Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nasi Lemak

Nasi lemak is a dish that’s beloved by all. The simplicity of fragrant coconut cream rice with a good spicy-sweet sambal is the basis of great enjoyment that transcends race. Nasi lemak is a malay name of "spicy coconut rice". There is even a movie in Malaysia that’s chosen Nasi Lemak 2.0 as its name, and it speaks about uniting cultures. “Individually they are peanuts, anchovies and boil eggs, put all together they make nasi lemak,” said one actress.

Nasi lemak "Malay Style": the malays used to be a breakfast ritual for the Malays, but is now eaten even for lunch and supper. The Malay style remains simple and uncluttered. The rice can be very humble local broken rice, but the coconut fragrance and spicy sambal tumis more than make up for it. The supporting cast of crispy anchovies, peanuts, fried or boiled egg, fried ikan kuning and cucumber also help to make it stellar. Some Malay or Indonesian stalls may amp it up with fried chicken wings, achar (pickles), and sweet-and-spicy mermaid fish, but the general version just has the few regular ingredients.

Nasi lemak "Chinese Style": the chinese have adopted nasi lemak with great passion, but have practically turned it into a variant of “chye peng” (rice with dishes). At Chinese stalls, you’ll often see a mind-boggling array of side dishes. Fried slices of luncheon meat, sausages, fish cake, fried eggs with runny yolks, stir-fried vegetables, otah, sambal squid/prawns and even curries. Everything goes with coconut rice!

However, the coconut rice tends to be less or “lemak” or rich, and the sambal leans towards sweet rather than spicy. While both Malays and Chinese like a certain sweetness in their sambal, the Chinese in general have a lower tolerance for chili heat. So the Chinese sambal tends not to be as spicy as the traditional ones cooked by Malay families.

Well, such cultural variations only spice up our enjoyment of this dish. Whether it is simply packed in banana leaf, or sold with an entire entourage of side dishes, there’s no denying that as a cheap and tasty meal, nasi lemak is here to stay.

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