Still rings in my ear what my friend said, “Nothing but the best,” and this rings so true to my experience with Malaysian food.
On my first day in Penang, I went to nothing but the best: Nasi Kandar Line Clear. I had plans to meet up with a local to show me around some great places to eat and this was her top choice. My (awesome) hostel, Tido Hostel, is coincidentally just down the street, within walking distance so it made even more sense to go there.
Nasi kandar is anything with steamed rice (nasi) and curry. The term “kandar” originated from the act of carrying their rice and curry in pots, hung off bamboos, and then carried onto their shoulders. This rice and curry meal was sold to laborers back in the 1900s in George Town. Originally, nasi kandar was made of fish curry, lady fingers (okra), fried beef curry, fried fish, and boiled eggs.
Once you walk in Nasi Kandar Line Clear, you queue up to order. You can choose between steamed rice or biryani rice and then top your plate full of whatever you want. You can choose from several kinds of curry, fried meat, and vegetables.
My local friend pretty much chose most of the things on my plate and she made sure to get what she said are popular about this place — fish head curry and squid eggs. I’m pretty squeamish and not exactly adventurous with food down the exotic line so I was not particularly excited for the squid eggs, but the fish head curry was very exciting. I tried the squid eggs in the end and it’s not as bad as you’d imagine it to be. The texture is just like fish but I was too stuck in my head and my imagination to actually enjoy it.
I heard Nasi Kandar Line Clear didn’t get popular until Anthony Bourdain stepped into its premises. I mean, I think anywhere Bourdain has been has definitely had the benefit of a booming business. Online you can read a few stories about locals who frequent the place because of the quality and price. They have been open since 1930.
As I was reading through more articles about Nasi Kandar Line Clear, I saw some reviews talking about how the place was dirty with old chairs and old tables but when I went in October 2018, it was quite organized and the tables were nice and new. I found out that in 2017, they were forced to close after the Penang City Council inspected the place and found rat droppings in the kitchen. They quickly recovered, though, and I can assume this was when they did a thorough clean up and redo of the place.
But I guess like any street food place, you have to prepare yourself for possibly getting an upset stomach. I’m sure they all try to be as clean and hygienic as possible and some people just can’t stomach it.