The iconic Nasi Lemak is considered by many to be the national dish of Malaysia. If you don't try it during your trip to Malaysia, you may as well have stayed home!
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Possibly the greatest dish ever created by Malaysians, nasi lemak is one of the most versatile meals that can be found in Malaysia. This simple meal can be found almost everywhere, be it in the heart of any Malaysian city or in the remotest areas of the country. It has become such a favourite amongst Malaysian that there are some who eat it at least once everyday!
The ingredients and the cooking process involved in creating this tasty meal is simple. Nasi lemak is rice cooked in coconut milk. Screwpine leaves, locally known as pandan leaves, are first washed and later added into the cooking pot to give the rice its signature fragrance. The rice is usually eaten together with anchovies fried till golden brown, crispy cucumber slices, roasted peanuts, half boiled egg and chilli paste known as sambal.
Throughout the years, the recipe has been adopted by many people in Malaysia and improvised to suit their tastebuds. Certain cooks have found that including slices of ginger into the rice helps improve the taste of the rice. Realizing that the rice goes well with almost anything, many traders add simple things to the list of condiments and side dishes to go along with the rice. Chinese traders usually offer chicken curry, chicken sausages, luncheon meat and even stir-fried water convolvulus as side dishes, to be added on as pleased. As spicy dishes are not the norm for most Chinese folks, the zing in the chilli paste from Chinese traders is toned down, often with a tinge of sweetness in it. Other budding entrepreneurs, in an effort to make their product more noticeable, have chosen to add green artificial colouring to the rice.
The varied taste of nasi lemak also exists amongst Malay traders. The varying amount of coconut milk used when steaming the rice makes a world of difference. Too little of the coconut milk and the rice ends up tasting watered down. Put in too much and the smell of the oil from the milk overpowers the rice. Another important factor that greatly enhances the taste of this dish is the chilli paste that goes with it. That too varies with the individual traders as some make it really spicy compared to others. While the Chinese traders sell nasi lemak with sausages and curry chicken, the Malay traders have introduced their own crispy fried chicken or spring chicken as an accompaniment to the dish.
There is one item that is commonly used in packaging nasi lemak, and that is the banana leaf. Banana leaves are not only ecologically friendly, but also lend an aromatic fragrance to rice wrapped within it. In the olden days, farmers working in the fields would normally eat banana leaf wrapped rice with for lunch. Because of this, sellers often use it when packing the steaming hot rice, making it more appetizing to the customer when they open it to eat.