Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In praise of Nasi Lemak

What exactly is Nasi Lemak? For the uninitiated, the name literally means 'rice in fat' and is derived from the cooking process whereby rice is soaked in rich coconut cream and then the mixture steamed. Sometimes knotted pandan leaves or herbs like ginger and lemongrass are thrown into the rice while steaming to give it more fragrance.

Traditionally, this comes as a platter with cucumber slices, small dried anchovies (ikan bilis), roasted peanuts, water convolvulus (kangkong), hard boiled egg (or in this case, devil curry eggs), pickled vegetables (achar) and hot spicy sauce (sambal).

Nasi lemak can also come with any other accompaniments such as chicken, cuttlefish, cockles or beef curry. Traditionally most of these accompaniments are spicy in nature. This is the sambal fish that we made and the beef rendang and chicken that we bought in, all very spicy.

Nasi lemak is traditionally a breakfast dish, and it is sold early in the morning in the markets. Somehow we always cook Chinese food or Italian for lunch but hardly ever eat Nasi Lemak at home. I suppose because it's not the healthiest thing in the world.

This is the sayur lodeh that we made, which is basically curried vegetable.

Over the weekend, my friends S. and W. came over for lunch at my house and given that they are just back from New York, we decided to give the Western brunch a break and make and buy in some dishes from Kampong Glam, a historical Malay enclave in Singapore.

There are some fantastic Nasi Padang places to buy from or eat at there, the two names that come to mind immediately are Rumang Makan Minang, for their awesome Tahur Telor and Pandang (fried) Chicken and Sebar Menanti. I've also heard that Warung M Nasir (Warung (old spelling waroeng) is a type of small family owned business — often a casual, usually outdoor restaurant — in Indonesia) in Somerset has killer beef rendang, as well as a live rock band sometimes and in a pinch, Garuda Restaurant in Somerset is a air-conditioned, beautifully, hermatically landscaped place to eat Nasi Padaing.

These are some of the dishes we had- the beef rendang, chicken, sambal fish, curried egg, curried vegetable, eggplant and anchovies. I think the most interesting dish was the eggplant, it came out in this pale lavender purple colour, really interesting and a great contrast to the vermillion chilli atop it.

We made our own rice, if you're interested in the recipe, the proportions are 3 cups rice, to 1/2 cup coconut milk, 3 cups water and 4 pandan leaves, cleaned and knotted. What I realized was that it was very refreshing, especially for friends from abroad, to have a local lunch and one of the great things about Singapore is that local cooked food is plentiful, available and cheap.

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