Singapore Food Series: Nasi Lemak
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Nasi Lemak literally translates to “rice fat”, but don’t worry. You’re not eating mouthfuls of greasy rice when you eat nasi lemak. The lemak refers to coconut cream or milk, and when cooked together with pandan leaves and white rice, the results are fragrant, fluffy and fantastically flavourful – good enough to eat on its own!
But of course, no one eats rice alone, no matter how tasty it is. Nasi lemak is served with various side dishes, making it popular at any time of the day. Want to have it as a light breakfast? You’ll find pre-packaged nasi lemak packets, wrapped in banana leaves and brown paper. Usually sold for around $2, it comes with a slice of omelette, a small fried fish (ikan kuning), fried anchovies (ikan bilis) and peanuts.
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Want something a little heartier for lunch and dinner? Just head to a nasi lemak stall and pick your favourite side dishes. Similar to the “economic rice” stall, there will be a selection of dishes for you to choose. Alternatively, there might be sets comprising of popular combinations for slightly cheaper than they would be if you had ordered the side dishes a la carte.
Image by Matthew Hine
Popular accompanying items are:
Sambal Chilli: Perhaps the second most important aspect of nasi lemak after the rice itself is the chilli. Singaporeans love our spicy foods, and we can’t go without the generous helping of sambal that is dished up with nasi lemak. One of the sweeter chilli pastes around, chillies, garlic, sugar, salt, onions, and dried shrimps are blended together to make this labour-intensive condiment.
Fried Chicken Wing: Battered and deep fried to crispy perfection, you’ll notice this chicken wing has a slight yellow hue. This is because it’s seasoned with a little turmeric, which gives it the colour.
Otah: Spicy fish or prawn paste wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled, otah is another flavourful addition to your plate.
Curry Vegetable: A staple of “economic rice”, it’s also available at some nasi lemak stalls. Cabbage, long beans and occasionally some shredded carrots are cooked in a curry that is fabulous when generously spooned over the rice.
Cabbage, Long Beans: If curries aren’t your thing, there are stir-fried cabbage or long beans for you to get one portion of your five-a-day.
Curious yet? Here are some of the places to go for some of the best rice you’ve ever tasted:
Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong served the nasi lemak from Selera Rasa to Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the Istana, and no less than the Sultan of Brunei himself has it for breakfast when he’s in Singapore. With such distinguished patrons, you know there’s a reason for snaking queues at Selera Rasa.
Adam Road Food Centre, Adam Road, Stall 2, Singapore 289876
Blk 603, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, #01-2683, Singapore 560603
Mizzy Corner Nasi Lemak
One of the two nasi lemak stalls at Changi Village that was vying for the title of best nasi lemak in Singapore, make your way down to see what the fuss is about.
2 Changi Village Road, Changi Village Market and Food Centre #01-26, Singapore 500002
International Muslim Food Stall Nasi Lemak
The other half of the nasi lemak battle located at Changi Village! The verdict as to which is better is still up in the air – try them both yourself to decide.
2 Changi Village Road, Changi Village Market and Food Centre #01-03, Singapore 500002
Punggol Nasi Lemak
For nasi lemak Chinese-style, and with a tonne of side dishes to choose from, this is the place to go.
371 Jalan Besar #01-01, Singapore 208998
965 Upper Serangoon Rd Singapore 534721
238 Tanjong Katong Rd Singapore 437026
Madam Kwan’s is actually a Malaysian restaurant, but they dish up a mean nasi lemak too. Want air-conditioned comfort? This place is it.
1 Harbourfront Walk, Vivocity #01-155 Vivocity, Singapore 098585