Back when Nasi Lemak was only 10 Cents?!

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 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.

The earliest version of Nasi Lemak in Singapore looks similar to the one sold at Kampung Kayu Ara Nasi Lemak at Petaling Jaya. This only cost SGD0.10 back in the 1960s.
The earliest version of Nasi Lemak in Singapore looks similar to the one sold at Kampung Kayu Ara Nasi Lemak at Petaling Jaya. In the 1960s, Nasi Lemak consisting of rice, sambal, ikan bills and egg only cost SGD0.10 to SGD0.30.

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

Boleh Boleh Nasi Lemak at Jurong West, Singapore
The newly-opened Boleh Boleh coffee shop sells delicious Halal Nasi Lemak at Jurong West, Singapore
Customers can opt for Chicken Curry to go along with their Nasi Lemak at Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre, Singapore
Customers can opt for Chicken Curry to go along with their Nasi Lemak at Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre, Singapore
The Putri Hayyu Authentic Cafe at Selegie Road, Singapore is always packed with customers especially during lunch hour. Be sure to try their Nasi Lemak!
The Putri Hayyu Authentic Cafe at Selegie Road, Singapore is always packed with customers especially during lunch hour. Be sure to try their Nasi Lemak when you’re in town!
That's butter chicken and bergedil (fried potato patties) to complete a customer's meal of Nasi Lemak at PwC Cafeteria. Singapore
That’s butter chicken and bergedil (fried potato patties) to complete a customer’s meal of Nasi Lemak at PwC Cafeteria, Singapore
There is always a snaking queue outside of Village Park Restaurant where patrons enjoy their Nasi Lemak on weekend mornings.
There is always a snaking queue outside of Village Park Restaurant in Uptown Damansara, Malaysia where patrons enjoy their Nasi Lemak on weekend mornings.

Where do you have your favourite Nasi Lemak? Share it with us!

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