Nasi lemak is a dish originating in Malay cuisine that consists of fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf. It is commonly found in Malaysia, where it is considered as the national dish. It is also a native dish in neighbouring areas with significant ethnic Malay populations such as Singapore and Southern Thailand. In Indonesia it can be found in several parts of Sumatra, especially the Malay regions of Riau, Riau Islands and Medan. It is considered an essential dish for a typical Malay-style breakfast. Nasi lemak is featured as a national dish in most of the country's tourism brochures and promotional materials.
|Course||Main course, usually for breakfast|
|Place of origin||Malaysia|
|Region or state||Peninsular Malaysia, certain parts of Sumatra in Indonesia, (Medan, Riau, Riau Islands and Palembang), Singapore, Brunei, Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island in Australia|
|Serving temperature||Hot or room temperature|
|Main ingredients||Rice cooked in coconut milk with leaves of pandan screwpine|
|Ingredients generally used||Served with sambal, anchovies, cucumber, and various side dishes|
Nasi lemak can also be found in the Bangsamoro region of Mindanao, prepared by Filipino Moros, as well as Australia's external territories of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
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 "fat 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 its distinct flavour.
Traditionally, nasi lemak is wrapped and served in banana leaves, being 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 eggs.
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 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 sold in hawker food centres and roadside stalls in Malaysia and Singapore. In Malaysia, nasi lemak can also be found in night markets pasar malam along with a variety of dishes.
In the Palembang and Jambi provinces, it is also a favourite local dish with the name nasi gemuk, since in Palembang Malay, gemuk is a synonym of lemak. This unique dish often comes wrapped in banana leaves, newspapers, or in some shops is served on a plate. However, owing to its popularity there are restaurants which serve it as a noon or evening meal, allowing it to be eaten any time of day.
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. Nasi lemak kukus which means "steamed nasi lemak" is another name given to nasi lemak served as steamed rice.
In northwestern Peninsular Malaysia, nasi lemak dishes typically incorporate curry into their recipe. The sambal served with the dish varies in spiciness, ranging from being mild in flavour to being very spicy, with a subtle sweet underlying flavours. 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 the dish in banana leaves to enhance its 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 nasi lemak to accompany barbecued seafood.
There are Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indian versions, as well as 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 entire dish.
Traditional Malaysian version edit
A traditional Malaysian nasi lemak calls for rice and a serving of sambal, ikan bilis (anchovies), peanuts and boiled egg. In addition, some nasi lemak stalls can be found serving them with fried egg, a variety of sambal, i.e. sambal kerang (blood cockles) and sambal ikan (fish), chicken or beef rendang, or even fried squids, chicken or fish.
A special feature of this dish is the white rice used, although variations using brown rice may be preferred by health-conscious consumers. Cooked with fresh coconut milk, and pandanus leaves (screwpine) thrown in, the rice is served on naturally fragrant banana leaves. This traditional serving style has been inherited for many generations -from a little stall by the road to commercials, it serves as simple way to fulfil the craving for this dish in large cities.
Alor Setar variant edit
Also known as nasi lemak kuning (yellow nasi lemak) or nasi lemak royale, this version of nasi lemak is prevalent around parts of northern Kedah, especially in Alor Setar, as well as Perlis. It has a distinct taste, composition, form and texture in contrast to conventional nasi lemak. The rice is yellow in colour and commonly eaten with curries, although some stalls may offer sambals. The rendition of the dish in Alor Setar is closer to nasi kandar.
However, as both variations of nasi lemak are widely available in northern Kedah and Perlis, locals commonly refer to the traditional nasi lemak as nasi lemak daun pisang (banana leaf nasi lemak) to distinguish between the two interpretations of the meal.
Terengganu variant edit
In the east coast state of Terengganu, the nasi lemak is largely similar with the traditional version. However, ikan aye/aya/tongkol (mackerel tuna) is one of the unique complimentary side dishes found in the state. The fish is commonly cooked in a sambal sauce and eaten together with the nasi lemak. This regional version of nasi lemak is a highly popular breakfast option especially in Terengganu's coastal areas.
Malaccan variant edit
Malaysian Chinese variant edit
Although it is not common to see Chinese stalls and restaurants selling nasi lemak, there is a non-halal version that contains pork, sold in towns and cities such as Malacca, Penang, Perak and certain parts of Kuala Lumpur. Some Malaysian Chinese hawkers are known to make pork and wild boar curry, sambal and rendang. It is available in most non-halal restaurants and it is served in a variety of pork, such as luncheon meat, pork petai, pork sausage, braised pork, and grilled pork chop.
Malaysian Indian variant edit
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.
Vegetarian variant edit
In certain parts of Malaysia and Singapore, hawkers and restaurants may offer vegetarian nasi lemak to cater for vegan clientele. In this vegan variant the dried anchovies and the shrimp paste for sambal are replaced with vegetarian substitutes. The vegetarian nasi lemak is served with stir fried vegetables and also plant-based imitation fish or meat substitution.
Strawberry variant edit
Usually regarded as a unique Cameron Highlands specialty where strawberries are commercially grown and harvested. This variation of nasi lemak saw a combination of the fruit in its sambal. The rice is also dark pink in colour, to highlight its distinct identity.
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 Islands and Riau province, also several neighbouring provinces in Sumatra.
Riau Islands variant edit
In the Riau Archipelago, nasi lemak is considered a native Malay dish as well as a favourite breakfast fare among locals. Being an archipelagic region, seafood are usually 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. Nasi lemak from the Riau Islands 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).
Riau variant edit
In Pekanbaru city in Sumatran province of Riau however, locally caught 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.
In Pekanbaru, nasi lemak is also a popular breakfast fare. Just like other variants, the Riau nasi lemak is also rice cooked in rich coconut milk and pandan leaf to add aroma. Other than fried freshwater fish, Pekanbaru's nasi lemak might also served with fried anchovies, boiled egg, sambal, slices of cucumber, fried tempeh, beef cooked as gulai or rendang, and also stir fried long beans often cooked in spicy coconut milk.
Medan variant edit
The Medan Melayu Deli version of nasi lemak is 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 a 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 chains have dedicated their business to serving nasi lemak Medan.
Next to rendang and balado, the 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 tents warung, and usually sold together with Lontong Medan. Since Medan is located near the Aceh border, and there are numbers of Aceh people that reside in the city, the term nasi lemak and nasi gurih are often used interchangeably in the city, since the terms refer to a similar coconut rice dish.
Singaporean Malay variant edit
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. The rice is sometimes artificially colored green to indicate that it has been flavored with green pandan leaves.
Singaporean Chinese variant edit
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 classic Malay version. Sometimes the rice is also coloured emerald green with the use of pandan extract, 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.
Similar dishes edit
Nasi lemak's closest analogue is probably the Sumatran nasi gemuk (lit. "fatty rice"), commonly found in the Indonesian cities of Jambi and Palembang. It is arguably that the difference is only due to dialects variant, in which the term lemak in Johor and Riau Malay dialect is synonymous with gemuk in Jambi and Palembang Malay dialect.
The rice cooked in coconut milk is actually very common in Southeast Asia. This is the same process used to make similar rice dishes from neighbouring 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 is not as popular as the indigenous nasi dagang, nasi berlauk, and nasi kerabu in the northeast parts of Malay peninsula, particularly the states of Kelantan and Terengganu. Nasi dagang is also sold in neighbouring region in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat in Thailand and Natuna in Indonesia. Although both dishes are often served for breakfast, nasi lemak however, can be served in a variety of ways, it is often eaten throughout the day.
Nasi lemuni is a similar savoury rice dish traditionally found in northern Peninsular Malaysia. Its preparation is almost similar with nasi lemak, however the former differs by the combination of lemuni leaf (Vitex trifolia) in the coconut milk and rice admixture. The introduction of the herb influenced its taste, aroma and contributed to the dark grey and black colourings on the rice. It is also believed that this variant is a healthier alternative of nasi lemak. This meal is often paired together with the side dishes typically associated in a classic nasi lemak sambal, fried anchovies and boiled egg.
In Borneo, it is regarded as a speciality imported dish in Sabah and Sarawak. The dish is also different from nasi katok in Brunei Darussalam; the latter is distinguished with the usage of plain white rice, a contrast from the coconut milk base found in nasi lemak.
In March 2016, nasi lemak was mentioned as one of the 10 healthy international breakfast foods by Time magazine. However, this opinion may be misleading as the writer might have been referring to the dish's "healthier" and smaller version, and comparing it to the larger 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. It is noticeable that although Malaysian main dishes have been related to high carbohydrate and protein contents, and lack of vegetables, a study done among 432 adults showed that Malaysian adults had a controllable consumption of local ready-to-eat cooked dishes as most of the dishes were consumed in low quantities.
See also edit
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