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If you’ve ever been to Malaysia, chances are, you’d probably know that the must-try food is nasi lemak. Dubbed the unofficial national dish of the country, the term nasi lemak translates to ‘fatty rice’ and has origins rooted in the Malay food culture in Peninsular Malaysia. Loved and approved by all races, the dish is made up of these main ingredients: fragrant rice that’s been steamed with coconut milk and pandan leaves prior, spicy sambal (chilli paste), halved hard-boiled eggs, sliced cucumbers, as well as peanuts and ikan bilis (fried anchovies) for that added crunch. To make your meal more wholesome and complete, you can add on an array of side dishes like fried egg, spiced fried chicken, beef rendang, assorted curries, prawn sambal, and other seafood dishes.
Traditionally, it’s a breakfast staple usually served in a wrapped pyramid-shaped packaging—called nasi lemak bungkus—that’s easy to grab and go (or dine-in), but these days, it’s also eaten as a main meal (served on a plate) that you can have at any time of the day: for breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea time, dinner, or supper—basically round the clock! It’s just one of those go-to meals Malaysians reach for (and crave late at night) for convenience and taste. So, if you’re looking for your nasi lemak fix in Kuala Lumpur or Petaling Jaya, be sure to hit up one of these restaurants or roadside stalls that serve the best and tastiest ones in town.
Favoured by both locals and tourists as well as celebrities and ministers whose pictures you’ll see up on the walls, Village Park is one of the most popular eateries known for its nasi lemak ayam goreng (fried chicken). The star of the show is truly the humongous piece of fried chicken that accompanies the generously-portioned dish. Extremely crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, it goes oh-so-well with a mouthful of aromatic rice and sambal, lending a nice texture and juiciness to the spicy and savoury flavour of the dish.
Pro tip: This place gets crowded around lunch time and roadside parking is limited, so arrive early or at off-peak meal times.
Village Park Restaurant, 5, Jalan SS 21/37, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia | (+603) 7710 7860
This place may be inconspicuous due to its location along a narrow back alley, but it’s a hidden gem worth visiting if you’re lucky enough to have a local recommend it to you. It’s also where night owls meet up for supper or where party people end the night post-clubbing, since it operates from early dinner till the wee hours of the morning at about 4am. What makes its nasi lemak special is the fried chicken that’s marinated with Indian spices for that extra kick. And instead of a hard-boiled egg, you’ll get a sinful sunny side up (with a slightly runny yolk) to accompany your nasi lemak.
Pro tip: If you can’t find it, look out for a Maybank in yellow branding. It’s a popular landmark right next to it.
Nasi Lemak Bumbung, Jalan 21/11b, Seapark, 46300, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia | (+6016) 493 9204
If you love having lots—and lots—of options, consider this stall your nasi lemak paradise. It’s famous for its wide assortment of Malay side dishes to add on to your basic rice and sambal set. Think of it as the nasi lemak version of economy rice, where you’ll be spoilt for choice! From sambal kerang (cockles) and sambal sotong (squid) to ayam masak merah (spicy tomato chicken) and chicken rendang, this is one place worth coming back again just to try the other offerings. One thing worth noting is that the regular sambal is on the sweeter side, so if you’re not a fan, just opt for the side dishes as the main condiment.
Pro tip: While there are many branches throughout KL and PJ, rumour has it that their best nasi lemak is served at its HQ outlet in Kampung Baru.
Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa, 4, Jalan Raja Muda Musa, Kampung Baru, 50300 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | (+6010) 881 8080
With a family recipe that hasn’t changed since 1948, we can see why locals have been revisiting this stall for the past seven decades. For starters, their signature sambal tumis is unlike any other—it has authentic traditional Malay flavours and is made with their own special blend of chillies and spices that’s slow-cooked for hours.
The founder’s son now runs the business and he’s on the floor each day, prepping the sambal for hungry patrons who flock over for breakfast or lunch. Then, there are those who also drop by for nostalgic reasons, as they reminisce about the good old times when it was once just a humble wooden shack serving up the same delicious taste. And if you’re wondering about add-ons, they’ve got their signature side dishes too, such as the kuah hitam daging (dark beef sauce), paru goreng (fried beef lung), limpa berlada (beef ox-spleen), and beef curry, all of which tend to sell out as early as 10am. You know the drill: Get there early!
Pro tip: They open from 7am to 12pm, but expect to wait in line at rush hour as the place is always packed.
Nasi Lemak Tanglin, Stall no. 6, Tang Lin Food Court, Jalan Cenderasari, 50480, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | (+6019) 397 2781
Nasi lemak, but make it Chinese! Nasi lemak may be a Malay dish, but in a multicultural nation like Malaysia, it’s only natural to have varied versions of it, like the Chinese rendition served at this stall. The basics like rice and sambal remain the same, but it one ups the rest in town thanks to its non-halal sides (read: pork dishes) that keep pork-loving patrons coming back. A must-order? The wild boar curry; a true delicacy appreciated by locals. Other ‘nice-to-haves’ on your plate include the fried luncheon meat, fried chicken, and fried egg.
Pro tip: Can’t take the heat? The sambal here is a lot milder and not as spicy!
Nasi Lemak Peel Road, 88, Jalan Peel, Maluri, 55100, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | (+6012) 698 5122
Just like the three common names of Malaysia’s main races, Ali, Muthu, & Ah Hock boasts an extensive menu of local dishes comprising Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines. That said, the one dish they’re synonymous with is the nasi lemak with fried chicken. Their spice-marinated fried chicken stands out for its extra crispy skin (a plus if you love borderline-over fried things) that’s accompanied with additional crusty batter bits that will be more than welcome on your cheat days. Sambal wise, it’s got a good balance of sweet, savoury, and spicy flavours, making it an easy crowd-pleaser. And with a laid-back Malaysian coffee shop atmosphere, it’s a popular lunch and brunch spot that’s bustling on both weekdays and weekends.
Pro tip: There are four branches around the Klang Valley (in Chinatown, Bangsar South, Jaya 33, and the original outlet in Oasis Damansara) so it’s super accessible; you’ll definitely find one near you!
Ali, Muthu, & Ah Hock, Oasis Square, Lot B-G-01, Ground Floor, Block B, Oasis Ara Damansara, Jalan PJU 1A/7, 47301, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia | (+603) 7832 3138