Penang - Curry Supper at Nasi Kandar Beratur
Nasi Kandar Beratur in Georgetown'd old quarter, next to the 211-year-old Kapitan Keling Mosque, has been one of Penang's leading purveyors of "Nasi Kandar", a traditional Indian-Muslim meal which consisted of steamed white rice, served with an array of curried dishes for nearly 70 years. Oftentimes, the "Nasi Kandar"-man will ladle various curry gravies onto your plate of rice itself, resulting in a dish with complex, mind-boggling, tongue-tingling mix of flavors.
Nasi Kandar Beratur has been operating out of this spot (Liqayat Ali Restaurant) since 1943. Firstly, it's interesting to note that *two* different Nasi Kandar purveyors operate out of this spot - on a shift basis. Other than sharing the same premises and even serving equipment, their kitchen/serving staff and cooking styles are virtually unrelated.
One crew operates from 10am to 9pm. But Nasi Kandar connoisseurs swore by the night-shift crew, which opens for business at 10pm (or, more accurately, around 10.20pm since they take their own sweet time opening the shutters, arrange their trays of pre-cooked curries, wiping the counters, etc.). But come rain or shine, a long queue will start forming in front of the serving counter from 9.30pm each evening.
I was in this evening's queue - probably bonkers, since I can't imagine having a curry meal at 11pm - which is probably the time I'd get served since I was like 24th in the queue at 10.10pm! But, hey, it's Christmas, I'm on vacation in Penang, and I'm in the mood to do something totally out of character.
There were literally a hundred people sitting around waiting for their food, whilst one of their respective parties would be in the queue to place the order for the rest. I'm doing that for my dinner party of 4, since I wanted to experience first-hand the ordering process.
Turned out, the servers were super-efficient - one simply points out the meats and vegetables that one wants, and they'd ladle out the requisite amounts of each dish, then pour 4-5 types of curries onto each plate of the rice. The skill of each Nasi Kandar server is in how well he blends together the different curry gravies to form the "perfect mix" and balance of flavors.
For my own plate - I chose a dry beef curry, a spicy chicken curry, chopped spiced cabbage, a curried okra, a hard-boiled egg, and a large piece of fish-roe. My plate of rice was virtually covered by the meats & vegetables and absolutely drenched with curry gravies.
How was the food overall? I must admit that it fell far short of my expectations: the chicken was too dry, the curries were *not* piquant enough for my taste. I'd have better Nasi Kandar elsewhere in Penang but, there's no beating the atmosphere here - that near-midnight queue of dozens of people for a plate of spicy curry. Precious!
Nasi Kandar Beratur
Restoran Liqayat Ali
98 Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling (Pitt Street)
Back to the same spot this afternoon to try out the day-time incarnation of the Nasi Kandar spot outside the Kapitan Keling Mosque.
The day-time stall seemed smaller and with lesser choice of dishes - not surprising since the dining crowd is much thinner during the day, whence many other dining options abound in the Little India neighborhood nearby.
This time, I chose a whole, deep-fried spiced quail, some lightly sauteed cabbage flavored with turmeric and tempered mustard seeds, a hard-boiled egg, and a mix of curry gravies (as always, one leaves it to the "Nasi Kandar" man to mix the gravies for you - a kind of 'omakase' : 'I-leave-it-to-you' approach). IMO, the curry gravies by the day-time stall is much less spicy than the much-more-popular night-time stall. Tastewise, nothing much to differentiate between the two, actually.
I think this place is grossly over-rated and expensive. I'm amazed with the large crowds there each evening but I think the main reason is that it's one of the very places still open for late night supper in that area, whereas in the day time, there are many other nicer nasi kandar places around, especially along Chulia Street.
P_R, I think it's not *too* expensive - a plate of rice with a large piece of curried chicken thigh/drumstick, a piece of beef rendang, a hard-boiled egg, cabbage and a pair of curried okra only costed RM9 (not even US$3)! I can't even get a cup of Starbucks' brew of the day for that price in Singapore.
Of course, some items in the array of curries to choose from are pretty pricey: that large piece of lightly-spiced, deep-fried fish roe was RM7. But it's still worth the price.
But you're right, any of the other nasi kandar places which opened during the day and into the early evenings, e.g. Nasi Kandar Kapitan, serves curries which are as good, if not better than Nasi Kandar Beratur's.