I remember as a child, my father used to drive us every weekend to another town 30 to 40 kilometres away just to treat us to a special nasi lemak lunch. This memory has been ingrained in my mind since then as it represented my father’s love for his family. So every time we have a meal that is connected to our childhood, it transports us to that very warm and fuzzy moment when we shared it with family and friends. Hence, the term comfort food.
“Food brings people together on many different levels. It’s nourishment of the soul and body; it’s truly love.”Giada De Laurentiis, American chef, writer, and television personality
The Rise Of An Iconic Dish
There are many versions about the origins of the humble nasi lemak. Some claim it is from Indonesia and others insist it is home grown and authentically Malaysian. But wherever this breakfast glory comes from, we Malaysians have adopted it as the national breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In the 1970’s nasi lemak was mainly street food. Makeshift stalls under a tree offered this delicacy. Moreover, it was breakfast on the go for the masses. A packet of nasi lemak which was ironically larger than its current version cost a meager MYR0.20. It was also a popular Sunday breakfast at home. However, in the 1980’s it gained popularity especially in the Klang Valley as a supper item after a night out. I believe this is around the time it was gradually reaching national fame in Malaysia.
The dish also claimed its fame internationally when it was the winning dish on MasterChef Australia. Consecutively, this delicacy became a controversial issue on MasterChef UK. So, not only a national pride for Malaysians but it claimed fame on the international culinary stage.
Are There Nutritional Benefits In Nasi Lemak?
It’s amazing how in the old days, people were aware of what a balanced diet was. This nasi lemak is nutritionally complete. Rice provides carbohydrate, coconut milk and the oil used to cook the sambal which is the integral spicy sauce has fat, anchovies and peanuts laden with protein and cucumbers as the vegetable element.
The sambal contains chillies which is an antioxidant. Antioxidants are compounds that inhibit oxidation. The sambal or the sauce is the hero of the proverbial nasi lemak. However, there are many versions of the sambal, some sweet and mildly spicy, while others are just fiery hot. Nevertheless, the sambal remains an integral part of this dish.
What Does Today’s Nasi Lemak Look Like?
The humble nasi lemak has come a long way from a triangle parcel, as shown above, to a full fledged meal. This meal has become more sophisticated with a wide array of side dishes to choose from. For example, beef rendang, ayam masak merah, spicy squid and cockles. Not forgetting the spice infused fried chicken. It’s no longer the triangle parcel that the farmer carried to his rice fields but it has become a delicious treat for most.
In Malaysia this dish has also evolved culturally. Indian restaurants offer the vegetarian option. This is mainly due to Indians who tend to be vegetarians on certain days of the week. Chinese outlets offer ‘non-halal’ versions, with roasted pork belly and pork curry. Also, the sambal differs from state to state, stall to stall, and restaurant to restaurant. The fact remains that Malaysians are still working on elevating this dish in every way possible. It’s truly an obsession that we quietly acknowledge.
My First Encounter With Fusion Nasi Lemak
I went to Bandar Puteri Puchong, a fairly new township approximately 23 kilometres from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, to meet some friends for lunch. We met at a newly opened restaurant called Artto Japanese Art Kitchen. The exterior looked impressive and the interior didn’t disappoint either.
Friendly staff greeted us and showed us to our seats and handed us a rather extensive looking menu. Frankly, I expected sushi and similar Japanese fare on the menu but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Artto menu also included western, local and fusion fare. My friends and I scanned through the menu a couple of times over. Almost in unison we decided to try something familiar yet different at the same time.
When Italy Meets South East Asia
My Malaysian genes woke up and sang with joy. The word nasi lemak never fails to pique my interest. I decided to take a chance without a visual reference to the dish. My adventure for the day – Nasi Lemak Pizza. It took about 20 minutes, and the pizza arrived piping hot. I looked at it with excitement. After all, you eat with your eyes first, and it didn’t disappoint either. Now for the taste test. I said a silent prayer, “Please be good”.
I went in with much gusto and the nasi lemak sambal hit me with delight. It was a sweet and mildly spicy sambal on a thin crispy crust. Definitely a marriage made in heaven. I never thought that cheese and sambal could go together but it certainly did. Quartered boiled eggs sat on a red bed of sambal. At the first bite the pizza desecrated the holy sanctity of the original Italian pizza.
Care For Some Nasi Lemak Pizza Anyone?
If you are bored with your daily meals, why not drop by Artto Japanese Art Kitchen to savour their scrumptious Nasi Lemak Pizza for a change. If you are a nasi lemak fan, you might enjoy this innovative dish.
Call for inquiries or reservations: +603 8066 3922
How about finding out what a foreigner says about nasi lemak? Read all about it here.