How to cook Nasi lemak?

Nasi lemak, the coconut milk rice is a Malay dish well-loved by all the Malaysians from all walks of life. It is known as a national dish of Malaysia. It would be strange if it is not included in the Malaysian Vegetarian recipe. In Chinese it is 马来椰浆饭. My first encounter with this dish was in the university canteen. Back then it was sold at 50 cents for one plate. Now the price has gone up to at least Rm 3. Those were the days when we either ate nasi lemak or roti canai for breakfast or subsequent meals for the day.

The most important part of Nasi Lemak is its source, known as sambal in Malay. In my recipe, I am using the unopened florets of  bunga kantan(torch lily).

The picture below shows a mature bunga kantan flower.


Bunga Kantan in full bloom
Bunga Kantan in full bloom

The flower is showy with waxy bracts of bright colours ranging from white to pink, red and maroon depending on the variety.

The picture below shows young flower buds of bunga kantan.


Young flower buds of bunga kantan.

The young flower bud can be cut into halves and used in soup. For the nasi lemak recipe, we  have to use the mature flower as shown in the first picture.

The outer bigger bracts of the mature flower are discarded, leaving the tiny bracts and unopened florets for use in cooking.

The tiny, aromatic bracts are used in soup or stir-fry with other vegetables.


Tender bracts from Bunga kantan

The picture below shows the unopened florets whicn can be eaten raw in salad. I use these florets to replace onions in my vegetarian Nasi Lemak recipe. The use of bunga kantan in the sambal gives the dish a kind of aroma which is so unique to taste.

Click here to find out more about bunga kantan.


Unopened bunga kantan florets

The picture below shows the two ingredients for the sambal, i.e. asam jawa paste (seedless tamarind paste) and the vegetarian belacan made from fermented soya beans and salt.


Left- The seedless tamarind paste.
Right- The vegetarian belacan


Preparing the sauce(sambal assam)



  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs chilli powder
  • 2 tbs asam paste
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 10 g  vegetarian belacan – made from fermented soya bean.
  • 1 cup of unopened florets from 3 stalks of Bunga Kantan(can be replaced by 2 big onions).


  1. Blend all the ingredients together except the florets of bunga kantan.
  2. Boil the blended mixture in the wok till it turns thicker but remains runny.
  3. Add in the florets and simmer for 3 minutes.
  4. Now the sambal is ready. Keep aside and allow to cool.


                           Long grain rice to be cooked together with pandan leaves(screwpine leaves),                                     cinnamon sticks, lemon grass and sawtooth coriander leaves.


Preparing the rice



  • 2 cups (400g)  long grain rice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 stalks serai(lemon grass) – crushed
  • 6  pandan leaves(screwpine leaves)
  • 6  sawtooth coriander leaves
  • 2  cinnamon sticks
  • 2 slices of ginger
  • 600 g grated coconut without husk- from which extract 4 cups of coconut milk.


  1. Wash the rice and strain.
  2. Add all the ingredients in the rice.
  3. Leave aside for 2 hours.
  4. Cook in rice cooker for 1 hour.

That’s it. It is that simple, isn’t it?

Serve the Nasi lemak with roasted groundnuts, pan-fried tempe, sambal, sliced cucumber and a quarter of boiled banana flower to add more fibre to the dish.

Very often nasi lemak is wrapped in banana leaf or brown paper and sold at RM2 or RM3 per packet.Vegetarian rendang cooked with chick peas and potatoes can be added to the rice as one of the side dishes. Pineapple and pumpkin cooked in sambal can be added too. In some vegetarian cafes, nasi lemak is served with additional side dishes like deep-fried vegetarian salted mock fish fillets and stir-fried kangkong.


Nasi lemak served with roasted groundnuts, sambal asam,
fried tempe and boiled banana flower.




                                         It is hot!!!     

                                          It is sweet!!!

                                                 It is sour!!!

                                                      Do not miss it when you are in Malaysia. 









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