The Malaysian Food Experience: Nasi Lemak

My own experience

When we close our eyes

And imagine


Glorious good….

Hot sausage and mustard..

Remember those words from the movie, Oliver?

When I think of Malaysia, I think about all those glorious food.

The varieties,

The spices,

The texture,

The fragrance,


Malaysia in brief

Malaysia is a country with three major diverse cultures. They are 51% Malays, 24% Chinese, 11% various indigenous groups, 7% Indians and 7% that are categorized as others. It is a country that has a population of 28 million people. Its capital city is called Kuala Lumpur. It consists of two regions, the West Malaysia (which was called Malaya years ago by the British) that borders with Thailand and Singapore. The East Malaysia (which is also known as Borneo) that borders with Brunei and Indonesia. English is widely spoken in Malaysia and sounds almost similar to Singlish (Singapore English). The official language of Malaysia is the Bahasa Malaysia, the Malay language which is very similar to the Bahasa Indonesia.

Food in Malaysia: Nasi lemak

Each people group brings out different flavors to the table. There is a huge difference between these people in the way they prepare their food, usage of ingredients and the distinct flavors.

One of the greatest dishes ever created in Malaysia is the nasi lemak. The word nasi in Malay means rice and the word lemak literally translated means fat. It is a dish that originates from the Malay, the largest ethnic group in Malaysia.

Nasi lemak is served all over the country. You can find it in fine exclusive dining room in hotels in large cities. You can also find it in the street corners of a dirt covered road in the villages.

There are many varieties to this dish but the basic ingredients are still the same through the centuries. The basic ingredients are:

Rice cooked in coconut milk

Screwpine leaves or known locally as pandan leaves



Roasted peanuts

Boiled eggs

Chili paste (or sambal in Malay)

The chili paste is where the variation begins. Each family has passed down their own secret spices to the chili paste. It is the chili paste that sets the mark for the best rated nasi lemak.

Traditionally, nasi lemak is served on a banana leaf. When rice is served hot on a banana leaf, it gives out a unique fragrance to the rice. Can you imagine how eco-friendly and economical this is? Sadly, with modernization and the need for convenience, most nasi lemak are now served in plastic wares and beautiful china.

Although it is a traditional Malay dish, the local Chinese and Indians have improvised the dish to suit their taste. You can find nasi lemak with various vegetables, seafood such as cuttlefish, sundried fish, salted fish and shell fish, fried chicken, curry chicken, sausages and mutton and goat curry.

Nasi lemak is served at all times of the day in restaurants, hotels and food courts in airports and shopping malls. But the traditional corner food stand, also known as hawker stall in the small villages and little towns still serve it only in the mornings for breakfast.

Food for thought

When in Malaysia be very cautious where you eat out. Food comes in different prices and different hygiene standards. If you are not used to having food at a hawker stall, out in the country. Think twice before you try the nasi lemak. Most of them are cooked early in the morning and displayed for a few hours in the open air without refrigeration. Your best bet will be to eat nasi lemak in restaurants, food courts or hotels.