Dogged by alcoholic wakefulness over the recent break in Penang, I would invoke the most random food cravings at odd hours of the night. However, eating out at my usual favourite kopitiams in the thick of Chinese New Year celebrations is strictly off-limits, given the certainty of decline in standards and jaw-dropping price hikes.
One such morning, after a fitful night's sleep haunted by unprecedented hunger, I was fortunate to have the company of an acquaintance, who suggested early breakfast, at the first and oldest nasi kandar stall in Penang, no less. He had read about this here, amidst the abundance of content online celebrating the ever more popular Line Clear Nasi Kandar in town.
This Nasi Kandar stall is without a name, though it sits squarely next to Kedai Kopi Tai Min, in a dilapidated annex, along Jalan Jelutong, right opposite the Jelutong police station. Now, my friend had some choice stories to share about the men in blue who worked opposite, for he happened to have been arrested and thrown into lock-up there many years ago (for an allegation that was laughably trivial, mind you).
The Nasi Kandar here attracts folks from all walks of life, of varying colour, creed and disposition. While we took our place in the snaking queue in front of the stall, we spied pakciks and makciks at leisure, exercise bunnies in jogging shoes and workers clocking holiday overtime. My almost ex-convict friend even spied a cop from across the street, whom he recognised as part of his arrest those many years ago. On account of the less-than-pleasant one-time encounter, my friend decided to not say Hi, understandably.
The choices offered here are fairly limited, as nasi kandar of yesteryears were no doubt a much simpler affair compared to the Kayus and Pelitas of today. Choose from chicken, beef, squid, fish, fish eggs, lady fingers to top the signature drenched rice. What immediately stood out was how light and mild the gravy was, nothing like the laborious, plodding nasi kandar that we knew. Kinda like how a country's judicial system is when bogged down by modern-day gluttony and garbage.
Slightly traumatised by the reminder of his harrowing rendezvous with the Malaysian arms of law, my friend went on a protein binge, with fish AND fish eggs, hard boiled egg and ladyfingers.
The kopitiam itself was as colourful and intriguing a scene to consume as the Nasi Kandar, which has aged well. The horror stories of those imprisoned by corruption and abuse, however, is a different pot of rice altogether.