As a self-proclaimed Malaysian home cook, it’s a shame that it took me so long to prepare nasi lemak, the de facto national dish of Malaysia. In my opinion, a truly remarkable nasi lemak is not to be taken lightly; it should fulfill a few requisites: quality, texture, flavors, and, of course, the right ingredients. This past weekend, I finally found the time and dedication to make this legendary dish.
The difference between a good nasi lemak and an exceptionally marvelous nasi lemak lies in the use of pandan leaves/screwpine leaves. Possessing highly fragrant floral smell, these leaves are used abundantly in Malaysian cuisine to infuse rice dishes or desserts with the signature aroma; a nasi lemak will not be a true nasi lemak without their presence. The other main ingredient of nasi lemak is dried anchovies, or known locally by ikan bilis. These little salted fish are used in the sambal.
As sambal is of the essence when making nasi lemak, I was extremely zealous when preparing it. I shun away from electrical appliances. Nasi lemak deserves better, it deserves to be prepared the traditional way, that is, with mortar and pestle.
I gathered all the ingredients for my rempah (spice paste), patiently and gracefully pounded away just like any traditional Malaysian home cooks do. This very exercise brought back a flood of memories. As a child, I loved observing my grandmother, my mother, and my aunt when they prepared their rempah with batu giling (a flat surfaced granite grinding stone); I would always volunteer to help them with the chore as it was pure fun playing real life masak-masak (cooking). As I reminisced back those childhood days in my family’s kitchen, I came to realize that it was probably the beginning of my life-long passion for cooking.