Nasi means rice and lemak means fatty! Yes, it is a sinful dish but everyone who has tried Nasi Lemak would agree the dish is simply sinfully good!
Typically taken as the first meal of the day, Asians love to have Nasi Lemak for dinner too. Either way, the basic must-haves in Nasi Lemak are the aromatic coconut-and-pandan-infused Nasi and its spicy-yet-sweet sambal tumis. If both are done right, the meal would be satisfying.
Sources say that the invention of Nasi Lemak was born from the straits of the Malay community. They, who lived by the seaside, had all the essential ingredients within reach in their homes. Coconut, kangkong, rice, ikan bilis (anchovies) and other types of fishes including ikan selar kuning (yellowstripe scad), ikan tamban (Sardinella) and ikan benggol were easily sourced from the sea and farm. Villagers from the community who were rice farmers, fishermen and vegetable sellers, readily bought and sold these commodities as their livelihood. It was not long before the simplest version of Nasi Lemak was made.
Steamed rice with coconut milk cooked over a hot charcoal fire was freshly made every day by homemakers who learnt the trade by hard. It is often that the homemakers themselves or their children who would set foot on the streets to lure patrons with the slightest whiff of their delicious Nasi Lemak. Basically, it was a first-come-first-serve basis; whoever who came too late would miss it!
Ask any old folks, one packet of Nasi Lemak comprised only of rice, sambal and ikan bilis. These were carefully and skillfully wrapped in pandan leaves and newspaper. For SGD 10 cents, the meal was simple-yet-tasty; worth every mouthful of Nasi Lemak. A small slice of hard-boiled egg or scrambled egg the portion of a tiny triangle, along with fish like ikan tamban, ikan selar kuning or ikan benggol were later introduced to complete the meal.
In the 1960s too, Nasi Lemak sellers also sold their specialties at wet markets. Nasi Lemak was sold by weight where customers freely took as much as they wanted and be charged accordingly.
Today in Malaysia, Nasi Lemak sellers continue to observe their food business through the means of makeshift “stalls” parked alongside roads, parking lots, small lanes and office buildings. They usually operate at the break of dawn however, they would have sold their day’s worth by noon. With dishes including sambal kerang, ayam masak merah and a wide spread of a kuihs (traditional Malay bite-sized snacks and pastries), the queue of office workers absolutely find it hard to resist the temptations of delicious Nasi Lemak!
The many variations of Nasi Lemak today
Where do you have your favourite Nasi Lemak? Share it with us!