You may know Nasi Kandar but have you tried eating it the ‘right way’?
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Believe it or not, Nasi Kandar has been a staple food in Malaysia since the 19th century.
Not everyone loves it but if you go to the right restaurant, you can become addicted like Nasi Ganja. Even though, it’s rice and some side dishes, Malaysians just love rice, don’t we?
But to some of those who are not familiar with Nasi Kandar, you probably don’t know how to order it right, or you wonder which combination is best paired with which. Here, we’ll shed on some tips to properly order at a Nasi Kandar restaurant.
Over there, you can book a table first or just straight up line up at the dishes section to pick what you want. Some restaurants will jot down your price on a piece of paper and let you pay later at the cashier and some will have you pay for your food first. Then you can sit at your desired table with your food and munch munch away.
The Starting Bit
Okay starting point, you have to line up, of course. Especially if you go within the rush hour like lunch or dinner, get ready for a whole lot of waiting.
Then the Mamak (Indian Muslim) staff will ask you “makan” (eat here) or “bungkus” (take away)? Some restaurants have two types of nasi which are plain rice and biryani rice/fragrant rice cooked with herbs and some just serve one type of rice. Either way, they’ll put your rice onto a plate and ask you what dishes you’ll want with the rice.
If you have plain rice, then well, it’s up to the gravies to bring up the flavours. But if you choose the fragrant rice or biryani (it’ll cost a bit more though), trust me, it’ll be so worth it. The rice itself tastes so good and you can even eat it by itself. There are some versions with yellow fragrant rice too. You can taste the richness of the ghee, and the fragrant spices like cinnamon, cloves and star anises. But some people just wanna rely on the gravies for the flavours, hence, plain rice is all they prefer. That’s the OG right there!
The Side Dishes Bit
For the side dishes, you don’t need to know the name of the dishes to order. You just have to point to whatever you seem interesting and they’ll get it for you.
Generally, they have proteins like chicken, fish, beef, lamb and also seafood like prawns and squids. They have the proteins in two ways, which are fried or in gravy. For fried ones, they can have regular fried chicken, Ayam Goreng Berempah (Spiced Fried Chicken), fried pomfret fish, fried prawns, and many many more.
Pro Tip: Be careful with the seafood, they’re expensive!
Then there are the veggies. Some veggies are simple ones like mixed cabbage, mixed long beans with carrots and some other types. But the most popular of it all is the ladyfingers or okra. Your meal is so not complete without one.
And after that, you have the small sides like papadam (fried dough crackers), omelettes, boiled eggs, salted eggs, squid eggs, and also fried internal animal organs like stomachs and livers. You can choose any of these with your nasi but do note that the more you put on your plate, the more it costs.
But what about the gravy?
The ‘Kuah Campur’ and ‘Banjir’ Bit
The common gravies are different meat curries (fish and chicken curry taste different okay), masak hitam (dark gravy), rose (dark red rose gravy), madu (red honey flavoured gravy), kurma (grey gravy) and some other specialities. You can individually pick whatever gravy you want but a pro tip is to say “Kuah Campur” or “Kuah Banjir“.
Kuah Campur in means mixed gravy so they will mix all or most of the gravy that they have there. Therefore, you can have this combination of different tastes that’s actually so addictive!
If you have Kuah Campur, you can also have it Banjir style or flooded. This is for the ones who just love their gravy to the point you can’t even see their rice on the plate. So if you want a lot of gravy, just say ‘kuah banjir‘.
Alternatively, for a big portion, you can also order some plates of rice with multiple separate side dishes in little plates for you to feast on your table with your family.
So, to help you get your first awesome nasi kandar plate, you can try this combination. Ayam Goreng Berempah (Spiced Fried Chicken) with mixed cabbage, salted egg, papadam, a few okras and kuah campur. This is just your plain ‘everyone has tasted it before’ combination. A bit of chicken, veggies, crunchy okras and papadam, and a mix of sweet, spicy and curry flavour, enough to make you dream for more.
For some extra luxurious taste, get the squid. Expensive or not, get it. Okay maybe slow down and look at the price first before getting it but if you don’t care about the prices, then just get it! They have many types of squids, like fried spiced ones, ones mixed with thick dark delicous gravy and also the squid’s egg in a lighter and sweeter gravy. The chewy taste of the squid paired off with its spicy and thick gravy is just magnificent, truly magnificent.
Another combination could be the fish head curry, the squid with it’s gravy, boiled eggs, okras and also papadam. A mamak fish head curry taste slightly different from others as they do not use coconut milk in them. So you’ll get this sort of salty, spicy and tangy taste that goes well with the sweetness from fresh fish heads.
So a pro tip from most professional Nasi Kandar eaters is to not mix the gravy yourself. Personally, I tried mixing the gravy myself but it just doesn’t feel right. There’s just something about the way the awesome Mamak guy mixes the gravy that’s just so magical. So if you don’t know anything about your gravy, just let the Mamak guy do it. He’s super fast to the point that he didn’t even blink while doing the kuah campur one! Now that’s a pro.
Other than that, you may think that so many different gravies will make your dish a bit too overwhelming and your protein a bit soggy but for some true blue Nasi Kandar lovers, that’s the best part. The fried fish and chicken can stay quite solid and the gravy covering the proteins sort of elevates the taste. You see, the kuah campur one has various flavours in it, sweetness, saltiness, spiciness, tanginess and well, A LOT of FLAVOURS!
But for those who do not like their proteins a soft mush with too many gravies, try picking a protein already in a gravy (even if you tapau, the original taste is there, not the soggy crispy fried batter). Then pair it with some crunchy vegetables like okras and cabbages. Also, get a boiled egg too as the egg yolk tastes the best (creamy and rich) when mixed with the gravy. I’d recommend getting the Ayam Madu (honey) or Ayam Rose for those who like a bit of sweetness to your Nasi Kandar. You could also try the beef in black gravy (masak hitam) if you like sweet and thick pastes.
Hey, don’t worry about not getting the kuah campur part. The staff is not gonna judge you for not being Mamak enough. One step at a time, okay.
Therefore there you go, you got your Nasi Kandar already. The next step is to pay or just straight away eat it.
Pro Tip: Eat it with your hands lah, the more Malaysian it is.
Isn’t Nasi Kandar Just Banana Leaf Rice On A Plate?
However, some of you might wonder, what is the difference between Nasi Kandar and Banana Leaf Rice? Here, we explain a bit to you.
Just so you know, their dishes may look the same but Nasi Kandar and Banana Leaf Rice are two separate menus. Yes, they both originate from Southern India but Nasi Kandar is a meal made by Indian Muslims in Malaysia (Mamaks) which has more meaty dishes and dishes that are mixed with Malay hints.
Banana leaf rice, on the other hand, is made by Indians and they have a lot more vegetarian-based dishes aside from their meaty dishes. Either way, both dishes are differentiated by the way they are served: banana leaf rice is served in big banana leaves (hey, they don’t need to do the dishes!) while nasi kandar is served on plates.
Besides that, if you go to a Mamak Nasi Kandar stall, you have to line up and choose your food meanwhile at a Banana Leaf restaurant, you can just straightly sit and order what you want.