Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What is nasi lemak? 甚么是 "nasi lemak"?

I was onboard a Malaysia Airlines flight and the stewardess was going around asking the passengers:
"What would you like for lunch, Sir/Ma'am? We have chicken noodle and nasi lemak."
There were quite a number of travelers from China and I could hear them whispering among themselves:
"甚么是 "nasi lemak"?"

Since not every one of the flight crew could speak Mandarin, I decided to practise my Mandarin and introduce the mainland Chinese to our Malaysian delicacy:

Me: "你 会 吃 吗?"
Chinese man: "还可以."
Me: "好. "Nasi lemak" 是米饭 (mǐ fàn) 配
  • 亁 鱼 炒 辣椒, 洋葱 ("dried fish sautéd with chillies and onions" - I didn't know the exact term here!),
  • 鸡蛋 (jī dàn),
  • 花生 (huā shēng),
  • 黄瓜 (huáng guā).
那个饭配很香 (nà gè mǐ fàn hěn xiāng) - 蒸 椰子 (zhēng yē zi???), 你 可以 试 一次吧? (try it once?)"
Chinese man (smiling with kids showing interest): "好的! 好的!"

Phew! I was famished by the time I finished that sentence in Chinese ;-)

Here's a photo of Malaysian nasi lemak - nope, it's not the Malaysia Airlines version, which had disappeared quickly down my tummy.

What's in "nasi lemak"?

At its basic level, nasi lemak consists of:
  1. Rice steamed with coconut milk and screwpine leaves (pandanus leaves) - very fattening and of course, high in cholesterol, which makes it a cause for concern among parents whose children take breakfast or lunch at school (The Star reported that nasi lemak will not be taken off the menu in schools);
  2. Sambal - the essence or raison d'être for nasi lemak. A basic sambal is dried anchovies sautéd with chillies and onions;
  3. Hard-boiled egg - slices or a whole egg depending on the generosity of the nasi lemak vendor!
  4. Slices of cucumber
  5. Deep-fried anchovies and groundnuts - some nasi lemak fans see these as essential although it's optional for me.
Mmm-mmm! And that's what nasi lemak is all about. A superbly simple dish that any Malaysian abroad worth his/her sambal will crave for haha.

The nasi lemak pictured above is what Malaysians would call a "nasi lemak special" because it has an extra e.g. a piece of chilli chicken. Other extras could be chilli squid, chilli beef or even a whole deep-fried fish.

Note that this plate of nasi lemak is not authentic because I got a slice of deep-fried egg, which is not the norm.

Furthermore, the nasi lemak cost me RM17.20!!! Oh well, I was a desperately homesick puppy tucking into her first plate of nasi lemak at KLIA after being away from home for a long time. Beggars can't be choosers, right?

Of course, nobody makes nasi lemak better than the neighbourhood makcik - you'd pay about RM5-7 for a delicious meal and even praise her to the skies for it. Let me see if I can do some free publicity for her, eh? ;-)

Bon Appétit!

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