Saturday, November 14, 2009 at 1:28 PM

Title: Nasi Kandar Kampung Melayu
Medium: Photography
Photographer: Johan Ishak
Time/Date: {Date and time not recorded}, 1999
Place of creation: Penang

ASI literally means rice, a staple food of the Far-East-Oriental and Kandar is the act of carrying goods on the shoulders - a short description of food sold by traders carrying buckets of rice and curries on their shoulders, though you don't get to see this anymore (hence the photograph being a premised establishment of Nasi Kandar hawker).

Nasi Kandar has been a phenomenal attraction to Penang for many years. This is a perfect example of culture assimilation as a result of immigration policies introduced by the colonial masters (Portugese, Dutch & British) of the Malay Peninsula. This is typical of the development in the straits settlement such as Malacca and Temasek (Singapore) since the trading days of the Malacca Entreport Empire in the 1500's where Indians, Chinese, Arabs and the Malay-Indo travellers travelled via sea to meet and trade.

This combination of steamed white rice and various curry dishes took its origin from the Indian taste evolusionised into the Malay environment. A legacy of the Jawi Peranakan or "Mamak" (Malay-Indian descendants predominantly Muslims). Unlike its counterpart, the Malay-Chinese "Baba Nyonya" sweet sour hot chilli dishes, Nasi Kandar offers a unique explosion of spices on the taste butts - a blended sensation of cloves, anise stars, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods (together referred to as "Empat Sekawan" or the Friendship of Four); as well as fennel, cumin, mustard seeds, onions, garlics, chillies, tamarind and a whole lot of other spices cooked with veggies, fish, meat or poultry.

These spices seemed to have been the Gold commodities for the Europeans as food preservatives. In the absence of a refrigerator 500 years ago, spices were regarded as the new age technology equal to that of the mummification preservatives of the Eqyptians - a technology sufficiently advanced to have pursuaded the Europeans to invade the East, inclusive of India, the Malay Peninsula, surrounding Islands of Indonesia-Philippines and Indo-China.

Referring back to the culture assimilation, Nasi Kandar is accepted by a whole wide range of ethnic group in the Malay Peninsula namely Malay, Indian and Chinese. So you do get these various ethnic groups to venture into food business that involves Nasi Kandar - hence the existence of Nasi Kandar Kampung Melayu, Malay for "Malay Villagers' Nasi Kandar".


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