Written by Alexander Kuek
The meal, the myth, the legend. This month on Echo Eats, where we hunt for the best food around campus, we take a look at the all-time local favourite that has become an icon of Malaysian culture – nasi lemak.
Starting off as a simple dish consisting of the ingredients we know and love (coconut milk rice, peanuts, anchovies, cucumber slices, an egg, and sambal) its original purpose was to feed the humble local farmer working from dawn to dusk. Since then, it has exploded into the phenomenon we know today, satisfying millions of happy customers nationwide and even gaining popularity in Singapore and Indonesia.
It has undergone several iterations, as chefs and vendors added on to the original recipe with chicken and beef in the mix, and soon even fast food restaurants got into the craze and started making their own (with a few things removed). Burgers inspired by it have also become must-haves these days.
It was meant to be a (relatively) cheap meal we could all easily afford and enjoy (which is fortunate for us students, who are, as we all know, very broke). But with so many restaurants churning out their most reasonably priced delights, which one offers the best bang for the buck?
To find out, here’s a look at three versions of our beloved local delicacy made by three different restaurants.
College Cafeteria Nasi Lemak
I’m sure most of us have had to grab a quick bite in between classes at the college cafeteria, so let’s kick off this list with something close to “home” – the nasi lemak from the Tomyam Kitchen stall in the college cafeteria.
Price: 4.5 out of 5
Of course, the price of RM 3 makes it an immediate and easy choice for most of us. It’s also the most convenient on the list – why walk all the way to the mall or anywhere outside college when we could easily enjoy it in the building? It has all the ingredients we need, it serves the original purpose to feed, and there’s no long wait before it’s served unlike in a typical restaurant – it’s on the plate in seconds. However, it does have a few fatal flaws…
Taste: 2 out of 5
This isn’t a knock on cafeteria food in any way, but I felt that it comes nowhere close to the other two items on the list. Something doesn’t seem right about the sambal to me – it’s watery and loses a lot of richness, making it uncomparable to those of the other two. The chicken also feels a little underprepared, although the rice, egg, and peanuts are okay and taste fine. There really isn’t much to say about it – it’s just a bit bland – but it hits low on the target of such an iconic food.
Overall: 6.5 out of 10
Overall, the price of this meal makes it very attractive, but it quite simply fails to deliver in terms of taste. However, if you’re just looking for a quick and easy meal while rushing through an assignment – first of all, I feel you – secondly, this would certainly be the ideal choice.
McDonald’s Nasi McD
The guys at the Malaysian McDonald’s outlets just couldn’t resist. I thought this fast food-inspired take on our pride and joy would be a good addition to the variety of this list.
Price: 4 out of 5
The Nasi McD comes with three options: A (with an egg), B (pictured here, with fried chicken), and C (with both the egg and chicken), priced at RM5.60, RM9.99, and RM10.99 respectively. The easy choice for most despite its price would be option C, which I’d recommend for the pleasure of having all the goodness of a full set of ingredients that make the instantly recognisable flavor complete.
Taste: 4 out of 5 (3/5 for options A & B)
I actually quite liked this nasi lemak variant – it comes with a crispy fried chicken drumstick (excluding option A, but at least the egg tastes fresh) that captures the essence of McDonald’s signature burgers the moment it touches your tastes buds. The sambal isn’t bad either, it has a smooth creamy texture with an added kick of spice. I would say the only downside would be the lettuce, which isn’t of the best quality (as aforementioned in last month’s article) – besides, lettuce in nasi lemak would make any born-and-bred Malaysian recoil in confusion. After trying all three options, option C is is the obvious winner here.
Overall: 8 out of 10 (7/10 for options A & B)
Your instinctive thought might be: why go to a fast food joint when local hawkers exist? But this spin on our local dish tastes surprisingly good – it feels like a traditional American-style chicken burger, while still maintaining its local roots. McDonald’s Malaysia did the unexpected, and its entry into the market turned out to be a great success.
PappaRich Nasi Lemak
I’m sure we’ve all heard of PappaRich. Starting as a single outlet in 2006 serving local Malaysian food, it has now branched out to cater in 11 countries, bringing our local delicacies to worldwide audiences – and nasi lemak is no exception.
Price: 3.5 out of 5
This has not one, not two, but a total of six options. It comes with spicy squid at RM 17.90, curry chicken at RM 14.90, both at RM 22.90, fried chicken at RM 15.90, and two vegetarian versions at RM 11.90 and 15.90. Admittedly, the prices of each are relatively high, especially when compared to a local hawker offering nasi lemak at RM1 a piece, but I’ve given PappaRich a boost because I feel for that money you get a massive mouthful of sides on your dish.
Taste: 5 out of 5 (4.5/5 for other options)
There were too many options for me to try, so I opted for the one with the curry chicken and squid, which was definitely worth it. No store can call themselves Malaysian without serving a good curry in my opinion, and PappaRich doesn’t disappoint. The chicken and squid exploded with a barrage of flavors in my mouth, all that spice and saltiness and chewiness and meatiness in just one serving to complement the crisp of the peanuts and anchovies. The cucumber and egg also do well to balance out the heavier sides in this dish – it was just outstandingly tasty, one which few others could match.
Overall: 8.5 out of 10 (8/10 for other options)
As always, PappaRich manages to live up to its roots with a dish rich in flavor. While the higher price may turn some away, for foodies who are looking for a delicious meal, I still reckon it’ll be the best deal on the list.
The overall verdict
The obvious clear winner has to be PappaRich’s take on the dish, with the highest quality (although also among the highest prices). Besides, why not support a chain spreading our local foods across the globe, introducing unmatched Malaysian taste to consumers of all backgrounds?
Of course, let us know what you think in the comments, and recommend to us your favourite variant of nasi lemak! (Nothing quite beats that one hawker you and your family always visit back in your hometown, huh?) That’s it for this month of Echo Eats, remember to check out our article next month!