” (meaning uncle in Tamil) and Malaysian Indian food stall or even in a Malaysian Chinese operated kopi tiam (coffee shop).
The rice is accompanied by side dishes such as fried chicken, curried meat, tofu, fried fish and other seafood items like prawns, squid and crab. The vegetable dish would usually be stir fried turmeric flavored cabbage or long beans and cucumber-pineapple salad (locally known as acar timun nenas). A combination of curry gravies is poured on the rice (in local Malay lingo “kuah taroh atai”) causing an “overflow” of gravies called ‘banjir’ (flooding) and imparts a diverse and unique taste to the rice.
Traditionally, nasi kandar is always served with its side dishes on a single plate. Nowadays, small bowls are used for additional side dishes. Nevertheless, the curry gravies mix is always poured directly onto the rice. There is special flavored rice is seasoned with herbs and the dish is referred to as “nasi ganja”, though in fact no “ganja” (cannabis) is actually used in its preparation; rather the name reflects the addictive nature of this dish!
Today, nasi kandar is usually prepared and sold at specialty Tamil Muslim (“Mamak”) coffee shops or restaurants and hawker centers across the country. It is traditionally enjoyed as a nutritious, warm breakfast (yes, you read correctly); or a full meal any time of the day or night.