Few other Penang foods are as characteristic and local as Nasi Kandar — maybe just Penang laksa. For those who don’t know, nasi kandar is a blend of rice and fiery curries, rigorously halal food (meaning it’s prepared according to Islamic principles) and mostly made by Indian Muslims or Malays.
You can’t really say you have tried Penang food if you don’t try Nasi Kandar at least once, so we have come up with this handy guide to get you started on your food hunt.
In this article you will learn:
- What is Nasi Kandar
- Where are the best Nasi Kandar joints in Penang
- How to get to each Nasi Kandar we recommend on this list
Hungry? Without further ado, here’s all you need to know to fix your Nasi Kandar craving in Penang.
Nasi Kandar: a Penang-born delicacy
Nasi Kandar is a traditional Northern Malaysian dish made of a base of rice, typically white, and topped with your choice of ingredients and spicy curries. Just walk to the mamak chef (Indian-Muslim), point at what you want, and he’ll put it on your rice with a proper dousing of hot curries.
NOTE ON HOW TO ORDER – The price of a plate of nasi kandar depends on the number of toppings you choose, not the portion. This is especially important if you have to serve yourself: no matter how little of something you take, that will count as one dish, and be charged as such.
Nasi Kandar originates in Penang of all places: it was originally sold by Indian-Muslim (named “mamak”) traders who carried the food in containers hanging on their shoulders via a “kandar” (a pole).
So, what does “nasi kandar” mean? In Malay language, nasi means rice, and kandar is the name for a traditional bamboo pole and basket. Back in the day, when Indians migrated to the Malay peninsula from the South of India, they would sell or deliver rice and curry from these baskets. And here you go: nasi kandar, which loosely translates as “carried rice”.
Today Nasi kandar is served in conventional Muslim restaurants, and is a very popular Penang Food for tourists and visitors. Beware that during weekends and holidays, most of the shops on this list are full of customers, so be ready to wait, or try to visit during the week.
Best Nasi Kandar in Penang (in no particular order)
The following is a list with some of what we consider the best nasi kandar available in George Town, Penang island, and even across the bridge in Bukit Mertajam (if you go there, don’t miss other Seberang Perai attractions).!
Note for the MCO period in July 2021: at the time of writing, as Penang just reopens timidly to Phase Two of the Movement Control Order to stop the coronavirus, all the following eateries do not offer dine-in but are all open for takeaway orders. Contact them directly at the links provided for more information.
1Deen Maju Nasi Kandar
Deen Maju is very much loved and popular in and off the Island. Tucked along Jalan Gurdwara, in quite an unassuming spot not far from Hin Bus Depot, Deen Maju is consistently crowded. Drive past any day of the week, and you’ll see dozens of people lined up to get their fix of silky and pungent curries.
One of the signature dishes here is Chicken 75: fried with 15 different types of spices, is a real sensorial treat. Don’t forget to ask for a side of sambal nyor and kuah banjir to make your rice float, literally, in gravy.
Here’s Deen Maju Nasi Kandar Facebook and a map:
Having been around (although in a former, less swanky shape) since 1907, Hameediyah is a real heritage Nasi Kandar in Penang – you can still see one of the kandar used by the original seller to dish up the original recipe at the beginning of last century.
Hameediyah, to be honest, is a bit more pricey than other establishments on this list but is a popular and recommended place. Beyond Nasi Kandar, which comes in all varieties, from meat, chicken to creative vegetables fritters and stews, you may try their Ayam Ros. The murtabak (a thick pancake filled with meats or veggies) at Hameediya is also very popular.
The shop is set along constantly packed Lebuh Campbell, so try to walk here, because finding car parking can be tricky most of the times.
Here’s Hameediya Facebook and a map:
3Line Clear Nasi Kandar
Possibly even more famous thanks to its location near the junction of Penang Road and Chulia Street, the popular Penang backpacker enclave, Line Clear is a simple, albeit popular joint for Penang Nasi Kandar. To be honest, it’s good, but not THAT GOOD — even though the famous late food and travel critic Anthony Bourdain came to eat here when in Penang. Consider also that Line Clear was shut for two weeks for dubious hygiene in 2017, a common problem in central George Town, but alas…
Bad rep aside, Line Clear remains one of the most popular Nasi Kandar joints in Penang and central George Town: it’s often crowded as it opens 24 hours and attracts customers even in the late hours of the night. They come for the thick gravies, fairly big sizes of chicken and meats, and the good value for the price (on average, a plate will set you back RM6).
In pure traditional Nasi Kandar style, you’ll have to queue up, ask a cook to serve you, and then will grab your plate and go sit and eat at the back. They have car parking on the Chulia Street side, which makes it even more popular as it’s easier to access than others.
Here’s Line Clear Nasi Kandar Facebook and a map:
4Nasi Kandar Kayu
There are six Kuala Lumpur and one Penang location of this popular Nasi Kandar franchise, which opened in 1974 in a shop in SS2 Chow Yang in Kuala Lumpur. Since then it has grown into one of the most appreciated Penang Heritage food restaurants in both cities.
READ MORE — How to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Penang
Based on original recipes and striving to be an authentic “mamak” joint, Kayu has nicer premises than the usual nasi Kandar joint, and for that reason alone it’s more indicated for families or first-time tourists — don’t forget to read all about the best things to do in Penang.
Here’s Nasi Kandar Kayu Facebook and a map:
5Nasi Kandar Kampung Melayu
Set in the Kampung Melayu area of Air Hitam, near the beautiful Kek Lok Si Temple, Nasi Kandar Kampung Melayu is another solid option for spicy, nutrious rice and curry.
The curry is particularly silky and tasty, and the meats marinated and savoury because no frozen meats end up in the curry pots! A sapient use of onions and shallots make Nasi Kandar Kampong Melayu even fresher. Don’t miss it when in Air Hitam.
Here’s Nasi Kandar Kampung Melayu Facebook and a map:
6Nasi Kandar Sulaiman
Nasi Kandar Sulaiman is tucked inside a Chinese shophouse along Jalan Air Itam and has been dishing silky curries and fragrant chicken for the last 60 years. It’s now run by the fourth generation of mamak sellers, with a perfected Nasi Kandar recipe that’s as “Penang” as it gets.
The curry fish and Ayam masak kicap are recommended here, and it’s best to ask for campur (mix) the curries, so you’ll have a delicious sprinkle served all over your meal. It usually opens from 6.30 am until 2.30 pm – timings may change now because of MCO restrictions.
Here’s Nasi Kandar Sulaiman Facebook and a map:
7Nasi Kandar Tajuddin Hussain
Good service meets delicious Nasi Kandar at Tajuddin Hussain, set in the thick of beautiful Penang Little India, where you may sit and staff will come to you and serve you, and you won’t have to queue up to get your plate of rice and curry.
Tajuddin has been appreciated by many, including food critics from the New Straits Times, and popular food blogger Mark Wiens, who said meals here are “too good to be true”.
A must-try here is definitely the Ayam Ros, which comes with a tomato-scented scrumptious gravy, and the mutton curry is delicious, too. You can roll it all up with the crispy chapattis and roti canai on offer here. If you prefer a rice base, their biryani is also highly recommended.
Here’s Nasi Kandar Tajuddin Hussain Facebook and a map:
8Nasi Kandar Imigresen
Probably the humblest of the lot, as it dishes up its curries and Nasi Kandar from a simple street cart, Nasi Kandar Imigresen it’s loved by many who flock here and brave the heat for a plate of rice.
Located right in front of a Chinese Kopitiam, and right across the street from Little India, Nasi Kandar Imigresen may be a little less spicy than other nasi Kandar outlets, and for this reason, is popular with those who need their curries toned down. If you don’t mind dining on a plastic table on the side of the road, Nasi Kandar Imigresen is a great place to go.
Here’s Nasi Kandar Imigresen Facebook and a map:
9Nasi Kandar Beratur Original
Nasi Kandar Beratur is unique in Malaysia and started operations in 1943. Tucked right next to the entrance of the Kapitan Keling Mosque in the centre of George Town, Beratur is a bit different from other Nasi Kandar joints in that it only opens at night after 10 pm.
Many Nasi Kandar aficionados come here from all over the country to try the food – and most, let me tell you, park like total asses on the side of the road, blocking the passage to other cars… customers, please mind your behaviour.
“Beratur” means to queue, and that’s what you’ll do here if you want to get a plate, so come only if you don’t mind waiting. To be honest, I don’t find it so staggeringly delicious as most people coming from KL do, but it constantly stays popular…maybe it’s the hype.
Here’s Nasi Kandar Beratur Original Facebook and a map:
10Nasi Kandar Mohamed Raffee Pulau Tikus
Nasi Kandar Raffee in Pulau Tikus is another popular spot for Penangites, especially at night, when it keeps dishing up silky curry perfection into the wee hours.
Many praise it for the thickness and consistency of their curries, which literally spruce up the taste of the prawns, squids, chicken (try the delicious ayam madu or honey chicken here) and mutton cuts on offer. At last, and never the least, the service is good and friendly.
A better late-night option than other more touristy spots like Line Clear and Beratur, for sure.
Here’s Nasi Kandar Mohamed Raffee Pulau Tikus Facebook and a map:
11Ali Nasi Kandar Bukit Mertajam
Is it worth crossing the bridge and head all the way to Bukit Mertajam for Nasi Kandar? YES, because Ali is very special. First of all, this guy has been dishing up the same fiery, silky Nasi Kandar in this spot since 1948. The shop is authentic, less crowded than Penang Island’s joint, and the service more friendly.
Portions are scrumptious and filling, served over well-cooked and steamy rice. The Ayam Hitam (black chicken) is recommended, especially when served in a killer-combo of mixed curries, among which you should not forget the kuah bawang padu, an onion-based curry. Essential as most other food in Bukit Mertajam Old Town.
Here’s Ali Nasi Kandar Bukit Mertajam Facebook and a map:
12Restoran Deen Jelutong
Totally unrelated with Deen Maju, this Jelutong joint is famous for midnight snacks and being a real “peculiar” curry house – staff can be quite particular with the number of different flavours they’ll add to your plate, so make sure you insist when asking for the mixed gravy (kuah campur banjir).
Their signature fried chicken is recommended as much as the squid. Remember that it can get crowded and queues are common, as many customers have kept coming for years and won’t easily leave their space at their favourite Nasi Kandar joint.
Here’s Restoran Deen Jelutong Facebook and a map:
Not Strictly Nasi Kandar, but equally delicious
Nasi Kandar is great and popular, but we are open-minded and accept similar rice-based dishes even from other cultures. We felt that, even if serving similar versions of the rice-cum-dishes that is characteristic of Penang Nasi Kandar, the following outlets could better stand out in a dedicated sub-section, with no offence to Nasi Kandar anywhere in Penang, or the world!
13For Indonesian-styled Nasi and Curries: Nasi Padang Minang
Constantly packed with locals, eternally queued, and tucked into a Chinese shophouse along Transfer Road, Nasi Padang Minang is so busy and crowded on any given day that i’s very common to end up sharing a table with a complete stranger!
Nasi Padang, typical of the city of Padang in south Sumatera, is an Indonesian variant of Nasi Kandar, with its own peculiar taste, of course — and nobody does it better than Nasi Padang Minang island-wide. People come here for the excellent fried fish, which sells for about RM7, and it’s absolutely crunchy and buried under mounds of crispy shallots… a perfect meal for the hungry.
The selection of curries is outstanding, and you’ll find traditional Indonesian foods like sliced tempe, Perkedel/bergedel and many other spicy and fiery takes on all sorts of meats and fish. Popular for a reason, you should not miss Nasi Padang once in Penang. Remember it’s only open at lunch-time, and closed on Thursdays.
Here’s Nasi Padang Minang Facebook and a map:
14North-Indian influenced Nasi Kandar: Kassim Mustafa Nasi Dalcha
Ok, this is not exactly Nasi Kandar but it’s popular, friendly and yummy. Nasi Dalcha: the rice is cooked with lentils or dhal mixed with onions, carrots, and potatoes until it infuses completely with vegetable taste. In Penang, Nasi Dalca is served with sides like fried chicken, stuffed squid, mutton, and different vegetable curries.
It’s pretty much the same as Nasi Kandar but adds a definite North Indian twist to it. Kassim Mustafa is a feel-good, 24 hour Mamak joint and dishes up big plates of rice drowned into a smorgasbord of curries — they’ll literally mix them all up for you even if you won’t ask.
One of the specialities here is Ayam negro (black chicken), which nothing has to relate with racism, but it’s the name for chicken chops cooked in a thick, sweet-sour black sauce that, obviously, marries very well with the rice. The vegetarian choices at Kassim Mustafa are kind of slim, but they’ll make do even if meats are not your forte — and if they are, this is the place to go.
Here’s Kassim Mustafa Nasi Dalcha Facebook and a map: