By: Adline A. Ghani
Mention Malaysian food or Malaysian breakfast and you’re bound to hear someone quip ‘nasi lemak’. Consisting of rice cooked to fragrant perfection in coconut milk and served with a host of savoury condiments, this is a dish that most Malaysians would miss when they’re overseas, as many consider it to be a national dish.
The best part about nasi lemak is perhaps the ‘nasi’ or rice itself. A lot of effort goes into achieving that characteristic aroma one associates with good nasi lemak. Firstly, screwpine (pandan) leaves are knotted and added to the rice as it’s cooking to impart its sweet smell. Some cooks also add spices and fresh herbs like fenugreek, fresh ginger pieces or lemongrass to enhance the rice’s taste and smell.
The ubiquitous condiments to the flavourful and fragrant rice are fried dried anchovies, roasted peanuts, slices of cucumber, a boiled egg and ‘sambal tumis,’ which is a pungent chili paste. The sambal tumis itself may contain dried anchovies or pieces of squid for extra bite. ‘Deluxe’ versions of nasi lemak are served with fried fish or chicken, beef or cockle ‘rendang.’ There is also a special kind of nasi lemak called nasi lemak kukus or steamed nasi lemak.
Depending on the location where it’s sold and the side dishes that come with it, a serving of nasi lemak can set you back between RM1 to RM20! Indeed, in Malaysia, you can find nasi lemak being sold in roadside stalls as well as five star hotels! You could say that it’s a must-have in any self-respecting Malaysian food establishment.
Additionally, nasi lemak is a true example of Malaysian take away food, as it is often presented in a neat little package that traditionally consists of an inner layer of banana leaf and an outer layer of newspaper. The banana leaf not only acts as a biodegradable and eco-friendly ‘plate,’ but also serves to impart even more aroma to the rice.
Like other popular Malaysian food items, there are many variations of nasi lemak to suit the taste buds of our multicultural community. Originally a Malay dish, there are also Malaysian Indian and Malaysian Chinese versions of nasi lemak. The Malaysian India version is typically served without meat, as Hindus do not consume beef, while Malaysian Chinese nasi lemak is often non-halal and may contain pork. Vegetarians need not feel left out, however, as there places that serve vegetarian nasi lemak where the meat is substituted with pieces of tofu.
Although it is regarded as a breakfast item, Malaysians eat nasi lemak for lunch and dinner as well, and it isn’t hard to find places that specialise in serving nasi lemak day and night! Delicious, fragrant, filling and colourful… what more can you ask for from a meal? Do you know where to find some real good taste nasi lemak? Share it below!