“Nasi goreng lunch.. Keeping it local in #Singapore”1)http://www.straitstimes.com/sport/formula-one-rio-ferdinand-nasi-goreng-tweet-sparks-debate-over-origin-of-dish read the tweet from former England and Manchester United football player Rio Ferdinand who posted a photo of himself eating nasi goreng (fried rice) in his hotel room in Singapore.
Then, poof! In a flash, it sparked a war of words on Twitter about the culinary and cultural ownership of nasi goreng between some Southeast Asian neighbours. However, Ferdinand was quick to quell the tension with another tweet by saying, “Relax guys…’local’ in SE Asia…look back at my indonesia trip…case closed! 1Love!”
Indeed, there are so many ‘local’ foods in Southeast Asia that the member countries share. Since rice (nasi) is the staple food in Southeast Asia and naturally, there are an abundant rice dishes among the member countries.
Perhaps the ASEAN founding fathers foresaw that conflicts were bound to happen in terms of claiming culinary or other cultural ownership and maybe that’s why padi stalks were chosen to be in the center of the ASEAN emblem to represent solidarity and to remind how similar we are.
Speaking of the abundance of rice dishes, in Malaysia alone, the rice dishes are already a hefty list. With dishes like Nasi Dagang, Nasi Tomato, Nasi Kerabu, Nasi Paprik, Nasi Ulam, Nasi Kandar, Nasi Minyak and not to mention all the different types of Nasi Goreng such as Nasi Goereng USA, Nasi Goreng Kampung, Nasi Goreng Pattaya, Nasi Ikan Masin and so on.
Still, the nasi that always reign supreme over the other nasi is Nasi Lemak. Nasi Lemak is a fragrant rice dish that is cooked in “santan” (coconut milk). Although Nasi means rice and Lemak means fat, Nasi Lemak is traditionally taken by strong and fit farmers. Back in the day, it is known as a farmer’s meal.
Nasi Lemak is eaten by the farmers for breakfast before going out on the field. Nasi Lemak is indeed the perfect meal to start your day at the field as it is usually served with anchovies, peanuts, boiled egg, cucumber and “sambal” (traditional chili paste). These ingredients serves as a wholesome meal that is packed with balanced manganese, protein, and carbs that surely gives farmers the energy needed to work the field.
The simple Nasi Lemak is usually sold by the roadside or at the market and it is usually wrapped with banana leaf, brown paper or old newspaper.
Now, Nasi Lemak enjoys widespread popularity and no longer taken during breakfast only. Since it is commonly considered the country’s national dish, Nasi Lemak is now eaten at almost any time of the day; breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and even supper. With its popularity, Nasi Lemak is now no longer sold by the roadside but high-end restaurants and hotels are also serving Nasi Lemak in their bid to take pride in the majestic reputation of the national dish.
What gives Nasi Lemak the ‘kick’ that makes it stand above the rest is its ‘sambal’. Sambal is actually what makes the Nasi Lemak awesome or ‘just okay’.
There have been many variations to sambal. The basic taste has remained the same, only the contents have changed. The typical sambal is to first fry dried anchovies and then cook them with a spice paste, tamarind juice and a flavourful shrimp paste. Even though the sambal has a fiery chili base, it does not have to be very hot. However, to cross the line between average and mouthwateringly delicious, the sambal has to have a perfect balance of sweet, sour and salty.
Although the basic Nasi Lemak is made of anchovies, peanuts, boiled egg, cucumber and the sambal, Malaysians usually have accompanying dishes to go with the Nasi Lemak. The choice of fried chicken, beef/chicken rendang, squid sambal, cockles and even the innards of the cow such as the fried lung combined with Nasi Lemak serves the ultimate Malaysian culinary experience of what is a complete meal.
However, the late night eating of Nasi Lemak and the additional dishes to the basic Nasi Lemak, there have been coffee shop debates about how unhealthy Nasi Lemak is. Some even to the extent of saying that Nasi Lemak is one of the major factors that Malaysia is ranked second in ASEAN for the being most obese country in the Global Nutrition Report 20162)http://www.bt.com.bn/news-national/2016/06/19/brunei-ranked-most-obese-country-asean.
But at the same time, Malaysians in unison rejoiced when Time Magazine suggested that Nasi Lemak is actually a healthy breakfast3)http://time.com/4254125/healthy-international-breakfast/. Thankfully, the report by Time was not met by any protest or uproar, so maybe it is safe to say that Nasi Lemak is truly a representation of Malaysian food. Nevertheless, it was a relief for the Malaysians to know that their national dish is known to be a healthy breakfast and can continue eating it. Perhaps the only contribution of Nasi Lemak in making Malaysia as one of the most obese country in ASEAN is when it is eaten; as suggested by Time, it’s a healthy breakfast, hence not really healthy if it is for late night meals. Then it’s a matter of lifestyle choice, not the dish. So, long live Nasi Lemak, long live healthy Nasi Lemak!
By Hariz KAMAL, ASEAN Correspondent from Malaysia
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