The Asia Diaries: Nasi Lemak, etc.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

If you visit Malaysia, nasi lemak is a MUST have. It’s basically considered as their national dish and, over decades, has been consumed for breakfast in most Malaysian (and even Singaporean) households. Nasi means ‘rice’ in Malay, and lemak literally translates to ‘fatty’ – an indirect reference to the coconut cream in which the rice is soaked prior to cooking. Ideally, the rice is cooked with pandan (screwpine) leaves, from which it derives its aromatic flavour. The cooked rice is usually served in or on a banana leaf with ikan bilis (fried anchovies), roasted peanuts, onion sambal, cut cucumber and, often, boiled egg (mostly half an egg). As basic as it sounds, the combination is heart-warming. Quite homely, and quite delicious.

On our first day in the city, we came across Ahh-yum at Suria KLCC mall’s food court. They serve a pretty good nasi lemak! In my humble opinion, a good onion sambal can make or break your nasi lemak experience. And their sambal was really good. Not too spicy, not too oily, not too sweet. All this for a nominal MYR 7.08. Side dish options include a rather large piece of ayam goreng (fried chicken – as show in the image below) at MYR 16.98, and rendang curry (chicken at MYR 16.98 or beef at MYR 15.09). Their rendang curry is definitely top-tier and one of the nicest we’ve tasted.

Ahh-yum’s Nasi Lemak with Ayam Goreng

I also tried the nasi lemak at Pavilion Mall’s Food Republic food court. The whole affair, including chicken rendang came at MYR 12.90. It was a little oilier than Ahhh-yum’s and their onion sambal was a bit too spicy to enjoy all of it. But overall, pretty good value for money.

Food Republic’s Nasi Lemak with Ayam Rendang

Moving on from nasi lemak, another couple of favourites that a lot of Malaysians enjoy are claypot rice and chicken rice. Both of these dishes are of (southern) Chinese origin, chicken rice more specifically originating as a Hainanese dish. In fact, these dishes are widely enjoyed across several countries in South East Asia. Both of the dishes pictured below (each under MYR 14.00) were from Pavilion Mall’s Food Republic food court, and they both were quite good – the claypot rice probably a notch higher in terms of taste and flavour. Of course, you usually have a choice of what meat (or even seafood, in the case of claypot) you prefer – most commonly chicken, and a few types of preparations to pick from.

Food Republic’s Claypot Rice
Food Republic’s Chicken Rice

Although it is said to be of Indonesian origin, chicken satay with peanut sauce is another dish that Malaysia flaunts with a fair bit of pomp. In fact, premium class passengers are greeted with a round of chicken satay and peanut sauce on board their national carrier, Malaysia Airlines – your first taste of Malaysia. While the seasoning on the chicken plays a key role, I think it’s the peanut sauce that truly pulls it through. A good peanut sauce, for me, would be a little viscous with a bit of sweetness and a fair bit of chopped peanuts. This, Malaysia Airlines does right – as do most other spots around the country, in fact. I guess it’s no wonder then that they like to parade it like they own it!

Malaysia Airlines’ Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

If you do visit Malysia or its neighbours, definitely try all of these dishes. They’re food for the belly and the soul.

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