#FoodForThought Nasi Lemak
📸: Suhairy Tri Yadhi
Nasi Lemak is a rice dish commonly served with roasted nuts, egg, ikan bilis (anchovies), and slices of cucumber. “Lemak” literally means “fatty” or “creamy” in Malay because nasi lemak’s distinctive taste comes from cooking the rice in coconut milk and pandan leaves which gives the dish its richness, and fragrant aroma. The coconut flavour is complemented by the dish’s spicy sambal – a chilli paste made from dried chilies, garlic, shallots, and belacan (shrimp paste).
In the 1970s, nasi lemak was sold in small packets of rice wrapped in banana leaves for just 30 cents, peddled door-to-door by vendors travelling from house to house. Since the 1980s, however, nasi lemak has evolved to include the set meal accompaniments we know and love — the fresh, crunchy cucumber slices, crispy chicken wings, or a fried egg. Although traditionally consumed during breakfast, the dish is now eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper.
While nasi lemak has its roots in Malay cuisine, it has become part of our wider food culture in Singapore. Nasi lemak is enjoyed by Malays and non-Malays alike, with each community having their own interpretation of the dish. The Malay version is usually served “dry” with little curry or gravy, topped with fried chicken or fried fish and a fried egg. The Chinese version is often complemented with chicken sausages, a fried chicken drumstick, fish cakes, luncheon meat and curried vegetables.
Nasi lemak’s affordability, availability, and plethora of variations ensures its standing as one of Singapore’s most popular food dishes. Today, it can be found in hotels, cafes, coffee shops, food courts, hawker centres and even at weddings!