Nasi ulam is a Malay dish. It is utterly delicious, aromatic, healthy, and extremely appetizing, and great with a side dish of meat or fish. What’s more, it can be a complete meal on its own.
I started Rasa Malaysia in 2006 with the mission to promote Malaysian cuisine to the world.
Today, I am so thrilled to announce that I am working with Malaysia Kitchen New York City to celebrate and evangelize the rich legacy of Malaysian food.
I will be sharing two classic Malaysian recipes with Rasa Malaysia readers, and would like to kick off the Malaysia Kitchen for the World program with nasi ulam, or Malaysian mixed herb rice, a much celebrated traditional recipe for many Malaysians.
Nasi ulam is a Malay dish, and a staple to many people in Malaysia, especially for the Malays and Nyonya/Peranakan (or Straits-born Chinese).
As a multi-ethnic country makes up of Malays, Chinese, Indians, and Eurasians, nasi ulam is much loved by many denizens of Malaysia, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or origin.
The reason is very simple: there is nothing not to like about nasi ulam.
It is utterly delicious, aromatic, healthy, and extremely appetizing, and great with a side dish of meat or fish.
What’s more, it can be a complete meal on its own.
Nasi means rice in Malay, while ulam means the assortment of herbs served during meal times.
In general terms, the ulam is equivalent to “salad” and they are usually eaten with sambal belacan, which is the national condiment of Malaysia.
However, in nasi ulam, the herbs are sliced finely and mixed with rice and other ingredients.
The exotic, earthy, and aromatic nuance of the different herbs, paired with rice and dry-toasted shredded coconut or kerisik yield a richly fragrant and scrumptious concoction that is uniquely Malaysian.
In my childhood days, I used to watch my Nyonya grandmother preparing this dish.
My mother and aunt would help her slicing the many different types of herbs: daun kadok (wild betel leaf), daun kesom (polygonum leaf or Vietnamese mint leaf), daun kunyit (turmeric leaf), bunga kantan (torch ginger flower), kaffir lime leaf, mint, etc. Many of these herbs are grown in our family’s garden, so it was just a matter of harvesting them from the garden.
However, some of these exotic herbs are almost impossible to find out of Malaysia, so I have improvised my recipe to make it more accessible to you.
A trip to your local Asian stores (try Vietnamese or Thai grocery stores) will enable you to gather all the ingredients needed for the dish.
Making nasi ulam is not hard, but it does take some time.
I can assure you that the end result is rewarding, as once you have tried this, especially toying with the interplay of the different herbs in this mixed herb rice, you will be instantly converted.
About Malaysia Kitchen for the World
Malaysia Kitchen for the World is a global initiative of the Malaysian government that aims to educate and inform consumers about Malaysian cuisine and Malaysian restaurants throughout the world.
The New York campaign seeks to boost interest among American food lovers to try Malaysian cuisine and visit Malaysian restaurants in the New York metropolitan area as well as in other locations in the United States.
The program also seeks to facilitate local chefs and restaurateurs to introduce Malaysian cuisine at their establishments.
The Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) is Malaysia’s national trade promotion agency.
Established in March 1993 as a statutory agency under the Ministry of International Trade Industry (MITI), MATRADE is responsible for assisting Malaysian companies to succeed in the international market by developing and promoting Malaysia’s exports to the world. MATRADE is the lead agency for the Malaysia Kitchen campaign.
How Many Calories per Serving?
This recipe is only 310 calories per serving.
What Dishes to Serve with This Recipe?
For a wholesome meal and easy weeknight dinner, I recommend the following recipes.
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Nasi Ulam (Malaysian Mixed Herb Rice)
- 1/3 cup dried shrimp
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen shredded coconut
- 2 cups cooked rice (chilled)
- 5-6 medium daun kadok (wild betel leaves, finely sliced)
- 1/4 cup Thai basil leaves (finely sliced)
- 1/4 cup mint leaves (finely sliced)
- 1/4 cup daun kesom (polygonum leaves/Vietnamese mint leaves, finely sliced)
- 3 kaffir lime leaves (finely sliced)
- 5 shallots (peeled and thinly sliced)
- 1 lemongrass (white part only, thinly sliced)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3 dashes white pepper powder
- 3 dashes black pepper powder
- Soak the dried shrimp in warm water until softened. Coarsely pound them using a mortar and pestle. Heat up a wok and dry toast the pounded shrimp until they are dry or smell aromatic. Do not burn the dried shrimp.
- Make the shredded coconut into kerisik by stir-frying them continuously in a wok, until they turn golden brown in color. Transfer to the mortar and pestle and pound until fine. Set aside.
- In a big bowl, combined the cooked rice and all the herbs, shallots, toasted coconut, and dried shrimp together. Add the salt, sugar, and peppers. Toss to combine well. Serve immediately.
Notice: Nutrition is auto-calculated, using Spoonacular, for your convenience. Where relevant, we recommend using your own nutrition calculations.
Hi..love love Nasi Ulam! Because I live in Malaysia I hv access to all the herbs.. n then some! I tint my rice blue using blue pea flower soaked in water. To take it to a whole new level..I add fish sauce instead of salt. Gives it this rich umami flavour reminiscent of khaow jam! And eating it with sambal belacan is a must!
Awesome, sounds yummy!
Hi there! May I know why you need to dry-fry the shrimp? Can I just use them once I’ve soaked and drained them?
Yes you can.
There is no deep-frying and there is no fresh shrimp. You need to do the following steps to make the dried shrimp taste very good. Here is the instruction: Soak the dried shrimp in warm water until softened. Coarsely pound them using a mortar and pestle. Heat up a wok and dry toast the pounded shrimp until they are dry or smell aromatic. Do not burn the dried shrimp.
You missed a few ingredients which are quite important! Try it and you will find a big difference as it will have better in depth flavours.
These are the ingredients!
1) Daun Kunyit
2) Kunyit (Tumeric)
3) Use Dried Salted Fish (instead of salt for better flavouring)
4) Cekur Leaves.
And to all the readers, nasi ulam is best paired with Tau Yu Bak (Black Sauce Pork Belly) and Sambal Tiger King Prawn with sambal belachan.
That’s how my family of nyonya family tree past down their recipes to their daughters and sons who love cooking.
I made this in the US and I couldn’t get all the ingredients. My late grandmother was a Nyonya too and she would grow some of the herbs in the garden. :)
Ahhhh ok. Understand now! I am glad you are part of nyonya blood yourself!
So for fellow Malaysians who are staying in Malaysia, please do follow Bee’s recipe and if you can find what I have added on top of Bee’s recipe, you will be glad that you did as it changes the flavour!
Thank you for sharing a dish which only very very few restaurants in Malaysia still practice. Glad you have revive it online!
For those who do not know, nasi ulam ingredients especially the various leaves helps to digest our digestive system much easier.
Hi Danny, I happen to chance your reply to Bee. Hope you see this comment. Unfortunately, we did not get the recipe my aunt used to have. Will you be able to share with me your recipe as we love it and I will like to try making it. Even though my aunt does not use tumeric but uses tumeric leaves, I thought I should still give your family recipe a try.
Bee, thanks for sharing the peranakan family heritage Nasi Ulam. Appreciate it too.
Many thanks in advance. Kim Lian
I am writing to ask a question about the Nasi Ulam. It is a lovely recipe – I know I will love it – but is the coconut dry-fried until golden or in some oil of some sort? And do I assume that the shrimps are also dry-fried? Please can you just let me know? I would be so grateful. Otherwise I might ruin the dish and waste those precious ingredients! ….
Thanks so much.
Hi Ingrid, yes, dry dried the coconut, no oil. The dried shrimp you can dry fried but not necessary.
Interesting. We have a very similar dish here in south India with peanuts instead of the shrimp, coriander and curry leaves instead of ur picks – just plain coconut rice. The satvik version has ginger and asafoetida but no shallots/garlic