Nasi Lemak Recipe (Malaysian Coconut Milk Rice with Anchovies Sambal)
January 09th, 2007 161 Comments

Nasi Lemak Recipe (Malaysian Coconut Milk Rice with Anchovies Sambal)

Nasi Lemak Recipe (Malaysian Coconut Milk Rice with Anchovies Sambal)
Nasi Lemak Recipe (Malaysian Coconut Milk Rice with Anchovies Sambal) pictures (2 of 3)

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.

Nasi Lemak

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.

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161 comments... read them below or add one

  1. Anonymous says:

    This nasi lemak looks better than the ones in Penang. ~Rick

  2. Chubbypanda says:

    I *will* try this dish. It will happen, oh yes. Yes it will…

    - Chubbypanda

  3. toniXe says:

    Great ! Finally U have done it, de national dish ( altho a new one is just beside da horizon,but thats another story).

    Yours is DE classic supercharged orange molehill shape which some of us gluttons in KL can gulp at one go believe it or not !

    Yr original lustrous Pg version is almost impossible to find here in KL. The bungkus type is too basic and stingy while the big type is too mixed up ! Have u submitted a sample to our honorable Tourism Minister ? You can safely charge him US$3 a packet subject to a minimum order of 1 million pkt a month for 6 mths ?

    Ok I have already down 3 of your creation already(in 3 mins), those 2 fish slices r taste out of the world…approved for general consumption under ‘gourmet’ category ok ha ha ha

  4. Chris says:

    Forget about food for a moment, I nominated you for “Best Asian Weblog”, “Best Food Weblog” & “Best New Weblog” at

    I need everyone’s help to go vote for Bee. Go vote now. Thanks & cheers

  5. Karen says:

    Oh, this is one of my all time favourite foods! Thanks for posting your recipe. I will definitely have to try it out.

    My family always adds kangkung (water spinach) to their version, as we all just love eating veggies…

  6. simcooks says:

    Wah! You very solid! So patient to make your rempah! Actually I am also looking for a batu giling.

    • Peter Kong says:

      If you have been unsuccessful finding a batu giling the last resort will be to go to a shop selling tombstones -NO JOKE.

      They work with granite so you can ask them to make the batu giling (and/or mortar and pestle) for you after agreeing on the price if they can do it. Maybe they already have them. You will definitely have to pay a deposit which I am sure they will ask for if they have to make it for you.

      NOTE: You should ask them to use the best granite available which are harder and perfect for the job required.

      If you manage to get what you want from them, you can reward me with 6 packets of nasi lemak that you have made. :)

  7. tigerfish says:

    Truly good nasi lemak from a remarkable and dedicated you! I see how the anchovies sambal drenched over the rice, already know it will be so shiok!

  8. Danielle says:

    The important question is, should I just go ahead and make this, or should I order it at a restaurant first so I’ll have some clue of what it is supposed to taste like before giving it a try?

  9. lucia says:

    whooo! my fav. dish! and this is the true original best penang one… not those big ones, as toni pointed out, all mixed up. i did mentioned in toni’s blog that i prefer the orginal with these basic ingredients.

    btw the bungkus one at most stalls, they let you choose which one you like – with egg or with fish or with ikan bilis, and there are a few too that supply all these 3 together. i like ikan bilis because it looks a lot to go with the rice, whereas just a fish or a egg, is too little for the rice. but most ikan bilis in nasi lemak are too salty!

    btw, BY, sambal made of ikan bilis? i haven’t heard of that. i thought the sambal is made of dried prawns.

  10. Wandering Chopsticks says:

    Looks so good. But so much work for me.

    I just used powdered coconut milk when I make coconut rice.

  11. Tummythoz says:

    U r so cruel! I have been trying very very hard to avoid this for breakfast & now, the mission is failing fast. Drools indeed. Hey, no ‘kacang’?

  12. Rasa Malaysia says:

    Anonymous – the nasi lemak in Penang is great, but I think they are very stingy with the condiments. Mine was loaded with all the goodies (sambal ikan bilis)…next time ask your favorite nasi lemak stall to add extras and pay more! :P

    CP – great and I shall be awaiting for complete report on your site. :)

    Tonixe – you are ever so sweet and funny as hell. You always crack me up with your comments! Thanks for Team BSG’s support.

    Chris – yet another reader who is so nice. Thank you soooooooo much for nominating me (gasp!). I am truly honored and thankful for your kind gesture!!

    Tigerfish – yes, it was very shiokalicious!! ;)

    Karen – there are many variations. Mine was the classic/simple Penang kind. My mother’s version is loaded with fried Assam Prawns…simply heavenly!

    Simcooks – you meant you are looking for a batu lesung or batu giling. I don’t think you need a batu giling dear. For mortar and pestle, go to IKEA, I got mine there.

    Danielle – yes, you should try it out first so you have an expectation how it tastes like.

    Lucia – I tried to stay true to our Penang root. For sambal, I meant sambal ikan bilis, not sambal belacan.

    Wandering Chopsticks – so there are coconut milk powder? That’s new to me. Does it taste the same as coconut milk in the can.

    Tummythoz – go go makan your breakfast, don’t torture yourself. Yeah, about kacang I terforget…after finished cooking, I teringat. :P

  13. Melting Wok says:

    wahh, the whole package deal,’ve to throw in the banana leaf, ya ?:P yums ! :) Where’s the coconut juice ? hehe..ok, getting extreme here now, am I ?:P

  14. marketing guy says:

    Everybody! Back to Chris’ suggestions, we should get one of our own, our very fabulous RasaMalaysia nominated! I just did! I am calling a cab to go to the nearest Malaysian restaurant to get my nasi lemak with teh tarik. Cheerios!

  15. Passionate Eater says:

    Yes, I think Chris is one smart guy (or woman), but you really have such an incredible blog! I am sure that your grandmother, mother, and auntie would be so proud of you and the way you cook! Okay, I am going to go vote now!

  16. Chris says:

    To all of you- thank you so much for your support, keep the votes coming

    To Bee- Most welcome. and you just got PageRank 5!!!!! Congratulations. I got PR4 only. =(

  17. fatboybakes says:

    dear rasa malaysia, i dunno why it took so long, but i have linked you in my blog, i hope you dont mind and will give me the honor of doing so.

  18. UnkaLeong says:

    I just linked to you too. Is the tumbuk made out of wood? The one my mom makes me use to grind chilli’s back home is a granite wan I think. Prefer the tumbuk to the Batu Giling though :)

    Excellent Food and Pictures as usual…

  19. sue says:

    I am with Danielle.
    I have no idea what it is supposed to taste like. I have to wait until March when I have the chance to taste some Malaysian food in Australia.
    However, I researched a little bit, and many Koreans seem to like its taste.

  20. Mallika says:

    I LOVE nasi lemak. My Malaysian friend took her to her favourite home food restaurant and I tried i for the first time there. Haven’t ordered anything else in a Malaysian restaurant since.

    Thanks for this delightful recipe…

  21. Meena says:

    Ohhh my God!!! This is like my all-time favourite food in the world!! Can’t wait for my mom’s next visit, so that I can have this everyday!!

  22. wmw says:

    WWWWAAAAHHHHH!!!! Lovely…need to go nasi lemak later! You can cook and bring a batch to my place. We’ll eat while watching Daniel Henney! But we might make a mess, cos we’ll just be gawking at the TV and forget to chew! hahaha….

  23. Wandering Chopsticks says:

    Coconut powder should be easy to find, I get mine in the Asian grocery stores. It’s concentrated and you just add water to get the same result as coconut milk. I like using it in my satay sauces. So if you really like the smell and taste of coconut, you can make it more flavorful than using coconut milk. I like using the powder b/c it makes the rice less mushy. Just personal preference.

  24. Rasa Malaysia says:

    Melting Wok – Good idea…next time!

    MarketingGuy – thanks for your support. :)

    PE – thanks for your support and nice comment too! I know my eldest sister was very impressed and said that I do a good job with my blog. I will have to show my parents and aunt my blog when I return home in Feb. ;)

    Chris – thanks again!

    Fatboybakes – Thank you and I have I just added you.

    Unkaleong – thanks for adding me too. No lah, the tumbuk is granite one, can’t you see from the picture meh? Where got tumbuk made from kayu one?! Hehe.

    Sue – yeah, it’s hard to describe the taste because the flavor is complex (which is why Malaysian food is so good in my opinion). Let me know when you get a chance to taste it.

    Mallika – and now you can try making it at home.

    Meena – or you can just cook for your mother when she comes and surprise her!!! :)

    WMW – I am sure we will just gawk and no chew and look like two idiots in front of the TV, drooling over Daniel and not the nasi lemak. LOL!

    Wandering Chopsticks – thanks for your reco…have to try it out to compare. :)

  25. Danielle says:

    Okay, I tried it at Nyonya when I was there for dinner tonight. Yum! My partner wasn’t so into it, but I was really happy with the crunchy fishies and the cucumber and the coconut rice and all, oh yes. I would never have thought to try it were it not for this post, and now I have, and I liked it, and I will make it. Thank you so much.

  26. fatboybakes says:

    eh, who said no such thing as the kayu tumbuk? gooottttt la. in fact, in the thailand markets, (bazaars), quite common…i think. or am i confusing it with bali….but yeah, sure got one. but your granite one looks really nice. designer granite? how come it’s so smooth?

  27. UnkaLeong says:

    Upon closer inspection, yalar..Is Granite. Wah very smoothleh, how many years of “seasoning” did it take?

    Wooden Tumbuks are widely used in Thailand to prepare “Som Tum” or papaya salad ;)

  28. Rasa Malaysia says:

    Danielle – I am very happy you tried nasi lemal and liked it. I look forward to reading your creation.

    Fatboybakes – I think you are right, I have seen wooden mortar nad pestle but I don’t think they can be used for tumbuk spice paste. Mine is not designer, I bought it at IKEA. Cheap!

    Unkaleong – It’s really new; bought it not too long ago at IKEA, I am sure you can get it in IKEA KL.

    Sorry about the wooden mortar and pestle; I think it would be exceedingly hard to make spice paste using wooden ones.

  29. Keropok Man says:

    wah! I salute you lady! You have so much patience in pounding your rempah using the batu lesong.

    i would have used the machine. i have only used my batu lesong twice only!

    and they look absolutely delicious! the sambal especially! just having that is enough. i suddenly remember one stall selling sambal cuttlefish too!

  30. Angeleyes says:

    my favourite dish! I craved for nasi lemak almost everyday when I was preggy!!!!

    Have wanted to make my own nasi lemak for ages but never get to do it…. lots of work! However, will try your recipes one of this day!

    It’s true those nasi lemak sold here are very sting with their condiments… but when the crave is here anything goes!

    • Peter Kong says:

      Like the sayings go:

      1) Something is better than nothing.
      2) Beggars are not choosers.
      3) Be thankful for what you’ve got.

      Teach your husband to cook too and you can relax.

  31. Rasa Malaysia says:

    Keropok Man – yes, you can use cuttlefish, shrimp, or cockles for the sambal, but I prefer ikan bilis, the classic way–still the best!

    Angeleyes – thanks for leaving me your comment. Yeah, have to cook yourself to get away from stingy hawkers! :P

  32. fatboybakes says:

    you managed to get banana leaves in irvine ah? wow.

  33. Ming_the_Merciless says:

    You’re killing me!! I just had dinner with dessert and now I’m hungry again!! I will have to go to Chinatown (NYC) to get some Malaysian food tomorrow.

    Great site. I enjoyed reading your recipes.

  34. elmomonster says:

    Man oh man. Nasi Lemak is my guilty pleasure. We have something similar in Indonesia called Nasi Gurih. I heard once that Nasi Lemak’s popularity is to blame for Malaysia’s rising obesity rates.

  35. Rasa Malaysia says:

    Fatboybakes – Yes, frozen ones. ;)

    Ming – That’s the very intention of this blog; to make my readers very hungry (for those who have tried Malaysian food) or intrigued and tempted (for those who haven’t tried Malaysian food). :P

    Elmo – I have never tried Nasi Gurih, will see if Java Spice serves it. About getting people fat in Malaysia, I am not surprised…santan (coconut milk) is creamier and heavier than heavy cream I think! ;)

  36. stefoodie says:

    oh, my!!! haven’t made this in a while. my family has been begging. i will have to do it soon! that’s a mouth-watering pic!

  37. mama bok says:

    What if i can’t find pandan leaves..???

  38. Rasa Malaysia says:

    Stefoodie – thanks for visiting Rasa Malaysia. Yes, this is a all-time favorite in my family too! :)

    Mama Bok – If you can’t find pandan leaves, it’s OK. I am sure the nasi lemak will be great, but the pandan leaves make it extra fragrant and aromatic. ;)

  39. veron says:

    ooh..this looks so good. I feel like having this for breakfast!

  40. Anonymous says:

    I should have checked this recipe a long time ago. I’ve been craving for nasi lemak ever since I left my kampung. Yum. Thanks for posting it.

  41. sim says:

    I’m glad I found this blog. I am so in luv with it..especially the recipes section. Ofcoz, all the luv to the blogger too! Nice photos too!

    Drop me an email if you ever in NY. I definitely would like to buy u a dinner/lunch…

  42. Anonymous says:

    It’s fasting month in malaysia now. We enjoy nasi lemak almost very day. You will see office staff carry one bungkus of nasi lemak to office. We have variaty dish beside ikan bilis. Wash the ikan bilis a few time for less salty. my way of prepare the nasi, I put serai (lemongrass)and few slices of ginger it will give a very nice smell. I prepare nasik lemak for my family but I don’t like it cause of the cholestrol. Nice to hear you guy in New York loveeeeeeeeee our malaysia breakfast dish. Roti canai is malaysia breakfast dish too.

  43. Chris Nyles says:

    Hi Bee,

    Thank you. I read your blog today and your malaysian recipes (photos) made me salivate. It is such a shame for one who come from southeast asia and not know much about your neighbors’cuisine especially Malaysia. I come from the Philippines and I know that we have a region, called Bicol, in our country that uses similar spices and coconut, and other interesting ingredients to their cuisine. Where I come from, Luzon, the northern part, our cuisine tends to be more on the sour side. Tamarind, Kamias, and mangoes, are the local fruits we use to make our dishes sour, as we like it. We also use a lot of fish sauce, shrimp and fish paste we call “bagoong”.

    Keep up the good work and I will come and visit once a in a while.


    Chris Nyles

    • clark says:

      this dish is easy to find in Brunei, Singapore, Riau Islands and Southern Thailand too. Maybe with different name, so dont be confuse if you find similar taste in Phillipines. But in Kuala Lumpur, seems like the national dish, a national heritage of Malaysia, but honestly its not defacto…

  44. welovepenang says:

    hai.. is me… i had recently worte about nasi lemak at penang. I had linked your recipe in my web… hope my reader will like it…

    My Web Link Here

  45. DT says:

    Ah! It worked great! Thanks anyway for giving me such a wonderful time cooking it.

  46. Matthew says:

    thanks for the recipes, done them on weekend… but my ikan billis sambal isn´t as red as yours… maybe because I use the small sized dried chillies? can that be the problem? anyway, they taste good…

  47. Anonymous says:

    Those nasi lemak looks so good what more with the anchovies sambal. This recipe is a keeper.

  48. ragi 27 somc worker says:

    coconut milk 500ml milk 500ml full cream kara coconut milk 1 packet
    down pandan leaves for the smell
    dried chillys soaked and dried
    250gm grinded in the blender with tomatoes and tomatoes puree onions grinded 25 tablespoons garlc paste 8 tablespoons

  49. Anonymous says:

    I say don’t cut your cucumber so exactly into quarters… just cut it anyway you like thick thin irregular shapes just like the nasi lemak guy does it at my local roadside stall so that you’ll get that different taste with every mouthful!!! It makes a huge difference.. try it, lah

  50. Robin Tay says:

    all i have to say is… *drool*… *drool*… i have been thinking about nasi lemak all morning and i stumbled upon your website. definately going to try out your recipe at some stage. thanks!

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