Nasi Lemak is coconut rice and practically a staple in Singapore and Malaysia. It is very similar to the Indonesian Nasi Uduk and is served with a variety of side dishes, as you see in the image above.
But first, a quick Malay Language Lesson:
Nasi = Rice
Lemak = Cream, in culinary terms, it refers to coconut milk or a dish that has been cooked with coconut milk
Nasi Lemak = Coconut Rice
Bonus: Kelapa = Coconut
Because my kids asked why isn’t it Nasi Kelapa, which of course, stumped me, and I replied, well, it just is! On a side note, the Malay language is one of the easiest languages to learn. There is no gender, no past or future forms. Instead, past, future and the continuous form of a verb is relayed with the use of a particular word.
For eg: Makan = eat
sudah makan = have eaten
tengah makan = am/are eating
belum makan = haven’t eaten
See what I mean?
What is Nasi Lemak?
Traditionally, Nasi Lemak is a breakfast dish, wrapped up in banana leaves and sold everywhere – at hawker centres and even pop up road stalls. Being wrapped up in banana leaves while still hot, allows the rice to take on some wonderful flavours from the leaves, resulting in a multitude of scents greeting you as you unwrap it.
When we were kids, nasi lemak was one of the items on the menu in my grandmother’s food business. I remember waking up early in the mornings and helping my granny pack hundreds of nasi lemak packets to be delivered to the various stalls that we were supplying to.
How to Serve Nasi Lemak
In its most basic form, nasi lemak is served with a homemade chilli paste, called sambal, fried anchovies and slices of cucumber. I spent many a school recess having it in that exact form in the school canteen. And to this day, fried anchovies are a favourite side to liven up a meal. You can read more about the Asian style, dried, salted anchovies here.
The more elaborate nasi lemak will contain whatever the cook desires: fried/boiled egg, any form of sambal, peanuts, fried chicken, beef rendang, pachri nenas, or any other Malay or Nyonya side dishes. Looking at the images here, you can get an idea of how to serve Nasi Lemak. The rice is fairly rich, and it’s coconut flavoured. You are not meant to douse it with curry or any sauce; whatever you eat it with should be a small complement, and, as in the picture, the best is to have a variety of small condiments. You only really need 1 “wet” side dish, all else can be dry or semi dry. The wet dish can be the sambal you cook for the Nasi Lemak, or it can be a curry.
One of my favourite vegetable dishes to serve with this Nasi Lemak is Kangkung Belacan, a spicy, wet vegetable stirfry made with water spinach, but you can use regular spinach or even beansprouts for the same recipe:
Nasi Lemak Recipe
Nasi Lemak rice which is the recipe today, is simple enough to make, all you do is replace your usual water with coconut milk, fresh if you can get it, canned, otherwise. Always canned for me, here in the UK, but the one I use is organic, and only contains coconut milk and water. If you have access to frozen fresh desiccated coconut, you can obtain your fresh coconut milk from that, but more of that on the coconut milk page.
We flavour the rice with a type of screwpine leaf called pandan, that you may or may not be able to get where you are. I have my own plant but when it’s dormant during the winter, I resort to frozen ones from the Chinese mini market not too far away from me. The same with banana leaves. I can get them both fresh online, but I find that frozen do just as well.
If you can’t get pandan leaves, you can use kaffir lime leaves, again, if you can get them. Failing that, drop a couple of stalks of lemongrass, bruised, for some fragrance. That’s it, a super easy, but slightly different way of cooking rice. In the gallery below, I shall leave you with some ideas of what to serve alongside our nasi lemak.
Have a superb week ahead!
Nasi Lemak recipe is rice cooked with coconut milk, from Singapore and Malaysia.
- 600g (3 cups) Basmati or Jasmine rice
- 750ml (3 cups) coconut milk
- 250ml (1 cup) water
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 pandan leaves, tied together in a knot
- Use a suitably sized saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Add the rice and rinse it until the water runs clear. No need to be a stickler with this.
- Add the coconut milk, water, salt and pandan leaves, and place on medium-high heat.
- Bring to a simmer, turn the heat down to low, stir the rice, then cover and cook for 12 minutes, stirring once again at the 6 minute mark. When cooking rice with coconut milk, it is always a good idea to stir a couple of times, to discourage the rice from catching at the base.
- At the 12 minute mark, the rice should be cooked. Take it off the heat and let the rice rest for 5 minutes on a cool surface.
- Fluff up the rice and lose the pandan leaves before serving.
Can be made ahead and reheated.
- Cuisine: Singaporean and Malaysian Malay
- Calories: 450.64 kcal
- Sugar: 0.09 g
- Sodium: 307.36 mg
- Fat: 19.61 g
- Saturated Fat: 17.08 g
- Carbohydrates: 62.59 g
- Fiber: 1.01 g
- Protein: 7.17 g