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Malaysian street food may be seen as a newcomer to the wider international palate, but lets go back to where it all started.

Picture yourself wandering through the bustling streets of Kuala Lumpur. You’re hit by a tantalizing aroma that reminds you that it’s snack time. A hawker crosses your path carrying baskets of food and rice on a long yoke across his shoulder. One basket contains rice and the others hold a selection of fried fish, beef, chicken, curries, and vegetables.

Nasi Kandar originated in the streets of Malaysia. Thus creating what we now have at a sit down eating establishment that serves a tantalising array of different nasi kandar foods. ‘Nasi’ is Malay for rice and ‘kandar’ means yoke. The name symbolizes the original means of transporting food in neighborhoods. These places are unpretentious and relaxed.

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There’s one thing you should know, eating at a Nasi Kandar is not going to be the healthiest choice… or healthy at all. This food is meant to be fast and cheap. However being a student of nutrition and still wanting to partake in the favorite pastime of Malaysians, eating at a Nasi Kandar, I decided to see how I could still eat there without giving myself an early heart attack. Luckily for me there are a few options, if you can get past the fried fish and chicken. Mind you I’m not saying these are “healthy” choices but definitely healthier options than the usual fare.

How about a plate of local green beans, gourd, bean sprouts and cabbage sautéed in a nice blend of chilli and an array of sauces? The blend of tastes and textures is satisfying to the taste buds.

If you need more than just veggies to fill your plate, you can’t go wrong with some tantalising tandoori chicken. Be careful – this is sure to add some spice to your palate. The soup cart is usually open only for dinner, with some great options, goat tongue anyone?! Not your thing? Then maybe a filling chicken soup.

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Although naan (flat bread) is a common fixture at a Nasi Kandar, a healthier alternative would be Thosai (dosa), originally from South India. Thosai is a common breakfast or dinner food. A fermented mixture of rice and black lentils, it contains no sugar or saturated fats making it a complete protein. It’s texture is soft and light, similar to a crêpe. And for those looking for a gluten free alternative to bread, this is perfect.

Eating at a Nasi Kandar is an experience not to be missed. It’s a well woven part of Malaysian culture and you can’t help but feel like one big family when eating there. The mood is always light and relaxed whilst watching a game of football or catching up with friends. Grab a plate and join the experience.

Jom lepak mamak! (Let’s grab some food)

About Gem Hunter Iman

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Iman Salam writes for her blog, Faithfully Yours, where she blogs about fashion, faith, and food. Born to Palestinian parents and raised in San Francisco, currently she resides in Kuala Lumpur with her husband and three children. She is a certified personal trainer, teaches physical education and is pursuing a masters in nutrition.

Read more about Iman here