PETALING JAYA, Dec 8 – As a child, I was very particular about not allowing different foods to touch on my plate, going so far as to trace out clear borders with my spoon.
Naturally, this presented a problem when trying to enjoy things on the saucier side, but with a little firmly-voiced and -handed encouragement from the parents, I eventually snapped out of this nonsense.
Further encouragement arrived when I was introduced to nasi kandar or: "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Flood", where no grain of rice went untouched and the concept of kuah campur banjir opened the floodgates to a wealth of flavour-forward experiences.
Originating in Penang, nasi kandar has since become one of the northern state’s most popular culinary exports, giving rise to large and successful chains like Pelita and Kayu Nasi Kandar with multiple locations throughout the Klang valley.
In addition to chains, smaller, owner-operated spots also exist, like Bilal Nasi Kandar, which opened just about two months ago at the PKNS flats in PJ's Section 17.
When I arrived at a quarter past ten in the morning, the place was relatively quiet, which I later learned is because they open at 10am, not half past nine as Google suggests.
Staff were still carrying out massive trays of food and various vast pots of curries to the front, all while I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You by Tina Arena and Marc Anthony played in the background.
Standing over the counter, my gaze was met by a number of delicious options: ayam bawang, piled high with soft, caramelised onions; slices of honeycomb tripe in a thin gravy filled with potatoes and star anise; and the apple of my eye, ayam kicap, comprehensively covered in a thick, jet-black coating à la Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace.
In the end, my plate came up to RM17.70, which included ayam kicap, tripe, cabbage, half a salted egg and rice drenched in a generous helping of every type of kuah.
The thinner, more watery types of kuah take to the white rice like dye on a cloth, while the thicker, more full-bodied kicap coats it like paint on a wall.
One would be forgiven for thinking that such a complex mixture of curries would be impossible to describe, as is often the case in inferior versions, but not here.
Far from a flat, monolithic mess, this vivid kaleidoscope of a plate lets you experience the full spectrum of spicy, sweet, savoury and most notably, tangy (courtesy of a delightful fish curry) flavours in each spoonful.
The chicken is soft, and takes on the molasses-like flavour remarkably well, sweet but with plenty of depth, and leaves just a tinge of heat at the back of the throat.
Pieces of tripe prove delightfully spongy to the bite, releasing the mild, woody flavour of the gravy in each bite.
Other dishes like the ayam bawang also stood out, which was on the sweeter side thanks to a mountain of caramelised onions but was also remarkably tender for something that’s dry-fried, unlike the ayam kicap.
Sotong also proved to be toothsome, moreish little suckers, as opposed to the tough, rubbery version one will often find at inferior places.
At the end of the meal, I looked at the spotless plate, amused at the thought that a younger me would have missed out on one of the best meals of my life.
Before I had merrily emptied the plate of its contents, it was a right mix, all campur-ed up; at the end of it, the flood of kuah washed over me like a wave of satisfaction.
Bilal Nasi Kandar
No 78, Block J, Flat PKNS, Jalan 17/1a, Seksyen 17, Petaling Jaya
Open daily, 10am-8pm
Tel: 012-907 6801
* This is an independent review where the writer paid for the meal.
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