BRIYANI at Hameediya Restaurant, George Town./ Photo: Aziz A. Shariff
GEORGE TOWN — Hameediyah Restaurant is a name spanning decades of history.
Though it’s origins are humble, it is by no means a humble name.
To a Penangite, the name Hameediyah it is synonymous with the much-loved ‘Nasi Kandar’.
And it all began with M.Mohamed Thamby Rawther, a spice trader from Chittarkottai in the district of Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu in India.
Mohamed Thamby and his three sons Seeni Packeer, Packeer Mohamed and Abdul Ghaney arrived in Penang in the early 1990s.
The Hamediyah men then rented No.164 at Lebuh Campbell from a Chinese landowner and set up a shop trading in exotic spices from India.
However, it was not long before the Hameediyah men started getting their feet wet in the culinary business.
“Mohamed Thamby was not a chef.
“His skills are mainly attributed to observing his grandfather, who was a well-known wedding cook in his village and the women in the family.
“With his knowledge of spices and advise from family members, Mohamed Thamby and his sons come up with their own masala recipe which is still used as the base of all our curries,” said Ahmed Seeni Pakir, 65, the sixth generation of the Rawter family.
Ahmed Seeni shared Mohamed Thamby and his sons’ skills in cooking improved after arriving in Penang since their own meals.
“It was common practise for the men to travel for business, leaving the women in the family in the village.
“The men would travel back for holidays at their village leaving the business under the care of their extended male relatives who were helping out,” he said, adding that the practise of visiting their village in India still continues among the current generation.
Ahmed said Mohamed Thamby started cooking the staple Indian Muslim and started selling n under a large and shady Angsana tree on a field in front of their shop
“They wanted to show their customers how they can use the spices in their cooking and also share their culinary skills.
“During that period the British did not allow food to be sold in shops so they would cook the curries in the back portion of their spice shop daily and transport it to the field two baskets balanced on a pole over to a big field across their shop,” he said.
The method of carrying it on the baskets and pole is what gives Nasi Kandar its name, with nasi meaning rice and kandar meaning balance.
Ahmed said that the Hameediyah men would cook the rice on the spot serving with the array of mouthwatering, curries, kurmas, chicken and beef dishes and vegetables.
“Business did not start off great as people were still not familiar with that cuisine but eventually the business picked up and they had lines of people queueing up for a plate of Nasi Kandar.
As business started flourishing, Ahmed said, the men would walk for miles to sell their food from the docks at the nearby jetty, Jalan Pitt(now Jalan Kapitan Keling), Jalan Datuk Koyah, Jalan Perangin (now Jalan Prangin) right up to Tanjung Tokong.
“They were ambitious and smart as to where they would sell their food too. Jalan Penang, where there was once a river running through was one of the spots they would sell their food at but only on particular days that they knew would be bustling with riverside crowds of traders,” he said.
Ahmed said demand for their authentic dish never slowed down even during the Japanese occupation in the 1940s.
He said the wise men, used to make more beef curry during this period as they noticed that the Japanese soldiers and generals mostly preferred beef curry.
“When they British regained its hold on Malaya in 1945, there was a spike in their food sale due to the temporary decadent lifestyle that also saw many people trying to spend their Japanese ‘banana money’ before it became worthless,” he said.
Around the 1960s to 1970s, the Hameediyah men also regularly supply an immense quantity of food such as 5,000 portions of beef curry servings that was to be sent to the American soldiers.