Penang’s iconic nasi kandar men all descended from the Ramnad district of Tamil Nadu, South India. Since the late-19th-century, the spice retail trade in Penang was dominated by the spice-women from Tenkasi and Kadayanallur, inland Tamil-Muslim towns in Tamil Nadu. The Ramnad cooks got their spices from these women in the old Chowrasta Market (founded 1850s), so Penang’s nasi kandar was unique in the sense that it was essentially a hybrid dish, where Tenkasi or Kadayanallur spice mixes were cooked using Ramnad techniques.
The owner of 𝗢𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗹 𝗣𝗲𝗻𝗮𝗻𝗴 𝗞𝗮𝘆𝘂 𝗡𝗮𝘀𝗶 𝗞𝗮𝗻𝗱𝗮𝗿, Burhan Mohamed, said that his grandfather came to Penang from Ramnad district during that time. After learning the trade, Burhan’s father, Mohamed, left Penang in 1968 to seek greener pastures in KL. Over there, Mohamed had initially started work as an itinerant mee goreng seller in Jalan Kilang and Section 8 in Petaling Jaya.
Burhan started helping his father then, first from a pushcart, then a stall inside Seaview Restaurant in PJ Section 20 from 1970. At Seaview, they decided to switch to selling nasi kandar, which was more profitable.
Back then, Mohamed’s stall did not have a name, but young Burhan had earned the nickname “Kayu” (meaning “wooden”) from their customers, as he was rather slow and reticent. When Burhan took over the business upon his father’s retirement, he decided that his nickname was his “lucky charm”, and renamed his business 𝗞𝗮𝘆𝘂 𝗡𝗮𝘀𝗶 𝗞𝗮𝗻𝗱𝗮𝗿.
Burhan then moved his business to Chow Yang in SS2 PJ in 1974, where he operated it under the name 𝗢𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗹 𝗣𝗲𝗻𝗮𝗻𝗴 𝗞𝗮𝘆𝘂 𝗡𝗮𝘀𝗶 𝗞𝗮𝗻𝗱𝗮𝗿. He stayed there for 27 years, building a name for himself, before buying the corner shophouse near Chow Yang. That premises was to become 𝗢𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗹 𝗣𝗲𝗻𝗮𝗻𝗴 𝗞𝗮𝘆𝘂 𝗡𝗮𝘀𝗶 𝗞𝗮𝗻𝗱𝗮𝗿’s main branch today.
𝗢𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗹 𝗣𝗲𝗻𝗮𝗻𝗴 𝗞𝗮𝘆𝘂 𝗡𝗮𝘀𝗶 𝗞𝗮𝗻𝗱𝗮𝗿 presently has 12 branches nationwide: 10 in KL/Selangor, and one each in Penang and Malacca. My lunch today was from its Penang branch in Bayan Baru – Burhan Mohamed’s family history has come one full circle.
Nasi kandar lunches are essentially one-plate-meals, harking back to the days when coolies and shipyard workers had their meals standing up: holding the plates in their hands as they eat.
Our nasi kandar plates today:
With chicken curry, curried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, sauteed okra, chopped cucumber/onions/pinepaple/ green chili
The rice is drenched with chicken curry gravy (“kuah ayam”) and beef curry gravy (“kuah daging”).
With blackened beef (“daging masak hitam”), curried pomfret, boiled okra, and hard-boiled egg, garnished with pappadum crisps on the side.
The rice is drenched with blackened beef gravy (“kuah daging masak hitam”), beef curry gravy (“kuah daging”), and fish curry gravy (“kuah ikan”).
With curried chicken, blackened beef, hard-boiled egg, sauteed cabbage and boiled okra, garnished with pappadum crisps
Rice was drenched with beef curry gravy (“kuah daging”), and chicken curry gravy (“kuah ayam”).
Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar
15, Lebuh Nipah 6, Bukit Jambul, 11950 Bayan Lepas, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +6012-555 8475
Open 24 hours