Blame Penang’s long history as a magnet for immigrants for its amazing street food scene.
Centuries of Peranakan, Chinese, European, and Indian arrivals have made the Penang food scene an amazing mélange of flavors and influences. Visitors to Penang should allot plenty of time to explore each sphere of culinary influence, one by one.
The top Malaysian Indian contribution to Penang’s street food comes in the form of white rice drowned in curries and served alongside an assortment of side dishes: nasi kandar.
The name originates from the way nasi kandar was served back in British colonial days. Nasi means rice; kandar refers to a pole or yoke that Indian vendors used to carry food for sale down the streets of Penang. Large containers of meat, vegetables and rice were suspended from each end of the pole; vendors would dispense food from the containers and hungry diners would order and eat right on the street.
Nasi Kandar Line Clear’s Family History
As the British left and eating habits changed, the more successful nasi kandar vendors settled down into stationary outlets, leaving the kandar forever but serving the delicious curried delicacies from chafing dishes instead.
Settling down allowed nasi kandar makers to serve a greater variety of food to a greater number of diners; as time went on, the more successful nasi kandar vendors passed the reins to their offspring, who continue the business to this day.
Nasi Kandar Line Clear is no exception: founded in 1930 by brothers S. N. Sekandar and S. N. Seeni Pakir, the shop has flourished over the years, despite its location in an alleyway and the prices staying unchanged for over a decade.
The present-day proprietor, Zainul Halam Abdul Hamid, is Seeni Pakir’s son, and his own children and nephews work for him, taking orders and cleaning tables in shifts throughout the shop’s punishing 24-hour schedule.
Street Dining a la Nasi Kandar Line Clear
Did we say the restaurant is located in an alleyway? Yes it is – a long covered alley near the junction of Jalan Penang and Jalan Chulia (location on Google Maps). Dining here requires a sense of adventure and moderate tolerance of discomfort – long queues for the food snake out onto the street during lunch and dinner rush, and you’ll eat your meal on a stainless-steel table, trying not to mind the open drains and occasional cat or rat sauntering by.
The food, though, is magnificent and cheap. For less than MYR10 (about $3) you can have generous portions of white rice, fried chicken, egg, and a side of vegetables, all drowned in an excess of curry sauce (what the locals call “banjir”, or “flooding”).
Nasi Kandar Line Clear’s Curry-Flooded Menu
Locals swear by the spice mix in the curry, just the right mix of spicy, sweet and savory that goes well with just about anything on the menu. Diners have a choice between plain white rice or fried biryani rice; you can then order one or more of the following dishes to accompany your choice:
- Fried chicken (ayam goreng) – by far the most popular meat dish in Line Clear
- Fried fish (ikan kari)
- Curry prawns (udang kari)
- Curry mutton (kari kambing)
- Curry squid (kari sotong)
- Curry beef (kari daging)
Dishes are generally served with vegetables, along with the following popular (and optional) side dishes:
- Egg done your way – omelet (telur dadar), sunny side up (telur mata kerbau) or hard-boiled (telur rebus)
- Okra (bendi)
Line Clear also serves pricier daily specials from a separate menu. On Mondays, ask for the fish-head curry, that day’s most popular daily special. Unlike the regular dishes that are already waiting on chafing dishes, specials must be made to order: they take about eight to ten minutes to make. The wait is worth it, though.
How to Order at Nasi Kandar Line Clear
All the food in Nasi Kandar Line Clear is lined up in rows of chafing dishes behind the counter in front; after negotiating the queue to the counter, you can tell the counterman what you want (your choice of rice, meat, and side dish; drink) and how much curry you want in your food:
- “none” (tak mahu kuah)
- “a little” (kuah sikit)
- “flood it” (kuah banjir)
You’ll get a bill listing your food and the total cost; you can pay immediately or afterward, in case you want to add anything else from the menu. The busboys will be glad to add more to your order if you change your mind.
This is just this writer’s opinion, but you’ve come a long way to dine at Line Clear; what a waste of a journey if you don’t banjir the bastard.
Nasi Kandar Line Clear at a Glance
- Address: 177 Jalan Penang, George Town, Penang (location on Google Maps)
- Phone: +60 4 261 4440
- Operating Hours: 24 hours, closed on alternate Tuesdays and on Fridays from 1pm to 2pm (the owners, devout Muslims, go to Friday prayers at this hour)