The Pinnacle that is Nasi Lemak (and why you can’t climb it first time)

Moral of the story is: don’t expect to get it right the first time. Nasi lemak is HARD.

All the aunties of Malaysia, I’m sure that they’re laughing away at me for thinking I could get this iconic dish to work on my first attempt. Well, I guess I didn’t really expect it to work, I was just being optimistic. Like how, when someone asks me at 9pm how many hours of work I have left, I say 2, and I truly believe that’s the reality of the situation (it’s usually 4 hours, I generally underestimate by 2 hours).

Real proper nasi lemak makciks (aunties) train their whole lives to make nasi lemak. There are little nasi lemak schools in the kampungs (villages) where the little makciks start training at 4 years old, and a gnarly old makcik shouts at them over a loudspeaker: “Pound! Pound! Cepat cepat! (faster faster!)” That’s how a true nasi lemak is born, in the depths of a pestle and mortar. The sweet smiles of the nasi lemak makciks belie their biceps of steel. *

I used my faithful chopper, of course. Did you really expect otherwise?

Though I was at least pleased that this was recognisable as nasi lemak. Because on seeing it, people go: cucumbers, ikan bilis, red/brown stuff….Ohhh! It’s nasi lemak! Don’t ask why I went for this, I think I was bored, and also cold. Good enough reasons? Cold makes people do odd things. Yes, in my next post, I promise I won’t talk about the cold anymore. Agreed?

Advice to myself next time includes: don’t scrimp on the shallots (I was being cheap and didn’t want to buy a whole bag for 3 shallots), and add more sugar. Don’t forget the single garlic clove to be chopped into the sambal. Yes self, I know you think that one clove of garlic doesn’t really impart any garlic flavour because there isn’t enough of it, but I’m sure there is a reason behind its addition. Also don’t forget the peanuts. They’re an integral part of nasi lemak. Not clever.

More advice: try to get pandan leaves instead of giving up on the hunt so easily. Add a quarter of a chopped onion (raw, roughly chopped) into the rice before cooking. Also some whole peppercorns.

I intentionally left out the hard boiled eggs, because I don’t like them. Too bad, egg lovers of the world!

The rice turned out surprisingly well, fluffy and coconutty. Yay! And the sambal wasn’t half bad at all, considering all the forgotten ingredients :)

Nasi Lemak, Take #1

Borrowed and lazied up from Rasa Malaysia.

Rice

1 cup of rice, rinsed
1.5 cups of water, or however much you generally use to cook your rice, then add a little bit more.
1/2 bag of instant coconut milk – the entire packet made 150ml of coconut milk total
A pinch of salt

  1. Rinse the rice as per usual.
  2. Add the water. Drop in half the bag of instant coconut milk and salt, and mix properly to ensure there aren’t any powder clumps.
  3. Cook the rice how you usually would, in a rice cooker. Mine took slightly longer than usual.

Sambal

1 red onion – should’ve used shallots and a quarter of an onion! Oh well. I’ll make a proper attempt someday.
1/2 cup ikan bilis – people say they’re small anchovies, but anchovies taste different. I don’t know.
7 dried chillies – mine were smallish, you can use more. Deseed them or the hotness with overpower everything else
1/2 teasp belacan
1 tablesp asam jawa / tamarind
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 tablesp sugar – more to taste
A pinch of salt

  1. Rinse and fry the ikan bilis. Keep a few aside for later.
  2. Dump the belacan, half the onion, and the deseeded dried chillies into the chopper. Grind them down pretty well. If you want to be all proper, use a pestle and mortar. Probably you’re more hardcore than me.
  3. Soak the asam jawa in warm water for about 15 minutes. Mash it up good with a spoon so the water goes murky.
  4. Slice the other half of the red onion into rings.
  5. Fry the belacan paste until fragrant. Make sure to open a window!
  6. Add onion rings. Fry til soft.
  7. Add the ikan bilis (apart from the little bit you set aside). Keep frying.
  8. Add the asam jawa mixture, salt and sugar. Don’t add everything at once, keep tasting until you find a mixture you like. I followed the recipe exactly and thought that the sambal wasn’t sweet enough.
  9. Simmer on low heat until the mixture thickens.

Serve!

Cucumber
Remaining fried ikan bilis
Whole raw peanuts – Don’t forget!!
Egg
Banana leaf – hahah, yea right not in this climate

  1. Slice the cucumber, I like cucumber sticks
  2. Fry the peanuts with some salt. Don’t forget the peanuts!!
  3. Boil the egg. Cut into quarters. Don’t do it if you don’t like egg.
  4. Spread your imaginary banana leaf on a plate. Wipe it off and smooth it down, to remove imaginary dirt.
  5. Put some rice on the place. Surround the rice with a scoop of sambal, some ikan bilis, cucumber stick, and some peanuts. And a quarter of a boiled egg, or not.

* You should know better than to believe me by now. Really, I expected more of you.

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