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10 Types of Rice Dishes that You Must Try in Malaysia | Ummi Goes Where?

10 Malaysian Rice Dishes that You Must Try

Rice is the staple food in most Asian countries. But who knew that there were so many different ways to cook it to make completely unique dishes? Check out these 10 different types of rice dishes you can find (and must try) in Malaysia.

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Nasi lemak
Nasi lemak. Credit: Mw12310 / Wikimedia Commons

Arguably the most popular dish in Malaysia, nasi lemak is rice cooked in coconut milk, and served with sambal (chili paste), fried anchovies, peanuts, boiled egg, and cucumber slices. Those are the essential accompaniments to this dish, but you can also add on chicken, beef, or any other sides you prefer.

We usually have it for breakfast. Yah, ’cause we crazy like that.

The breakfast version is smaller in portion, and is often wrapped in banana leaves and laminated paper. It can be found in almost any cafe, restaurant, and street vendor in the morning. But now it’s also available on the menus of fancy restaurants — to be eaten at any time of the day (or night).

2. Nasi Kerabu

Nasi Kerabu - Rice Dishes to Try in Malaysia | Ummi Goes Where?
Nasi kerabu. Credit: misaochan2 / Wikimedia Commons

Nasi kerabu can easily be recognized by its quirky blue color. The blue tinge comes from butterfly pea flowers that are boiled together with the rice. It’s done only for aesthetic purpose and doesn’t change the taste or smell of the rice.

Nasi kerabu is typically served with raw vegetables such as finely shredded cabbage, long beans, and bean sprouts, tossed with grated coconuts and fresh herbs. Other sides may include salted eggs, sambal, stuffed green chilis, fermented fish paste, and fish crackers. It also goes very well with ayam percik (roasted chicken with a thick coating of coconut-based gravy). Very popular in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

3. Nasi Dagang

Nasi dagang
Nasi dagang. Credit: Amirudin Mohd Zani / Wikimedia Commons

Like nasi kerabu, nasi dagang is also popular in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, particularly in the states called Kelantan and Terengganu. It is made from husked red rice (or the combination of jasmine and glutinous white rice) that is steamed in coconut milk.

Nasi dagang is usually accompanied by spicy fish curry, acar (pickled vegetables), hard-boiled eggs, sambal, and fish crackers.

Commonly had for breakfast.

4. Nasi Kandar

Nasi kandar
Nasi kandar. Credit: eightysixx / Wikimedia Commons

Nasi kandar is a dish that is often associated with Penang and the Indian Muslim community. Essentially, it’s just white rice with a simple combination of vegetables, meats, and curries, but it’s a comfort food for many. And these people are willing to make the journey to Penang just to find the best nasi kandar.

In the old days, the vendors would go around carrying the rice and its condiments in a basket attached to a long pole (kandar) that they put over their shoulders — hence the name.

5. Nasi Minyak

Nasi minyak
Nasi minyak. Credit: Azilaahmat / Wikimedia Commons

Literally meaning ‘oil rice’, nasi minyak is a dish that is usually only served at Malay weddings or special occasions. You’d have to be very lucky to get ahold of this — it’s almost never sold in restaurants.

The rice is cooked with ghee oil or clarified butter, sauteed onion and an assortment of spices and stock to give it that special taste and aroma. It is commonly paired with acar, spicy tomato chicken, and beef rendang.

6. Nasi Ayam

Nasi ayam / Hainanase chicken rice
Nasi ayam (chicken rice). Credit: Jpatokal / Wikimedia Commons

Nasi ayam is rice cooked in chicken stock and seasoned with ginger. It was first brought to Malaysia by the Chinese traders from the Hainan province. Even to this day, the Hainanese chicken rice remains the most popular version in Malaysia. It is served with boiled and steamed chicken, a lot of ginger and garlic, soy sauce, red chili sauce, cucumber slices, sometimes bean sprouts, and a bowl of chicken broth.

After being steeped in boiling water till it is fully cooked, the chicken is soaked in cold water to make sure that it retains its tenderness. Alternatively, the chicken can also be roasted.

The Malay people has also come up with their own version, in which the rice is cooked with star anise, and the chicken fried in spices.

7. Nasi Goreng

Nasi goreng
Nasi goreng. Credit: Mx. Granger / Wikimedia Commons

Nasi goreng simply translates to fried rice. But in Malaysia, it’s not as simple as that. Nasi goreng can take on many forms. In fact, every Malaysian household tends to have its own fried rice recipe. Click here to see the 10 most popular types of nasi goreng that you can find in Malaysia.

The great thing about it is that it doesn’t require much ingredient, effort or cooking skill. Almost anyone can produce a sumptuous meal of nasi goreng using only leftovers and overnight rice.

8. Nasi Tomato

As the name suggests, nasi tomato features tomatoes as its main ingredient. The tomatoes can be in the form of tomato sauce or paste. Besides tomatoes, it may also contain milk, garlic, onion, ginger, and dried spices. Nasi tomato is best paired with ayam masak merah (spicy tomato chicken) and pickled vegetables.

9. Nasi Kunyit

Nasi kunyit
Nasi kunyit. Credit: miss_yasmina / Wikimedia Commons

Literally meaning “turmeric rice”, nasi kunyit is often prepared to celebrate special events such as a wedding, graduation, the birth of a baby, or the arrival of an important guest. So, if you go to someone’s house and they cook this, you should feel very special!

Nasi kunyit typically uses glutinous rice and is eaten with meat curry or rendang.

10. Banana-Leaf Rice

Banana leaf rice
Banana-leaf rice. Credit: Misaochan / Wikimedia Commons

Eating at a banana-leaf restaurant is, in itself, a cool experience. Instead of plates, food is served on banana leaves. This style of eating originated from Southern India, but has become popular in Malaysia as well.

You can usually find all types of South Indian food in there, including roti, idli, and dosa, but the most popular dish is the rice thali set, which is white rice served with a variety of side dishes and curries. This can be with or without meat. Trying to get the curries to stay on the flat banana leaf requires some skill, so make sure you don’t pour too much liquid on your food if you don’t want it to drip down the table and onto your lap.

Traditionally, banana-leaf rice is eaten with fingers instead of cutlery. And at the end of the meal, it is considered a courtesy to fold the banana leaf (front fold indicating satisfaction, and backfold indicating displeasure).

Posted in Food & Drinks, Malaysia

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  8. Josy A

    YUM! I love Malaysian food (so I probably shouldn’t have looked at this while I was hungry!)

    Do you know why people make the rice blue for Nasi kerabu? I don’t think I have tried that one. I’d love to try Nasi Minyak too! 🙂

    • ummi

      Haha, sorry to make you hungrier, Josy! I don’t think there’s any reason why they colored the rice blue other than for aesthetic purpose. But the butterfly pea flower is also said to be rich in antioxidants.

    • ummi

      Yup, now you can try the rest, Jamie. It’s also possible to get some of the rice dishes — like nasi lemak — in vegetarian/vegan version.

    • ummi

      Thanks, Karen. I think the banana leaf rice is the most fun to eat. It takes some skill to keep the curry from spilling over the edges. And you also have to learn to eat with your fingers in order to enjoy this.

    • ummi

      Oh I’m sorry I didn’t include any recipe in this post, Jenni. Maybe I should update it soon and link to relevant recipe sites. In the meantime, if you google the name of the dish, you should be able to find the recipes. 🙂

    • ummi

      Aww, Shafinah. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that borders will open or that there will be a travel bubble between Singapore and Malaysia soon. 🤞🏼

    • ummi

      Then you’ll be in heaven over here, Krista. Or if there’s a Malaysian restaurant where you are right now, perhaps you could get a little taste of heaven 😉

  9. Jacqueline

    I haven’t been to Malaysia, but I was pleased to see I recognized and have had some of these dishes. The Hainan style chicken looks so simple but sooo good. Some of these look amazing but spicy? I can’t tolerate spicy food, so that’s my only reservation about eating these dishes. I guess I can’t eat the tomato chicken one. Otherwise they look amazing

    • ummi

      The Hainanese chicken rice is simply delicious, Jacqueline!
      Some of these rice dishes can be made to order, like nasi goreng — you can ask for it to be less/not spicy. For nasi lemak, it’s possible to have it without the sambal (although I personally think that it’s not nasi lemak without its sambal).
      And then there are some that you just have to skip, I’m afraid, as making them without chili will alter the flavor entirely.

  10. Denise

    These all look so delicious! I love finding new foods, and most of these are new to me. And I’d love to try the blue rice even though you say it doesn’t taste or smell different!

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