Like the founders of the other main nasi kandar eateries in Penang, Kassim Naina (the founder of the eponymously-named Restoran Kassim Nasi Kandar) was born in the Ramnad District of Tamil Nadu, India. He followed his father, Naina Mohamad, to Malaya in 1908 (he was 5 then). The elder Naina peddled nasi kandar at a market stall in Prangin Road, in George Town’s old quarter. After 15 years, they saved enough to move into a shophouse on Maxwell Road (the site is now occupied by Komtar) where their nasi kandar business continued to flourish until the whole neighbourhood was destroyed by Japanese bombs in 1941 during World War II.
The hardy Naina family recovered their business slowly but surely after the war, starting all over again from scratch by selling nasi kandar from a pushcart on the streets of George Town. Kassim took over his father’s business upon the latter’s demise years later, buying an old shophouse on Brick Kiln Road (now Jalan Gurdwara) where he ran his nasi kandar business, becoming a destination dining spot in the 1970s. I remembered an article in the Asia Magazine (then, the pre-eminent weekly magazine in the Far East) which recommended Kassim Nasi Kandar in one of its 1974 issues.
Kassim Nasi Kandar is presently located on 221 Magazine Road (round the corner from its long-time Jalan Gurdwara location), and is run by Hinayathullah bin Iqbal Kareem, Kassim’s grandson.
As always, line up at the serving counter and, when it comes to your turn, select your choice of meats & vegetables, which the nasi kandar man will pile onto your lunch plate atop steamed white rice.
If a barista is defined as someone who prepares and serves a variety of beverages in a bar or cafe, then a nasi kandar man can best be described as a “currista” (), whose skill is determined by how skilful he mixes and matches the various types of curry sauces which he’d ladle onto your plate to match the meats/vegetables that you selected - a splash of chicken curry, a drizzle of beef stew sauce, another splash of fish curry, …
And your plate lunch would end up looking like one of these - something like an Indian Jackson Pollock might produce:
Nasi kandar connoisseurs and purists would always insist that, no matter what your choice of curried meats or vegetables might be, you must order the boiled okra/ladyfingers and hard-boiled eggs - essential accompaniments for a true nasi kandar meal. Other than that, it’s anything goes: curried chicken or fried chicken, or both, plus dry beef curry or beef khorma, or both. That’s the beauty of a nasi kandar meal - it’s free-form and limited only by your imagination (and appetite).
Hinayathullah bin Iqbal Kareem, the current owner of Kassim Nasi Kandar, and the 4th-generation of the family that founded this eatery.
Restoran Kassim Nasi Kandar
221 Jalan Magazine (Magazine Road)
10300 George Town
Tel: +6016 4347788
Operating hours: 7am-8pm daily