Nasi Lemak, pride of a nation

Posted on December 1, 2012


My stomach rumbled as a sharp spicy aroma filled the atmosphere. There in front of us was my favourite food stall. I stepped in the queue to purchase some nasi lemak. This popular breakfast cuisine combines flavours from India, rice steamed with coconut milk, and Malay spicy sambal. Its name in Malay literally means “creamy rice” or “rich rice”. Although it is widely served in the South East of Asia, our country proclaimed it the national dish and a national heritage.

Each component of the dish, from the coconut milk and pandan leaf for cooking the rice, to the shrimp paste in the sambal, and the fried anchovies sprinkled over the top, makes this a unique and special ensemble.

Ingredients for rich aromatic steamed rice

3 cups of rice
3 pandan  (screwpine) leaves, tied in a knot
1 teaspoon salt
400ml coconut milk
½ cup water

Ingredients for prawn sambal

1 tablespoon tamarind pulp
1 cup of warm water
2 cloves garlic, peeled
4 eschalots, peeled
4 large chillies, deseeded
6 small chillies, deseeded
1 piece of belacan (shrimp paste), 2cm square
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ red onion, sliced into rings
16 medium size prawns, shelled and deveined
¼  teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar

Ingredients for fried anchovies

2 cups of dried anchovies
1 cup of peanuts
100ml peanut oil

Other ingredients

2 hard boiled eggs, quartered
1 cucumber, sliced and quartered


  1. Rinse rice and drain. Add coconut milk, water, salt and pandan leaves. Cook rice till boiling and turn heat off. Allow rice to dry. Fluff rice and let sit for 10-20 min.
  2. Mix tamarind and warm water in a bowl and set aside for 5 min.
  3. Chop sambal spice (except onions) to small pieces and grind to paste in a food processor. Do not grind onions.
  4. Heat oil in a pan at medium heat and fry spice paste till fragrant (2-3 min). Add onion rings and prawns, and stir well for 1 min.
  5. Pour tamarind juice through a strainer into saucepan and continue stirring. Add salt and sugar.
  6. Lower heat and let simmer for 5 min. Set aside.
  7. Rinse dried anchovies and drain the water. Heat a wok or saucepan with peanut oil (amount of oil depends on size of wok). Fry anchovies till light brown. Add peanuts and continue frying till peanuts turn golden brown. Be careful not to burn peanuts. Transfer to paper towel to absorb access oil.
  8. Dish the rice on a plate. Pour sambal on top and sprinkle anchovies and peanuts. Serve with eggs and cucumber.

Serves 4

 Notes: Prawn sambal can be substituted with fish sambal, chicken curry or beef curry. Tamarind pulp, pandan leaves, shrimp paste and dried anchovies can be obtained from the Asian grocer.

Nasi Lemak2

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