Nasi Lemak

I believe many travelers from America and Europe and Australia have been to Malaysia before, and I am writing this blog post in the manner of addressing people like you. I also believe most of you who have done so (if you are reading this) would have tried the nasi lemak while you were here. Heck, you might even have tried them in Malaysian cafes in your home country.

Nasi lemak is undoubtedly one of Malaysia’s national food. If you translate it literally, nasi means rice and lemak means fat (as in animal fat, human fat) so nasi lemak means fatty rice. But then the literal translation is the wrong translation here. Lemak when used in the context of nasi lemak actually means rich and creamy, so it actually means rich and creamy rice. To achieve this rich and creamy and fragrant state, the rice is cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves instead of plain old water. And then there will be accompanying condiments to the rice to make it a meal.

The thing is, when I read those travel blogs from people who are like you, every time I read about how you had the nasi lemak, it usually happens in your hotel’s breakfast buffet, or at some rather posh restaurants, and they always looked something like this.

Picture from Wikipedia: Nasi Lemak

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this plate of nasi lemak. In terms of authenticity, nasi lemak is supposed to come with the rice, deep fried anchovies, sambal (chili paste), and sometimes peanuts and cucumber. So this plate is actually quite authentic.

But, the thing is, nasi lemak presented like this is what we can call, the premium nasi lemak. You usually get this in the hotels and restaurants and it will cost a bomb (anywhere between RM 15 to RM 30). Okay maybe not to you, RM 15 – RM 30 is like US$ 4 – US$7. Four to seven bucks is cheap to you, but fifteen to thirty bucks is expensive to us locals. Sure, we would sometimes order this when we dine in hotels or restaurants, but it isn’t what we have on a very frequent basis. This is… what the locals eat, but not exactly what the locals… really eat, if you know what I mean. I think I’ve written this sentence before somewhere.

So, today, I am going to show you white people the type of nasi lemak that we locals… really eat.

You know we have those food courts here, much like Singapore’s hawker centers. You can sometimes find nasi lemak in food courts. It is basically very much like those premium nasi lemak in terms of ingredients, but presentation wise is very much different. You will basically get your food in more of a mess. But it is cheaper. Much cheaper. You can typically get nasi lemak with the usual condiments (fried anchovies, peanuts, cucumber), a fried egg and a sausage or chicken, in a food court, for less than RM 10/US$ 3.

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But this isn’t the cheapest that you can get, nor is it the most traditional.

Traditionally, the nasi lemak is sort of a… peasants’ fast food. It is supposed to be something very simple, with minimal ingredients, easy to eat, and very cheap. Traditionally, nasi lemak comes in packets, wrapped with banana leaf.

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You don’t get much here. Unwrap the leaf and you will find a bit of rice (probably less than half a bowl), a quarter of a hard boiled egg (sometimes one eighth of it), a few pieces of fried anchovies, and a pile of sambal. That’s it. And there is absolutely no cosmetic consideration here, the ingredients are basically stuffed together and wrapped up and it would sometimes look like, if you didn’t know better, a pile of sh*t.

But you can try asking any Malaysian, and all of us will probably tell you that this pile of sh*t is the best tasting nasi lemak. It is rustic, environmentally friendly, and most important of all, dirt cheap. You can find these in the morning markets and night markets, and sometimes in Malay eateries. A packet of these would set you back RM 0.60 – RM 1.20 depending on which part of Malaysia you are in. That’s US$ 0.15 – US$ 0.30.

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And I have to tell you before I end this post, we can eat nasi lemak for basically any meal. It is appropriate for every freaking meal that we might have in a day. For example, I had the super cheap, banana leaf one for breakfast earlier this week, I had the food court one for lunch some time last week, and I had a posh one that looked like the first picture on top for dinner some time last month.

So, yeah… I hope if any of you white people come to Malaysia for a visit again in the future, you will be able to try all versions of nasi lemak. They’re all awesome in their own unique way. 😉


  1. I grew up eating the nasi lemak wrapped in brown papers. Sometimes I’d get them in the bananas leaf, but the stalls selling them in Subang Jaya – and later Cheras and KL – where I lived rarely offered them this way. Maybe the brown paper is cheaper. To me, this kind of nasi lemak that looks like *** is the best kind.

    I had no idea sausage was served with nasi lemak. I must be living under a rock all this while 🙁

    • It is not normal for sausages to be made available as a side dish for nasi lemak, only certain hawkers offer this.

      It is probably not the cost, but accessibility. Especially in KL, it is not easy to get banana leaves.

  2. Hawker Nasi Lemak reigns superior! This post reminds me of when I was last back in Malaysia and I went to a new, relatively fancy restaurant in Melaka with my uncle and a few of his friends, and throughout the whole meal my uncle kept saying that the Nasi Lemak wasn’t authentic, and they had spoilt it by trying to be fancy. He’s an endearing old man and usually right 🙂

    • I can understand where your uncle is coming from. Maybe I’m not as old as he is, so I think differently. I don’t think they are not authentic, usually these fancy Nasi Lemak still retains the key characteristics: coconut milk rice, sambal, and deep fried anchovies. As long as you have these, then it is a proper nasi lemak. It is just that the fancy ones are being served in a nicer way, with more side dishes.

    • Well, if you had coconut rice, then you had nasi lemak. That’s the one! But I hope you have had the cheap ones, wrapped in banana leaves, those are more traditional. 😉

  3. All I can say is that I love nasi lemak! Banana leaf somehow imparts a special fragrance to the rice. Aiyo! I want to eat nasi lemak lah. The one at Village Park is quite good but the place is forever crowded.

    • Maybe it does, but I don’t think that was the original intention people used banana leaves. I think originally it was really meant as just a means of wrapping, when those brown wax papers have not been introduced to Malaysians (or Malayans) yet..

  4. i had nasi lemak for lunch yesterday..i like the packet nasi lemak but unfortunately seldom take coz I prefer the fresh packed ones which are normally prepared in the morning.

  5. Huh? Got target post for Google search wan, ah?

    When you see a piece of sausage on a plate of nasi lemak, that already tells you that it’s not authentic! I agree, the most authentic nasi lemak are those wrapped in banana leaves and paper with just the basic stuff of sambal, ikan bilis, peanuts, hard boiled egg and cucumber…and nothing else. No tambah anything like fried chicken, sotong, fried egg, etc. And if the sambal is kick-ass, it’s a really good nasi lemak already. Unfortunately, this type of nasi lemak is a dying trend, very difficult to find these days.

    • Not exactly target post la, more like written with hopefully that as bonus, that sort of thing…

      Eh, this sausage thing is a side dish to the nasi lemak la. Authentic or not is depends on if the rice is cooked right and if the sambal rocks or not, me thinks. I think Penang is still quite okay as in easier to find these old school nasi lemak, KL I think mostly left those posh versions only 🙁 .

  6. Now ahh, nasi lemak got many types la.. Like you said, got sausage, luncheon meat timm.. Got rendang pork too.. But if you ask me, I like the classic typical punyer nasi lemak (kosong) bungkus.. Those small packets which they put on top of the mamak table there.. I can eat 2-3 packs !!

    • Rendang pork? Chinese nasi lemak that one… I also eat 2 packs la, those bungkus one 1 pack is too small lah. 😛

  7. yes, i totally agree that Nasi Lemak is (one of the) national food of Malaysia, and the next one would probably be CKT huh?? hahaha.. while i used to like to tambah a few lauk to my nasi lemak when i was young, now i actually like my nasi lemak biasa, that can be very satisfying already.. or if i see very “sexy” ayam goreng berempah, that would go into my plate too.. 🙂

    • I think next is roti canai. Has to be eaten by all Malaysians. CKT I think is a Malaysian Chinese kind of dish. I don’t rank those Malay style Kuay Teow Goreng as CKT hahaha!

  8. Aiyo, why you call this tasty food “a pile of ****” ? I can’t even type it out. Well obviously I am not the target audience of this post so I won’t comment much on it. Just to say yes we eat nasi lemak at all times of the day for any meals as we like it.

    Let’s see how many target audience of your post comment on it.

    • “LOOKS LIKE a pile of ****” cannot be equated as “a pile of ****” lah. Looks like **** but tastes awesome! Just like durians, smell like **** but taste awesome too! Gosh, us Malaysians really eat the darnedest things don’t we? 😀

      I don’t think my target audience will comment much lah. This is one of those post that I make as long term investment for those “sikit-sikit lama-lama jadi bukit” traffic from Google Search. You guys should comment to make it seem more credible hahaha! 😀

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