Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Legendary Nasi Lemak Ali

When I was younger, my mother used to buy nasi lemak mamak almost every Friday, usually for breakfast, and extended to lunch. In those days, there were a lot of shops with Indian Muslims selling very good and tasty nasi lemak. Once in a while, she will buy from Nasi Lemak Ali as it is located at what today is known as former Pasar Besar Alor Setar, along Jalan Pegawai. There will always be fried chicken, some beef and kuah campur, or mixed gravy.

Despite her parents originally from Alor Setar, my wife was born and raised in Sungai Petani. Even she remembers fondly of Nasi Lemak Ali from her weekend visits to her uncle's in Alor Setar. Every morning during their stay, her uncle (my uncle too) will buy several packets of nasi lemak from Nasi Lemak Ali, with chicken and mixed gravy in together. Her brothers and her just love the breakfast feast.

Times have changed: the rapid development of Alor Setar in the late 70s and early 80s saw many Indian Muslim nasi lemak vendors moving from their original premise to other places. Some, like Yasmeen and Nasi Lemak Royale found new life (and better business) in their new places/names, while others, like Kedai No. 36, the mamak shop in front of Pasar Besar, simply disappeared. In the past, there were many good nasi lemak mamak in Alor Setar, Nasi Lemak Ali was just one of the competitor, today, it stands as one of the cilinary icon in Alor Setar.

People would come from all over the nation to try Nasi Lemak Ali. The latest legend I heard was that a group of Singaporeans, on the way to Hatyai, drove all the way from the island state without stopping at any R&R, just to eat ay Ali's. I normally avoid Nasi Lemak Ali during the holiday seasons. At one point, during Eid-ul-Fitri season, I saw a very long line coming out from the restaurant all the way to the shop building's corner and more.

I was there with my wife and my son, after so many years, to sample the dishes again. Why I haven't been there for a long time? Well, nasi lemak mamak normally is spicy but not hot. Nasi Lemak Ali is the only one that has a hot reddish-brown gravy, and that taste doesn't really appeal to me. However, for the past few months, I have heard some rumours that the rice and dishes have changed, and I was wondering whether it was true.

The setting at the restaurant has sure changed a lot in the many years since I've been there. It is brighter and there are tables and chairs set outside on the pavement as well, along with seating on the 2nd floor. We had nasi lemak, with fried chicken, mixed gravy and some fried strips of beef. We also had some dalcha as well. Each nasi lemak mamak in Alor Setar will always have fried chicken, fresh from the stove and you can find one of the restaurant employees frying the chicken in front of the shop, so you can be assured that the fried chicken is not yesterday's.

I must say that the rumours were just rumours. The rice, fragrant and flavorful, tasted as it was back then. The mixed gravy was nice and the fried chicken, crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. There are many dishes available for your choosing, but I would still recommend the fried chicken and mixed gravy. There's eggs, prawns, beef, mutton prepared in various ways.

The hot gravy, which is red in color is distinguishable, making Nasi Lemak Ali stand out from other nasi lemak mamak of Alor Setar. My cousin and his family from Kuala Lumpur simply love Nasi Lemak Ali because of that distinct difference. I'm not sure what curry it is, but I am not really in favor of it. However, everybody there loves it, so I guess that this is the taste that made Nasi Lemak Ali outstanding. Hey, hot or not, the empty plates on my table explains everything.

Nasi Lemak Ali is located on Persiaran Sultan Abdul Hamid (formerly known as Jalan Pegawai), which is next to the former Pasar Besar Alor Setar, Ice Factory and Rumah Kelahiran Tun Dr Mahathir.

I was told by my friend in Terengganu that his family and him have stopped eating in Penang when they found out Nasi Lemak Haji Ali. If you have the time, make yourself to Nasi Lemak Ali for a plate of culinary legend.