The best kind of battle is when each outcome is positive. A challenge to find the best Nasi Kandar in Penang only mean's that you have to do a lot of legwork. Suffering through daily bouts of delectable artillery, being flumoxed by stray bullets of flavour, flanked by a magnificent curry or downright murdered by a magnificent fish fry, I volunteered to lead the invisible army (my camera and I) into the humid war-zone of Penang, and day by day, inch closer to finally conquering the question: Which Nasi Kandar is truly best?
For those who need a small introduction, Nasi Kandar is from Penang, and it's basically rice & curry. Some purists stick to the fact that there must be "flooding" on the plate to qualify, meaning that all the various curries are placed on one vessel and allowed to get to know each other. Other's will happily accept individual curries being served in small plates. Personally, I don't give a damn as long as it ends up in my stomach.
Of the countless many I ate at, almost all of them with delicious aspects to their menu's, three places stood out in terms of repeatedly serving delicious, affordable and clean food to the throngs of fans that gathered daily in their dining rooms.
I did have remarkable individual dishes at Gem, Karaikudi, Haamediyah (despite the insane line), Hassan, Danish, Annalakshmi and a multitude of others, however, speaking overall, based mostly on consistency, I will always return to the following three, in no particular order:
Nasi kandar chronicles
Sri Ananda BahWan
The first Nasi Kandar place I ate at in Georgetown almost twenty years ago, and still going strong. Not as dirt cheap as some of the shacks along Penang St, but consistently brilliant. Over the years I have eaten my way through much of their menu and never had a bad dish. Hungry travellers or locals alike flock here for their hygienic food, served promptly, and enjoyed in a relatively air conditioned environment. Out front the multitude of workers spear tandoori chicken onto metal spikes, flatten naan into the contours of the tandoori oven, and package brightly coloured sweets for home treats.
Make this one of the stops on your Georgetown itinerary.
nasi kandar line clear
A veritable behemoth in the Penang food-scape, this place crams in customers anytime of day with it's 24hr opening times. They also happen to serve one of the best fried chicken's in Georgetown if you manage to time your visit with a fresh batch being prepared. Out front rice steams in huge stainless steel pots, the curries lay dormant waiting for a new home, and the plastic bags are wrapped and ready for home-delivery. If you wish to eat there, then out back is a large smattering of plastic chairs ready to take your load off. It isn't the most hygienic place on earth, but in multiple visits we never got sick.
Even though we are not crowning a winner, if I had one last meal on earth and it had to be Nasi Kandar, then for all my money, I'd go to Tajuddin. Words seem redundant in describing how flavoursome the mutton curry is, mopped up with the biryani rice, some vegetables, dal and a freezing cold 100 plus. You can bet your bottom Ringgit that most of the popular dishes will be sold out an hour after opening, so come prepared and come early. Special mention also to the fish curry which is delicious.
When you consider that a meal here will set you back the equivalent of 2 Euros, then open the flood gates and knock yourself out and order multiple plates like a dizzying curry dim-sum. Life doesn't get much better than sitting by these metal tables, sweating bullets and scooping handfulls of delicious food into your soul.
p.s. Check out Mark Wiens when he ate the exact same meal I did below. Also if you're missing travelling, then be sure to hit up Yves at Moonshine&Lemongrass as he eats there. He and his family are still stuck in Malaysia, so expect a lot of current updates on the food/travel scene there that not many others have access to.
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.