What is nasi lemak?

11 September, 2020

And where to enjoy it in Chatswood

Nasi lemak is an icon of Malaysian cuisine – it’s basically the de facto national dish. Traditionally served on a banana leaf, it’s a visual feast as well as a culinary one with multiple parts to treat both the eyes and the tastebuds. Nasi lemak brings together various elements into a dish that’s greater than the sum of its parts. It provides a mix of different textures from smooth to crunchy, as well as flavours from creamy through to chilli-laden spicing. In Malaysia, nasi lemak is traditionally a breakfast dish, but can be found all through the day. Let’s find out more about the key elements.

The foundation: Coconut rice

The foundation of nasi lemak is rice cooked in delicious coconut milk. It’s basically what the dish means: nasi (rice) lemak (rich and creamy). The rice is cooked in a mix of coconut milk and water to give a creamy texture, and of course, the taste of coconut. It’s also frequently flavoured with aromatics like a pandan leaf, which imparts a subtle floral note.

Some recipes also add a bruised lemongrass stalk, pieces of ginger or garlic cloves to further flavour the rice and add extra complexity. The rice is frequently served in a perfect round (use a bowl and invert to replicate at home!), with the sambal on top and the sides artfully positioned around the rice mound.

The stars: Sambal and curry

Sambal is essential to nasi lemak. The traditional choice is a chilli-rich sauce that frequently includes dried anchovies (ikan bilis), shrimp paste and tamarind water. It’s spicy, salty and has deep umami notes. At its most simple, nasi lemak is the coconut rice, the sambal and a few sides (see below).

But the other element that’s usually included for a more substantial meal is some sort of curry. Popular options include a rendang (beef or chicken), or a coconut-milk based chicken curry. Malaysian curries tend to be richly spiced with elements including cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon and cloves. Malaysian-style fried chicken is also a common option.

The sides: It’s all about texture

There’s an array of side dishes you can expect as part of your nasi lemak. These side dishes usually provide some different textures to the dish. Common sides to nasi lemak include:

  • Fried anchovies
  • Cucumber
  • Boiled egg
  • Roasted peanuts

Where to get nasi lemak in Chatswood?

Chatswood is lucky to have several fantastic Malaysian restaurants. One of our favourites is Ya Malaysia at Chatswood Interchange. You can choose which curry you can have with your nasi lemak with options including beef rendang, chicken curry, sambal cuttlefish or sambal prawn.