when baking, follow directions.. when cooking, go by your own taste.. ~ Laiko Bahrs
we took a short hiatus from the big city and drove back to Alor Star, Kedah to visit my father in law..a 3-4 days much-needed break filled with relaxation, catching up with dad, and also food hunting..we were thankful that the weather wasn’t too hot this time around, compared to the blazing heat we had to endure the last time we came back..
being a neighbor to gastronomical haven Penang and eclipsed by the over-commercialization of its food, it’s no wonder that not many people take much notice of the delicious delicacies that can be found in Alor Star and other neighboring towns in Kedah..Kedah is the ‘rice bowl’/negeri jelapang padi of Malaysia, accounting for one-third of the country’s total production of rice..the land consists of relatively flat terrains, therefore it’s suitable to grow rice, the staple food/makanan ruji of the country..however, it also means the weather is constantly sunshiny and warm, all year round..
Alor Star, the capital of Kedah is a very peaceful and quaint little town, living up to its honorific ‘Darul Aman‘ (Abode of Peace), with upcoming bursts of architectural progress and modernization..one can see a few flyovers being built on main roads, new modern buildings standing in stark contrast amidst the old ones, and the number of vehicles on the roads are growing fast by the day as well..
despite the country’s speedy urbanization progress and economic inflation, food sold at the numerous stalls and restaurants here are still reasonably priced, though some shops have hiked their prices to equal those in big cities..however, many old-school businesses have closed down due to the bad economy and the invasion of rivaling modern business operators, which is a common phenomenon nowadays especially in small towns..very few remain in the heritage style buildings of old, each awaiting the same fate as the rest..in my opinion, the state government should do something to preserve or resuscitate old school businesses and heritage commercial complexes before everything die a natural death to make way for modernity..each time the husband and i go back to alor star, my father in law tells us of businesses dying down one by one, especially those in the food and beverage industry..some couldn’t withstand the high costs incurred due to inflation, while some couldn’t find predecessors to continue their legacy on..i sigh and wonder each time, wondering what will become of the heritage that is slowly dying in the town that i’ve grown fond of..one can see new, big shopping complexes housing hypermarkets and other modern facilities slowly sprouting and forcing its way into the lives of the peaceful locals who were once used to the way things were done old school style before modernization seeped in..
a definite must-have in Alor Star, Kedah is a plate of authentic old school nasi kandar..here, nasi kandar is also known as nasi lemak among the locals..in KL, overly-commercialized nasi kandar is sold in big, brightly lit restaurants, some alongside other cuisines as well..the restaurants are normally open for whole day dining, some 24 hours..which is a stark difference to the old-school style nasi kandar shops in Alor Star and its neighboring towns in Kedah and also Penang, where nasi kandar is sold in small shops, some operating only during the morning, but most are open from late afternoon to late night..only a few are open for 24 hours, like Restoran Yasmeen..
another major difference between nasi kandar sold in KL and Alor Star is the rice, dishes and gravy..in KL, nasi kandar comes as a serving of white rice with numerous choices of accompanying dishes..one will be spoilt for choice to choose from the many countless side dishes being offered..in Alor Star, the rice is cooked with coconut milk, almost like coconut rice, hence the local name for it, nasi lemak..one can choose from a few dishes such as beef, whole squid, prawns, or chicken cooked in curries/gravies and also fried fish and chicken..the rice is then served with 3 types of gravies or kuah campur poured all over it..the gravies each combined give a sweet and spicy taste to it..
in the town of Alor Star, there are a few household names in the nasi kandar/nasi lemak business..Royale, Zam Zam and Ali, each with its own speciality..you can find branches of Royale and Zam Zam in a few places in Alor Star, sometimes a few blocks away from each other..these small eating shops are usually full during dinner time, with long queues of customers lining up to choose their dishes for either dining in or takeaway..
upon reaching Alor Star during supper time, we drove over to a Nasi Lemak Royale shop that was still open and tapao-ed 2 packets of nasi kandar with beef, fried fish and blanched okra..that marked the first food craving we satisfied in Alor Star..