"Ayam Masak Merah with a hint of kaffir lime leaves"
With Nasi Lemak Kak Hani in Damansara Uptown, the pulling factor is her ayam masak merah. A family recipe that has been passed down from her mother-in-law, their ayam masak merah differs from other places because it has an aromatic citrus flavour to it. Along with the usual tones of tanginess and sweetness that comes from chilli and tomato sauce, Kak Hani adds kaffir lime leaves to the dish to give it a fragrant kick. She uses blended dried chillies and fresh chillies in her ayam masak merah, simmering it down for hours to allow the chillies to be fully cooked thus allowing their natural sweetness to come through.
Her sambal is pretty mellow with a low level of heat so it's ideal for wussy tongues that can't handle too much chilli in the morning. It has a sticky ( almost oily ) consistency that makes it perfect mixed into the subtly flavoured rice. The rice has a smidgen of coconut flavour, light and fluffy. The portion of rice is quite big, your tummy will be full after just one packet.
"So popular that you actually have to take a number!"
Nasi Lemak is a much-loved breakfast meal for Malaysians and because of their popularity, you can usually find a stall set up in most neighbourhoods in KL. My favourite stall is luckily located near my house. This particular nasi lemak stall started out as one of those stalls that mushroom up overnight, before quickly establishing itself as an institution through word of mouth advertising. It's operated by a friendly duo of Encik Asmi and his wife Kak Sanah (for whom the stall is named after); from the back of a lorry. Kak Sanah serves up 500-600 packets of nasi lemak a day, every morning to its crowd of loyal customers. It's quite popular with people from all walks of life, from the aunty housewife to the office worker.
The range of lauk they serve is amazing. This ranges from the typical sambal kerang, sotong, daging, ayam and kuih assortments. There is even paru goreng sambal here.
I usually go for the ayam goreng because I'm not really a fan of spicy foods. Deep-fried, just right to that point where the chicken is melt-in-your-mouth tender but not mushy. The skin is crispy in that magical goldilocks zone where it's not drenched in grease nor too dry - always just right. There's a peppery but fragrant note hidden in the spices that coats the skin which gives it a nice spicy kick.
"Dream-worthy paru goreng!"
If we have to choose a national dish, nasi lemak would be a worthy contender. It's the most familiar and widely enjoyed dish in Malaysia. In KL, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to nasi lemak. One of our all-time-favourite NL haunt is R.A Nasi Lemak.
at R.A is what makes me come here over and over again. Theirs is the dry version where cow lungs are deep fried with ginger and shallots until crispy. To tenderize the lung, they boil it whole for a few minutes before cutting it into thin slices and then frying it. The texture of the lungs is like beef jerky, crisp on the outside and a little chewy when you take a bite. If you're a paru fan, be prepared to come early because these dream-worthy lungs would be one of the first things to run out every day.
is also popular here. The squid is covered with thick sambal while the texture is springy with plenty of bite.
Even eaten plain, the nasi lemak here is pretty good. Rice is cooked almost al-dente so it's not clumpy and dense. It falls into individual grains making them the perfect transporter for the chilli sambal. The rice is flavoured with just a hint of coconut milk, which makes it light enough to enjoy on a workday morning.
"Always get the telur mata"
When you think about nasi lemak, there are thousands of stalls in KL alone, right? How many lie undiscovered, or aren't getting enough recognition? Beats me. I do think I've found one of the good ones though.
In an old taman perumahan
, at the corner of Lorong Tiong Nam 1 and Jalan Tiong Nam, at the backroads of Jalan Raja Laut, lies a stall. The stall, Gerai V3 Corner
(which I think is a hilarious, and very incongrous name!) is run by a family of four.
Among the office folk there, however, the gerai is more fondly known as "Makcik Buluh", although why that name stuck, I have no idea. There isn't a single bamboo bush in sight. Anyway, there's "Uncle" and Sani, who makes drinks, the daughter that serves, and Makcik Buluh herself, "Aunty", who every morning busies her self preparing breakfast for the office workers who almost exclusively make up the customers. And part of this breakfast spread is her nasi lemak (RM1.20)
"they even use vegetarian belacan..."
Vegetarians get the short end of the stick when it comes to dining out in Malaysia. Things get even more complicated when they're dining with a non-vegetarian friend. With a limited choice of places, vegetarians are usually confined to the salad section of the menu while their fellow diners get to indulge in meatier (and yummier) choices. Fortunately, we found a place in Cheras where vegetarians and non-vegetarians can dine happily together. Tian Yian Cafe is a vegetarian restaurant that has been around for years. Offering more than 100 dishes, you're bound to find something you like here.
We first tried the Hong Siew noodles. The 'meat' is braised in dark soy sauce, pepper, ginger and garlic. This gives it a smoky flavour and adds more depth to the dish. The broth is wholesome and garnished with an array of vegetables like bak choy and carrots. It is a satisfying dish and we were pretty full when we finished the bowl.
But of course, as always, I couldn't resist the nasi lemak. It was actually impressive. It had plenty of 'lemak' and the sambal squid was really tasty. The squid was obviously not the real thing but incredibly I couldn't tell the difference. The texture and taste was spot on. The sambal even had hints of 'belacan'. When I asked them about the vegetarian belacan, they told me that it was made from a mix of soybean and mushrooms. It's amazing how 'shrimpy' it tasted.
When a friend enticed me with a Damansara Uptown nasi lemak crawl, I actually made the effort to brave the morning traffic to join her on this little excursion. The crawl consisted of kopitiams, a makeshift stall (and a car) scattered around Uptown. So loosen up your belts and join us on a gluttonous breakfast trail. You might end up yawning the whole… More »
"Sambal is sweet, almost like chocolate...."
One Sunday morning I found myself queueing up at a stall in front of a hospital in Seksyen 20 Shah Alam for nasi lemak. The stall' name is Nasi Lemak Pak Ayob, and it's quite well known as the few nasi lemak stalls where you have to queue for your food.
Nasi Lemak Pak Ayob started their business at the Seksyen 6 pasar, and as customers flocked beneath its small roof, they saw fit to expand their stalls to other locations. Now they have two other stalls at Seksyen 20; one inside a mamak shop, and the other here, beside the road in front of KPJ Selangor Medical Center. I've heard there was another location in Seksyen 13 (or was it 10?) but couldn't verify.
I guess one of the biggest indicators of success in food and beverage operations is whether or not you manage to open one or more locations, regardless of what type of joint you are: - stall, cafe, restaurant and so on. I think a lot of food sellers and owners would love the enviable problem of supply trying hard to keep up with demand.
They only open during the morning, as I unfortunately found out the night before, and you have to be quick as they run out pretty fast.