Nasi lemak (Malay) literally means “fat rice”, but the term lemak always means “cooked in coconut milk”. The name is used to describe popular breakfast dish which includes rice cooked in coconut milk. There appear to be two different traditions:
There appears to be an alternative tradition using fried meat and fish along with boiled or fried eggs. The peanuts, cucumber and sambal remain. Here's a photo of one such that I had in Singapore. Sorry for the poor quality:
Apart from the spectacularly unhappy fried egg, notice also the two larger fish instead of ikan bilis.
As in the case of many recipes, people used to one tradition consider the other “wrong”. I'm agnostic, but I prefer some juice with the rice, and I know the first form better, so that's what I'll describe.
This page was originally written in June 2003, at a time when relatively little on the subject was to be found on the web. Since then, a number of pages have appeared. There's now a wikepedia page on the topic, and in March 2008, nearly 5 years later, I found a self-styled nasi lemak primer which, though it's clearly biased, acknowledges these two traditions:
Fried chicken is the best complement to nasi lemak. Some may prefer curry chicken, fried fish, sotong or beef rendang. That's a matter of personal preference - I like it with fried chicken.
Sotong is cuttlefish; I would expect it to be dried and maybe fried or processed to a curry for this use.
Nasi lemak is not a difficult dish to make, as it shouldn't be for breakfast, but as usual the devil's in the details. For some reason the choice of curry is different from what you would normally eat. Here's what I'm working on at the moment.
|200 ml (½ can)||canned coconut milk|
|Pandan leaf (daun pandan)|
|water to cover|
How much pandan leaf? Nobody will tell you. It imparts a distinctive aroma to the rice, and purists will tell you that it's not nasi lemak without it. In fact, it's not completely essential, though the result is certainly much better with it.
Mix the ingredients and cook until the liquid has been absorbed, stirring all the while to avoid the coconut milk burning on the bottom of the saucepan. Cover, turn heat off, and leave for 20 minutes. This quantity produces 6 servings, which I put in Chinese rice bowls for rewarming in the microwave oven before use: the rice is stickier than normal cooked rice.
To serve the dish, place the the ikan bilis and peanuts on one side of a plate and heat in the microwave oven for about 30 seconds. Then heat one of the bowls of rice it in the microwave oven for about one minute. Make sure it's covered: for some reason nasi lemak spits, while plain cooked rice doesn't. Put the rice on the other side of the plate and put a few spoons of curry in the bowl and heat for about 30 seconds, then pour over the rice.
Put a few slices of cucumber (usually served with the skin still on) on the plate and serve with sambal ulek. I tend to serve the sambal at the table, so it's not on the photo.
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