15 April 2017

Malaysia to the world: 6 popular rice dishes in Malaysia

Aaaaaah..... rice.  That little grain we Malaysians so love to consume (and are so consumed by).  That little swamp grass seed without which many of us would become like zombies - clumsy, dysfunctional, anti-social.  Like most Asians, we thrive on rice - or "nasi" (nah-see) as we say here.  Personally, I can go no more than two days without rice without becoming a walking dead myself - not a good thing especially when I travel to places where "real" rice is hard to come by (somehow risotto just doesn't do the job for me).

So in this respect, I suppose it's just as well that I live in Malaysia where we're absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to rice recipes.  The fact is, Malaysia is a food haven especially where rice (and noodles) is concerned; her multicultural society made sure of that.  Each ethnicity has its own rice specialties and, over time, these have become so ingrained in our dietary preferences that - bar halal and non-halal issues - we've come to truly enjoy each other's offerings.  Read on as I now walk you through some of Malaysians' favourite rice-based nom noms.

1.  NASI LEMAK.  With roots set in both Malay culture and cuisine, the term nasi lemak (pronounced luh-mahk) literally means "fatty rice" - or in this context, "rich" or "creamy" rice.  Frequently taking centre stage at Malaysian food fairs abroad, nasi lemak is the undisputed national dish of Malaysia.  It is a supremely-fragrant rice dish that's cooked in coconut milk with knotted pandan (screwpine) leaves and a stalk of lemon grass thrown into the rice while steaming to lend it aroma.  In its most basic form, nasi lemak is served wrapped in banana leaves with fresh cucumber slices, fried anchovies, poached eggs, roasted groundnuts and generous amounts of spicy, chilli-based gravy (or "sambal").  As a more substantial meal, however, nasi lemak can also come with a variety of side dishes such as pickled vegetables, chicken, beef, shrimp or fish.  A must-try for every visitor to Malaysia.

1. Nasi lemak

2.  HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE.  Despite its name, it is generally accepted that Hainanese chicken rice has its origins in Singapore instead of the southeastern Chinese island of Hainan.  Essentially, this is a dish of delicately poached chicken infused with ginger and scallions.  The rice is steamed using the soup from the poached chicken - usually with a knot of screwpine leaf thrown in for aroma.  Properly made, the chicken should be tender and velvety, and the rice rich and fragrant.  This dish is best enjoyed with soy sauce, ginger-based chilli and thick oyster sauce as condiments.  Especially popular among the Chinese populace here, Hainanese chicken can easily be found as street food or at traditional Chinese eateries around the country.

2. Hainanese chicken rice

3.  NASI KANDAR.  This rice dish is popular in northern Malaysia, particularly in the island state and popular travel destination of Penang from where it originates.  Nasi kandar (pronounced "kahn-dar") is basically a meal of plain white rice served with curry and side dishes like fried chicken, squid, beef, mutton, fish and prawns.  Vegetables such as eggplant, okra (ladies' finger), tomato and bitter gourd are also popular accompaniments.  Invariably, these are all served on a single plate with the curry sauce poured directly onto the rice - a bit like an all-in-one.  Personally, I like mine with chicken and fish curry mixed in.  Heavenly.

3. Nasi kandar

4.  NASI BIRYANI (pronouced bee-ree-ya-nee).  Nasi biryani - or briyani - is an incredibly fragrant rice dish where basmati rice is cooked together with a wealth of spices.  These include ghee, cumin, mace, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, onions, white pepper, ginger, garlic, coriander and mint leaves.  Believed to originate from Persia, nasi biryani by itself (and with a bit of curry added as gravy) makes for a truly wholesome meal.  However, to spice things up, this rice is commonly consumed in Malaysia with curry and some side dishes (e.g. vegetables, eggs, fried fish or chicken, squid).  Of the six recipes mentioned here, nasi biryani is my favourite; I love how the combined fragrance of all those spices awakens the taste bud and hits every one of the senses.  Mind-blowing stuff.

4. Nasi biryani

5.  BANANA LEAF RICE.  To be honest, the consumption of banana leaf rice is more often than not enjoyed as an experience rather than for the food itself.  A traditional South Indian rice dish introduced by migrants in the 11th century, it's really all about how you go about consuming all that wonderful food from a large peace of banana leaf.... without any cutlery.

As a recipe per se, there's really nothing overly-unique about banana leaf rice; it's typically white rice with an assortment of Indian dishes on the side (curry, chicken, fish, vegetables, etc.) and a piece or two of papadom.  Portions are usually quite hefty and, to finish, could prove to be a bit of a challenge for the uninitiated - especially when (traditionally) you'll have neither fork nor spoon to perform the task with.  Nonetheless, I urge all visitors to my country to give it a go if only for the experience.  Go wash your hands now.

5. Banana leaf rice

6.  CLAYPOT CHICKEN RICE.  This is a rice dish traditionally prepared by cooking rice in a claypot over a charcoal stove.  For flavour, the rice is infused with chicken stock, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, white pepper, salt and (sometimes) Chinese rice wine.  Diced chicken, mushrooms, Chinese sausages and a bit of dried salted fish are then added in while the rice is cooking.  Before serving, the rice is sometimes garnished with finely-chopped spring onions.  Notwithstanding all that seasoning that goes into preparing the rice, it's really the slow, over-charcoal cooking bit that gives claypot chicken rice its distinctively aromatic (and unforgettable) flavour.  Utterly delicious and one not to be missed if ever you're in the neighbourhood.

6. Claypot chicken rice

All of the goodies here can be easily found at most traditional coffee shops and restaurants - not to mention open-air night markets - all over the country; just keep an eye out for the signages on display.  As far as prices go, expect to pay anything between USD0.50 for a basic packet of nasi lemak and USD2.50 for a serving of nasi biryani with everything on it.  In major cities like Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru and Kota Kinabalu, however, they tend to cost more but only marginally so.

I hope you'll make time when you're in town to sample some, if not all, of the wonderful rice dishes I've mentioned here.  They are inexpensive, truly delicious and will leave you with a lasting memory of the great (and "real") nasi you had in Malaysia.... truly Asia.   

Have you had any of the rice dishes above before?  If so, did you like them?  Do share with us your thoughts by leaving a line below.


  1. Awesome, they looks so delicious, how can you shoot these yummy pictures. Thank you very much for taking your time writing this.Its good for health and it is good to see.Thanks a lot for sharing details about this rice dishes.You can search on web for getting better writing services for your essay.I think custom essays are good for everyone and you will also get the good result from them.You can order the essays from them at any time.

  2. Banana Leaf rice looks tasty. I will try this out at my home. thanks for knowing us with these dishes.