Nasi Kukus is a traditional delicacy originally from the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Deliciously spicy, its popularity as the perfect meal-on-the-go means almost every state in the country has restaurants or hawker stalls specialising in their version of this Kelantan-style dish.
A common sight in any Nasi Kukus restaurant worth its salt is large aluminium steamers stacked one over the other, filled with individual portions of rice kept piping hot before serving. Once an order is placed, the fluffy rice is doused with a mixture of flavourful, spicy curries and deep-fried chicken.
One restaurant chain that has become hugely popular for their version of Nasi Kukus is Restoran Nasi Kukus Ilham in Mutiara Damansara.
This outlet is the first that opened before the many others that now dot the Klang Valley, and so well-established are they that they are bold enough to serve one, and only one speciality here – deep-fried chicken marinated with herbs and spices.
Using the very same recipe that the owner’s Kelantanese mother perfected decades ago, the steamed rice at Ilham is drenched in three types of spicy curries, two of which are made with fish and beef.
This magical trio consists of Gulai Ikan, Gulai Darat and Kuah Kerutup Daging.
Traditional flavours synonymous with East Coast cooking is evident in these curries – the coconut milk (santan) of its Gulai Darat; the smoky coconut paste (kerisik) of its Kerutup Daging; and the Sambal Belacan in its Gulai Ikan.
Delicious as these curries are, the meal comes to naught without the humble but main attraction – white, fluffy, steaming rice.
The rice is cooked in a steamer in individual moulds placed apart. Why? This allows for the easy flow of stem that cooks each individual mound of rice evenly and quickly.
Each layer in the steamer holds 24 moulds to keep track of how many portions they serve a day.
Restoran Ilham’s Nasi Kukus delivers a good balance of sweet, savoury and spicy flavours and is served with a tangy-sweet pineapple acar (pickle) alongside finger-licking deep-fried chicken.
Other favourites that complete the meal is fried ikan bilis or anchovies and a dash of sambal belacan on the side.
The deep-fried chicken is prepared in batches so customers get it piping hot with their order.
Hungry as you may be, be prepared to wait when you get here. The lines are almost always long and the tables almost always filled with happy customers tucking into their packets. On the bright side, they do a brisk takeout business.
Post-Friday prayers is their peak time, so consider yourself warned.
The packets are priced at about RM6.50 each or more, depending on your choice of chicken – drumstick, breast or wing. Either way, it’s a pretty affordable and tasty meal.
Restoran Nasi Kukus Ilham
7, Jalan PJU 7/16
Open daily: 11.30am-10pm