How to Cook Nasi Lemak

Updated on December 13, 2018
lizmalay profile image

Apart from cooking, I love traveling. Now I am a homemaker, and cooking is my passion. My expertise is in Malay/Asian cuisine.

Nasi Lemak
Nasi Lemak

People who have traveled to Malaysia and Singapore will be familiar with nasi lemak. It is recognized as a national dish in my homeland, Malaysia.

I remember when I was in elementary school, my mom cooked this delightful dish in the morning. She would pack it in my lunch box so I could eat it during recess. In fact, many schools in Malaysia serve nasi lemak in their cafeterias.

Nasi lemak, or fragrant coconut rice, is known for the aromatic smell of fresh, green pandan leaves and the light flavor of sweet and creamy coconut milk. For those who never heard of pandan leaves, they are used for coloring and flavoring in South East Asian cooking. After I moved to the U.S., it was quite hard to find fresh leaves. I finally found them at the Asian store, and I was excited to make nasi lemak.

Nasi lemak is served with spicy anchovies (known locally as sambal ikan bilis), fresh cucumber slices, and hard-boiled or fried eggs. Don't worry if you don't like anchovies, you can replace those with chicken or shrimp. There are always options. The best thing about this dish is that it is can be served as breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The ingredients:

  • 2 cups of rice
  • 2 pieces of pandan leaves tied into a knot
  • 1 cup of coconut milk
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • An inch of ginger
  • 2 cups of peeled anchovies, soak in water and drain
  • 10 dried chilies, soak in warm water and drain
  • 3 shallots
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 red onion
  • An inch of shrimp paste (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of tamarind juice
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoon of sugar
  • Vegetable oil


  1. Prepare the rice: Rinse rice twice and drain. Put rice in a rice cooker bowl then add coconut milk, water, a pinch of salt, half an inch of ginger, sliced shallots, and pandan leaves. Cook rice just like when you cook steamed rice.
  2. Prepare the sambal paste: Blend dried chilies with shallots, garlic, onion, shrimp paste, and add some water. Set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a wok over a medium heat.
  4. Fry anchovies until it crispy and golden brown. Take it out and put aside.
  5. Using the same wok, fry sambal paste until it fragrant.
  6. Add anchovies, tamarind juice, salt, and sugar. If you tasted the sambal was a little bit spicy, add more sugar.
  7. Let it simmer on a lower heat, and it should be cooked when the sambal gets thicken.
  8. Served fragrant nasi lemak, sambal ikan bilis with hard-boiled eggs and fresh cucumber sliced.

Photo Tutorial

Prepare the rice.
Prepare the rice.
The cooked coconut rice is very fluffy.
The cooked coconut rice is very fluffy.
Peeled anchovies.
Peeled anchovies.
Sambal paste after it was blended.
Sambal paste after it was blended.
Fry the anchovies in a wok.
Fry the anchovies in a wok.
Anchovies turn crispy and golden brown.
Anchovies turn crispy and golden brown.
Fry sambal paste in the same wok.
Fry sambal paste in the same wok.
Add the fried anchovies.
Add the fried anchovies.
Sambal ikan bilis is cooked.
Sambal ikan bilis is cooked.
Fragrant nasi lemak is ready to be served.
Fragrant nasi lemak is ready to be served.

Dried Anchovies

Dried Anchovies 3 Oz. Product of Japan. Healthy and Delicious
Dried Anchovies 3 Oz. Product of Japan. Healthy and Delicious

Dried anchovies are much needed Southeast Asian ingredient. They are commonly used as a garnish or as a side dish. However, dried anchovies are one of the main elements in making nasi lemak.


Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Liza


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