Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak

The fragrance of this breakfast-until-brunch dish of steamed coconut
rice topped with sambal (chilli sauce), egg, cucumber, peanuts and
fish wafts daily from waking households across the Malay Peninsula.

The bungkus form of this dish – a small portable pyramid wrapped in a banana leaf – probably developed as the ideal take-anywhere breakfast for rural folk working from dawn in the fields. A more creative origin story, however, comes from Melaka in Malaysia. This tells of a girl who accidentally spilled coconut milk into cooking rice. When her mother asked about the different flavour the girl said ‘nasi le, mak’ – it’s just rice, mother – and the phrase stuck!

You’ll need
Coconut rice
2 cups rice, rinsed
A knot of pandan leaves, if
1 cup (250mL) coconut milk
1 cup (250mL) water

Tamarind water
1 cup (250mL) water
2 tsp tamarind pulp

Anchovy sambal
1 cup dried anchovies (ikan
bilis), if available
1 tsp shrimp paste (belacan)
4 shallots or 2 small onions,
1 clove of garlic, peeled
5–10 dried chillies, seeded
Peanut oil or similar
½ red onion, peeled and
thinly sliced
1 tbs sugar
Salt to taste

To serve
Quartered hard-boiled eggs
Crisp fried fish
Fried salted peanuts
Cucumber slices

Cooking Method
1 First make the coconut rice. Cook the ingredients together in a rice cooker or bring to the boil in a pan, cover and simmer for 12 minutes or so. Turn off and leave covered for 15 minutes.
2 To make the tamarind water, put the water and tamarind in a bowl. Squeeze the tamarind from time to time. Strain after 15 minutes and discard pulp.
3 For the anchovy sambal, rinse and drain the anchovies. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat, add the anchovies and fry until light brown. Set aside.
4 Grind the shrimp paste, shallots or onions, garlic and seeded chillies in a pestle and mortar, or whizz in a food processor.
5 Heat the peanut oil and fry the spice paste. While stirring, add the red onion slices, anchovies, tamarind water, sugar and salt.
6 Simmer for around 15 minutes, until the sauce thickens.
7 Serve nasi lemak with sambal on the side. Garnish with quartered hard-boiled eggs, crisp fried fish, fried salted peanuts and cucumber slices.

Tasting notes
Unwrapping a green pyramid of nasi lemak is a ritual to savour, with its contrasts of smooth rice, piquant sambal and the crunch of raw cucumber and crispy fish. Part of the pleasure is discovering what’s inside. Each cook has their own version of sambal (pedas is seriously spicy; manis is made spicy-sweet with the distinctive addition of palm sugar) and combination of garnish (omelette instead of hard-boiled egg; fried chicken wing instead of fish). It’s the perfect picnic food: fresh, readily available and served in biodegradable packaging. Traditionally nasi lemak is eaten with the fingers, but most bungkus come with plastic spoons. Or sit and eat from a plate at a food market watching the stallholders at work.

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