Nasi Lemak, The One Dish You Should Cook This National Day

Nasi Lemak was never my go-to at a hawker centre. It was decidedly a breakfast dish in my mind and I was never a morning person. But for some reason, having breakfast on National Day was a special thing – and apart from kaya toast, the only other Singaporean breakfast dish I can think of that is worth eating on National Day is Nasi Lemak. I went into the cooking of this dish not having very high expectations – given that I’m not crazy over this dish the way my husband Wex is – but actually having all the components on a banana leaf just felt so nostalgic and transportive. Of all the ingredients in a Nasi Lemak, I think the banana leaf is the most important. It imparts the rice with this beautiful aroma that few other dishes can boast. If you can find fresh banana leaves, great! If you live abroad like me, and can only find the frozen stuff, it works just as well.

Nasi Lemak

Serves 3-4

Sambal (I’ve used my Sambal Tumis recipe, but added more water):

50g dried chillies, cut in halved and soaked in hot water 30min

400g red onions

60g garlic

20g belacan

2 stalks lemongrass

200g oil

50g white sugar, 40g brown sugar

45g tamarind pulp

Salt to taste

400g water

For the rice:

3 rice cups of jasmine rice (450g)

3 rice cups of water (510g)

¾-1 tablespoon salt

20g pandan leaves

1 lemongrass

200g coconut milk

For the chicken (adapted from Food Canon):

1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon fennel powder
2 teaspoon tumeric powder
2 teaspoon white pepper powder
2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon salt
200ml coconut cream

1 chicken, cut into large pieces on the bone (you can also use about 1.5kg chicken parts)

Corn flour

Oil for deep-frying

For the nasi lemak:

40g ikan bilis

110g peanuts, skin on

Deep-fried eggs

1 cucumber, skin forked, sliced

Banana leaves (frozen or fresh), cut into rectangles, slightly larger than your plates

To prepare the sambal, drain the chillies and grind with onions, garlic, belacan and lemongrass until a smooth paste forms. Fry in the oil in a wok until the paste turns a deep dark red. Season with sugars, tamarind and salt to taste. Thin out with water, adding more until your desired consistency is achieved. This can be prepared and stored in the fridge way in advance and heated up to serve with the nasi lemak.

The night before preparing the nasi lemak, mix the spices, salt and coconut cream. Add the chicken and toss well to coat. Marinate overnight. The next day, coat in cornflour and deep fry 200C until the pieces turn gold. If you’d like the chicken to be extra-crispy, you can deep-fry the chicken again right before serving. Set aside.

In the same oil, deep-fry the ikan bilis, peanuts and eggs separately. Drain on paper towels before mixing the ikan bilis and peanuts together. Wash the banana leaves, wipe dry with a kitchen towel, then microwave on a plate until the shade of green changes and the leaves become pliable.

Cook the rice, water, salt, pandan leaves and lemongrass in the ricecooker (“cook” function). When the mode shifts to “warm”, fluff the rice from the bottom of the bowl, add the coconut milk and stir gently. Cover the ricecooker with the lid and press “cook”. After 5-10 minutes, the button will shift back to “warm”. The rice is now ready to be served on the banana leaves with the chicken, sambal, egg, cucumber and ikan bilis-peanut mixture.



Pamelia Chia is a Singaporean chef and the author of the bestselling cookbook ‘Wet Market to Table’. After graduating with an Honor’s degree in Food Science and Technology from the National University of Singapore in 2014, she decided to trade a food scientist’s lab coat in for chef whites. She has since been working in restaurants in Singapore and Melbourne, including Candlenut and Carlton Wine Room. Her deepest interest being the preservation and celebration of Singaporean food heritage and culture, she started Singapore Noodles in 2020 as a platform to share about Singaporean food to a global audience. Find her on Instagram @pameliachia.

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