Nasi Lemak (Steamed Rice in Coconut Milk). Source: Instagram @celestinetan

Nasi Lemak — an analogy of Malaysia

How a nation unites for this one simple dish.

Malaysia is known for our year-long hot and humid climate, and intermissions of monsoons during the final quarter of the year. We are also known to be a country made up of food critics, every state has a dish we are famous for. But as a nation we are collectively well-known for Nasi Lemak, coconut milk infused steamed rice served with a spicy paste called sambal — a blend of chilli, shallots and dried shrimp — half a hard-boiled egg, crispy fried anchovies and groundnuts, and a few slices of cucumber. The rice is served piping hot on a single banana leaf which imparts a distinct fragrance reminisce of sweet cut grass as the rice cooks the leaf; the condiments set around it in little mounds. Nasi lemak is best eaten with hands, piping hot rice mixed deftly with sambal, fried anchovies and peanuts to form a fragrant symphony, composed of subtle but distinct sweetness of coconut fat, savory crunchiness of fried anchovies, wrapped in a nutty conclusion.

In many ways Nasi Lemak is the perfect analogy for Malaysia and Malaysians, our strength lies in diversity, in the way we complement each another, and how despite our differences we emerged victorious as one.

Nasi Lemak is widely sold as breakfast all over Malaysia. In the mornings before rush hour you will find Malaysians of all color and walks of life congregating at makeshift stalls along the side of the road for a packet of Nasi Lemak to go. It is a dish that unites Malaysians.

Today my work mates and I got together for Nasi Lemak. We brought the necessary pieces from home to assemble the dish. As the token Malaysian of the team, I was in charge of the nasi (rice) itself and the sambal, while the rest brought condiments such as fried anchovies, hard-boiled eggs and cucumber to complete the dish. The cacophony of my workmates chatter and cheer led me to the conclusion that perhaps Nasi Lemak had the same effect abroad too as it did in Malaysia — of bringing people together united in love of this one simple dish.

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