At Ilham, a packet of nasi kukus comprises of steamed white rice, fried chicken, a mixture of gulai, fiery sambal belacan, crispy ikan bilis and a scoop of pineapple. That’s the standard package, you can customise it according to your liking- more gravy, less sambal, extra pineapple etc… just ask the server and she’ll gladly do it for you.
Everything is self-service here so queue up for your pack rice, wrapped in brown paper (no washing up!) and choose your drink from a row of plastic jugs on offer.
So, what makes the nasi kukus here so popular? Let’s start with the rice. Steamed in individual moulds, the rice is nice and fluffy. When asked on why he steams the rice individually, the owner Khairul pointed out that this is how they do it in Kelantan. Moulds are arranged in the steamer giving extra space in between the moulds to allow steam to flow through. This not only speeds up the cooking process but also ensures that the rice is evenly cooked.
Each layer of the steamer has 24 moulds making it easier for Khairul to keep track of how many portions he serves in a day. On average, he sells about 600 packets of nasi kukus daily. On their busiest day, which is Friday it reaches up to 700 packs. Post-Friday prayers is their peak time because the restaurant is packed with people coming from the nearby surau for lunch.
The rice is of course further enhanced with a trio of gulai. The three gulais are fish curry, gulai darat (a typical kelantanese curry dish ) and kuah kerutup daging. This gulai ménage à trois gives the rice plenty of rich and spicy flavours.
For some kick-ass heat, a generous portion of sambal belacan is added in the mix. Pungent, tasty and with tons of chillies, the fiery sambal is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Unlike other nasi kukus establishments they serve pineapple with your rice instead of cucumber. Khairul said he did this because he wanted to add a sweet and tangy hint to the nasi kukus. It also helps to balance out the richness of the gulai mixture. Crispy fried ikan bilis is also served with the rice for textural variation.
And last but not least, the packet of nasi kukus is finished off with a mouth-watering piece of fried chicken. Marinated in a spice blend made up of more than a dozen ingredients, the chicken is succulent and yummy. The chicken is so crispy that you can even chew most of the bones. The chicken here runs out fast so a fresh batch is fished out of the wok regularly, this means that you get a hot piece of chicken with your rice every time.
Most of the recipes used for this simple yet addictive dish come from Khairul’s mum, Puan Rohana. Because the owner originates from Kelantan, the taste of the east-coast is evident in the nasi kukus. You can detect it in the coconut-rich gulai darat, the smoky kerisik-filled kerutup daging and the hot but sweet sambal belacan.
They only serve nasi kukus here. If their star dish pulls in the crowd, why complicate matters with too many variations? By keeping it simple, they’ve managed to maintain the quality of their winning dish and keep their customers coming for more. We call this nasi kukus, ‘berhantu’. The scent of the curry stays on your fingers long after you finish your meal. Having a sudden whiff of it later in the day will make you come back again the next day and the next week. Don’t say we didn’t warn you…
Address: No.7,jalan PJU 7/16,Mutiara Damansara, 47800 Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Opposite the surau in Mutiara Damansara. Opens: Daily 11.30am-10.00pm
Pros: No-frills addictive nasi kukus.
Cons: If you’re looking for variety, this isn’t the place for you.
Price Range: RM15
We make you happy through food and we now have a food channel! Check our shows at www.friedchillies.tv