How to cook the perfect plate of Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak, Malaysia’s, de facto national dish.

Nasi lemak would not be nasi lemak if the rice was not cooked with pandan leaves and coconut milk.

The other main ingredient to this little banana-leaf packet of deliciousness is sambal, the soul of the dish. It brings together the rice and the accompaniments perfectly.

The traditional toppings and side dishes include fried ikan bilis, fried fish, hard-boiled egg, cucumber and sambal udang or sambal sotong.


Coconut milk steamed rice

  • 350 g rice
  • 3 pandan leaves, tied in a knot
  • Salt to taste
  • 165 ml coconut milk
  • Some water

Tamarind juice

  • 250 ml water
  • Tamarind pulp, the size of a ping pong ball

Sambal ikan bilis

  • 1/2 red onion sliced into rings
  • 200 g ikan bilis
  • 1 clove garlic
  • shallots
  • 10 dried chillies
  • 1 teaspoon belacan
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Other ingredients

  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, cut into half
  • 3 small fish, sardines or smelt
  • 1 small cucumber, cut into slices and then quartered


  • Rinse the rice and drain. Add the coconut milk, a pinch of salt and some water. Add the pandan leaves and cook the rice as normal.
  • Rinse the ikan bilis and drain the water. Fry until light brown and crisp, and put aside.
  • Pound the belacan together with the shallots, garlic and deseeded dried chillies with a mortar and pestle, or in a food processor.
  • Soak the tamarind pulp in warm water for 15 minutes. Squeeze it constantly to extract the flavour into the water. Drain the pulp and save the juice.
  • Heat some oil in a pan and fry the spice paste until fragrant.
  • Add the onion rings and ikan bilis and stir well.
  • Add the tamarind juice, salt and sugar.
  • Simmer on low heat until the gravy thickens. Set aside.
  • Clean the small fish, cut into half and season with salt. Deep fry.
  • Slice the cucumber and then quarter the slices.
  • Dish up the steamed coconut milk rice and pour some sambal ikan bilis on top. Serve with fried fish, cucumber slices and hard-boiled egg.

This recipe first appeared in RasaMalaysia. Low Bee Yinn is a food blogger and cookbook author.