|Course||Main course, usually for breakfast|
|Place of origin||Malaysia|
|Region or state||Malaysia, certain regions of Sumatra in Indonesia (Medan, Riau and Riau Islands), Singapore, Brunei and Southern Thailand|
|Associated national cuisine||Malaysian|
|Created by||Malay cuisine|
|Serving temperature||Hot or room temperature|
|Main ingredients||Rice cooked in coconut milk with leaves of Pandan screwpine and served with sambal, anchovies, cucumber, and various side dishes|
Nasi lemak is a Malay fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf. It is commonly found in Malaysia, where it is considered the national dish; it is also popular in neighbouring areas such as Singapore; Brunei, and Southern Thailand. In Indonesia it can be found in several parts of Sumatra; especially Malay realm of Riau, Riau Islands and Medan. Nasi lemak can also be found in the Bangsamoro region of Mindanao prepared by Filipino Moro. It is considered one of the most famous dishes for a Malay-style breakfast. It is not to be confused with nasi dagang, sold in the Malaysian east coast states of Terengganu and Kelantan, although both dishes are often served for breakfast. However, because nasi lemak can be served in a variety of ways, it is often eaten throughout the day.
In March 2016, nasi lemak was mentioned as one of the 10 healthy international breakfast foods by TIME magazine. This opinion however, might be misleading, since the writer might be referring to its relatively "healthier" and smaller version and in comparison to large American breakfast (fried bacon, eggs, pancakes/hash browns). A single, full size serving of nasi lemak with additional fried chicken, meat or fish, can be between 800 and well over 1,000 calories. The savoury coconut milk-infused rice also contains saturated fat, an ingredient connected to health problems, including diabetes.
Nasi lemak was mentioned in a book "The Circumstances of Malay Life", written by Sir Richard Olof Winstedt in 1909. With roots in Malay culture and Malay cuisine, its name in Malay literally means "oily or fatty rice", but is taken in this context to mean "rich" or "creamy". The name is derived from the cooking process whereby rice is soaked in coconut cream and then the mixture steamed. The rice is normally cooked with pandan leaves that gives it a distinctive flavour.
Traditionally, nasi lemak is served with a hot spicy sauce (sambal), and usually includes various garnishes, including fresh cucumber slices, small fried anchovies (ikan bilis), roasted peanuts, and hard-boiled or fried egg. As a more substantial meal, nasi lemak may also be served with an additional protein dish such as ayam goreng (fried chicken), sambal sotong (cuttlefish in chili), small fried fish, cockles, and on special occasions rendang daging (beef) stewed in coconut milk and spices). Other accompaniments include stir fried water convolvulus (kangkong), and spicy pickled vegetables salad acar. Traditionally most of these accompaniments are spicy in nature.
Nasi lemak is widely eaten in Malaysia and Singapore. More commonly consumed as breakfast in both countries, it is commonly sold at hawker food centres and roadside stalls in Malaysia and Singapore. In Indonesia, nasi lemak is a favourite local breakfast fare; especially in Eastern Sumatra (Riau Islands, Riau and Jambi provinces). In Palembang, it is also a favourite local dish with the name "nasi gemuk". In palembangnese Malay, "gemuk" has the same meaning as "lemak". This unique dish often comes wrapped in banana leaves, newspaper or brown paper, or it in some shops served on a plate. However, owing to its popularity there are restaurants which serve it as a noon or evening meal, making it possible for the dish to be eaten all day. Nasi lemak kukus which means "steamed nasi lemak" is another name given to nasi lemak served with steamed rice. In Malaysia, nasi lemak can also be found in a pasar malam (night market) with a variety of dishes.
In Malaysia and Singapore, nasi lemak comes in many variations as they are prepared by different chefs from different cultures. The original nasi lemak in Malaysia is arguably a typical Southern and Central Peninsular Malaysia breakfast, and is considered of Malay origin. However, due to the popularity of the dish, it is regarded as a national dish.
The rice cooked in coconut milk is actually common in Southeast Asia. This is the same process used to make similar rice dishes from their neighbouring country Indonesia, which are nasi uduk from Jakarta, nasi gurih from Aceh and Javanese nasi liwet. However, there are differences in taste because knotted leaves of Pandan screwpine are steamed with the rice to impart flavour and fragrance. Less often other spices such as ginger and occasionally herbs like lemon grass may be added for additional fragrance.
Nasi lemak in the Northern West Peninsular tends to include curry. The sambal tends to range from fiery hot to mildly hot with a sweet under taste. Nasi lemak is not as popular as the indigenous nasi berlauk, nasi dagang, and nasi kerabu in North East Peninsular Malaysia. It is regarded as a speciality imported dish in Sabah and Sarawak. Hotels often feature nasi lemak on their menu with elaborate dishes, such as beef rendang and the addition of other seafood. Hawker centres in Singapore and Malaysia usually wrap them in banana leaves to enhance the flavour. Roadside stalls sell them ready packed, known as "nasi lemak bungkus", with minimal additions that cost between RM 1.50 – 6.00 per pack. Seafood outlets often serve the basic nasi lemak to accompany barbecued seafood. There are Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indian versions, and Singaporean Malay and Singaporean Chinese versions. Some people suggest that sambal is the most important part of a nasi lemak meal. If not prepared properly, it could ruin the dish, since Malaysians love food that is hot and spicy. A good deal of spirited and good-natured debate exists around this point.
Traditional Malaysian version
This traditional favourite offers sambal, ikan bilis (anchovies), peanuts and boiled egg. This is the most traditional version. Nasi lemak stalls can be found serving them with fried egg, sambal kerang (cockles) - a local favourite, sambal squids, sambal fish, chicken or chicken/beef rendang, squid fritters or even fried chicken or fish. It can be consumed for breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea, dinner and even supper. (In Malaysia this meal is usually consumed during morning, nasi lemak hawkers can be seen anywhere nearby schools, offices etc..)
The special part about it is the rice. The rice can be cooked with fresh coconut water, and then the cooked rice will be wrapped with pandan leaf (screwpine) to serve. So it smells naturally fragrant when eaten. This traditional serving style has been inherited for many generations - from a little stall at road side to commercials, it seems like a simple way fulfill the crave towards this traditional food in cities.
Malaysian Indian variation
The Malaysian Indian variation is similar to the original version. However, many Malaysian Indians are Hindus, and thus do not eat beef. Nasi lemak in the Malaysian Indian version is served with curry, such as chicken curry, fish curry or lamb curry. Moreover, Malaysian Indians also serve a rendition of the dish alongside their very own version of Rendang.
Malaysian Chinese variation
Although it is not common to see Malaysian Chinese stalls and restaurants selling nasi lemak, there is a non-halal version that contains pork, sold in towns and cities such as Malacca and certain parts of Kuala Lumpur. Some Malaysian Chinese hawkers are known to make minced pork sambal.
Indonesian Riau variation
Right across the Malacca Strait, the Malay Indonesians of Sumatran east coast shares close kinship and common Malay cuisine heritage with their Malaysian counterpart. As the result, nasi lemak is also native cuisine to Riau Island and Riau province. In archipelagic region like Riau Islands province of Indonesia, usually seafood are used to accompany nasi lemak, such as ikan bilis (anchovy), ikan tamban (Sardinella longiceps), ikan selar kuning (Selaroides leptolepis), sotong or cumi-cumi (squid) or small prawns. The Riau islands traditional nasi lemak is quite similar to Malaysian version; it comes as a platter of coconut rice wrapped in banana leaf, with cucumber slices, small dried anchovies (ikan bilis), roasted peanuts, hard boiled egg, and hot spicy sauce (sambal). The Riau islands version however, comes with an addition of small fish locally known as ikan tamban, usually fried with sambal chili paste and very crispy, the whole fish is edible. Prawns and squids are also commonly stir-fried in chili paste as sambal udang or sambal cumi. In Indonesia, nasi lemak is often sprinkled with bawang goreng (crispy fried shallot granules).
In Pekanbaru city in Sumatran province of Riau however, freshwater river fishes are commonly used as lauk to accompany nasi lemak. The freshwater fishes includes ikan selais (Kryptopterus cryptopterus) and ikan patin (Pangasius). Other fish such as ikan lomek (Harpadon nehereus) is also commonly used. These fishes are usually cooked in Minang style lado ijo (green chili pepper), minced and fried as perkedel ikan, or just plainly fried.
Indonesian Medan variation
Medan Melayu Deli nasi lemak version usually served with choice of side dishes either rendang (beef or chicken) or balado (egg or shrimp in chili sauce). A set of complete Medan's nasi lemak includes sprinkle of crispy fried shallot, slices of omelette, kripik kentang balado (spicy potato chips), tempe orek (seasoned fried tempeh), perkedel (fried potato patties), sambal chili paste, slices of cucumber, and slightly bitter emping cracker. Some traditional restaurant chain has dedicated their business to serving nasi lemak Medan. Next to rendang and balado, vegetable dish sayur masak lemak (vegetables including long beans, cabbage, and long green chilies in coconut milk) is also offered. It is a popular street food in Medan sold in humble tarp tent warung, and usually sold together with Lontong Medan. Since Medan is located near Aceh border, and there are numbers of Aceh people resides in the city, the term nasi lemak and nasi gurih often used interchangeably in the city, since both terms actually refer to a similar coconut rice dish.
Singaporean Malay variation
For most of the Singaporean Malay variation, the sambal of the nasi lemak has more of a sweeter and less spicy taste when compared to other variations. As the sambal is a crucial portion of the nasi lemak, it is preferred to be less spicy so as not to overpower the taste of the coconut based rice and the other ingredients. The sides to this dish includes ikan bilis (anchovies), peanuts and an omelette or fried egg, which is rather similar to the Malaysian version, although the use of a boiled egg as with the Malaysian version is somewhat less common. Occasionally, a variant using the long grain basmati rice may also be found.
Singaporean Chinese variation
Retaining the familiar aroma of pandan leaves, the Singaporean Chinese variation comes with a variety of sides that includes deep fried drumstick, chicken franks, fish cake, curried vegetables and tongsan luncheon meat. There is also the traditional way of serving it with just the ikan bilis (anchovies), peanuts and fried egg similar to the Malaysian version. Sometimes the rice is also coloured emerald green with the use of screwpine leaf extract or essence, commonly called pandan leaves, that perfumes the rice with a nice fragrance when added to the rice with the coconut milk as well as giving it its bright green colour. The use of the colour may have arisen as a gimmick to entice customers.
In certain parts of Malaysia, hawkers also offer vegetarian nasi lemak in which the dried anchovies are substituted with vegetarian mock anchovies.
In the Southern Thailand town of Betong, the nasi lemak is served with tom yam sauce.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nasi lemak.|
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