A month-long celebration of Penang’s famous nasi kandar.

IT’S the water,” claimed Saleem. We were sitting in his outlet, Restoran Kassim Mustafa in Chulia Street, talking over the remains of a couple of his signature dishes: Ayam Negro, deep-fried chicken quarters braised in dark soya sauce and onions, and served with their special ghee rice (eu pooi, in Hokkien); and a spicy Chicken Curry. The question was: “What is it that makes Penang’s nasi kandar so special?”

Penang water, according to Saleem, is different. “Even when we cater for functions held off the island,” he said, “we have to bring along large containers of water from here.”

0BB73E4D111F4DBCB7DA66D617E8C267George Town food trail: PML President Datuk Najmudeen Kader (third from left) flanked by other members and a traditional nasi kandar vendor during the launch of the Nasi Kandar Food Fest.

I was there to discuss the arrangements for the ongoing Nasi Kandar Food Fest which was being held as part of the George Town Festival, with nearly a million people expected to come and help us celebrate the third anniversary of Penang’s listing as a Unesco World Heritage site.

Although more than 80 events and attractions have been planned throughout this month, including cultural shows, heritage tours and musical evenings with international singers and stars, it will come as no surprise to regular readers that the one which interested me most was the food fest which featured two of our most endearing heritage cuisines: nasi kandar and Nyonya food.

The Nasi Kandar Food Fest was organised by the Penang Muslim League (PML) and supported by the Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners’ Association (Presma). It was launched on July 7 at the E&O Hotel by Yang di-Pertua of Penang Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas.

It started with a street party in Queen Street in Little India when, over the course of two evenings, part of the street was transformed into an alfresco restaurant with 100 tables laid out so diners could enjoy many signature dishes from 15 of the island’s most famous nasi kandar operators.

The 24-hour Kapitan Restoran in Chulia Street, for example, is well known for its Claypot Briyani. The dish has pieces of marinated chicken baked on top of fragrant spiced rice. According to proprietor Abbdhul Wahab, the dish was developed by his father, a chef who used to cook for the then Sultan of Kedah.

At the Ramzan in Lebuh Ah Quee, Mohamad Rawther tells me that they are particularly famous for their Bryani Ayam (chicken briyani) and Kari Itik (duck curry).

Along with Bombay Chicken, Fish Head Curry, Ayam Piru Berempah (marinated turkey), both well-known and lesser known foods were being dished up together with performances of local games and songs at scheduled times.

“The street party was a great success,” said PML president Datuk Najmudeen Kader, “with some 5,000 to 8,000 people attending. We are planning to do something similar for Pesta Pulau Pinang at the end of the year.”

Whether it’s the water or each outlet’s unique recipes, one thing is for sure: you’ll be able to try all the different dishes and more at the participating restaurants – which include famous names like Line Clear, Khaleel, Dawood and Ramzan, Nasmir, Tajudin Hussein and Sup Hameed – even after the month-long food fest.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the island, local Chef Lim Teng Kooi of the Eastin Hotel in Queensbay is busy preparing another of our famous cuisines which is being featured: Nonya or Peranakan food. This, the result of Chinese immigrants adapting their dishes with local ingredients and spices to create a whole new style of flavours and tastes, is available during their daily buffet, which runs till the end of this month.

A5F5C09FD6E349CF8F9A485BC2941D8BClaypot Briyaniat Kapitan was invented by proprietor Abbdhul Wahab’s father.

Try popular dishes like Chicken Lorbak, Kari Kapitan, Inchi Kabin or Jiu Hu Char (cuttlefish fried with julienned round radish), and even items like Braised Duck with Buah Keluak, a dish not usually found in Penang as it is more southern nonya.

You can even learn how to make popiah or nasi ulam as Chef Lim will be demonstrating how to cook these and other famous nonya dishes between 1pm and 2pm during Eastin’s High Tea Buffet on weekends and public holidays.

For details, call the hotel (04-612 1111) or go to www.eastin.com.

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