Is it us, or is the nasi lemak flavour craze getting out of hand? | Photos: (clockwise from left) Instagram/@juliuslim, @pizzahut_sg, @thekettlegourmet and @mcdsg
Pizza Hut launches a Nasi Lemak Pizza… and the crowd goes wild. Online media across the island scramble to offer their own review of this newfangled pie; young foodies persuade their families to try it (50 per cent off when you order two pizzas for delivery, you know!).
But Pizza Hut isn’t the first pizza joint to turn one of our favourite local staples into a pie. This past Ramadan, Halal-certified pizza joint Pizza Arc introduced limited-edition nasi lemak pizzas with pandan-infused crusts dyed a garish green.
Like just about everyone else, we love nasi lemak (see our recommendations in the second half of this article). But nasi lemak-flavoured dishes? Please, fam - stop.
It’s one thing to parlay laksa to laksa pesto pasta or chill crab to chilli crab xiao long bao, but nasi lemak has way too many components to be distilled into a cookie or ice cream, for that matter. Both of which, by the way, have happened.
Last year, the now-defunct Cold Stone Creamery introduced nasi lemak ice cream, which comprised coconut ice cream strewn with sambal, anchovies and peanuts, and topped with Rice Krispies in a pandan waffle cup. Was it pleasant? Well, pleasant enough. Did we ask for it again? That would be a hard no.
It takes an experienced cuisinier with that elusive magic touch to convince anyone to make eating nasi lemak ice cream more than a one-night stand.
To wit: cult favourite ice cream parlour Tom’s Palette, whose nasi lemak ice cream was anchored by the “chewiness” of glutinous rice ice cream infused with coconut, pandan and lemongrass, and paired with white chocolate ikan bilis, curry leaves and peanuts.
As far as novelty ice creams go, this one was pretty amazing. But the next time we need an ice cream fix, guess which flavour we’re going to crave? Probably not nasi lemak.
Every now and again, say during Chinese New Year, a hotel kitchen might revive the nasi lemak cookie, made popular for five minutes in the early 2000s by V Tea Room, now rebranded Cookie Museum.
These days, however, nasi lemak cookies remain the domain of home-based bakers whose KPIs are smaller than the average commercial bakery. Why? Because odds are, when hankering for a cookie, we’ll take a bag of those chocolate chip cookies instead, please.
Then there was nasi lemak popcorn. Nubbad, but when it comes to snacks, there’s no denying that we are a salted egg nation.
We’re not saying that nasi lemak crossovers should be banned. There has been at least one good example, most prominently McDonald’s Nasi Lemak Burger which was a sell-out hit in 2017. When McD’s brought it back again in April 2019, Singapore still couldn’t get enough of it.
What made the nasi lemak burger so successful? The fact that all the important nasi lemak elements could be assembled in their proper ratios: a fat, juicy spicy fried chicken patty; legit tasting sambal with ikan bilis, onions and peanuts; a proper fried egg; sliced cucumbers; and a distinctly lemak bun.
As for the nasi lemak cake, that’s something we can get behind too. It is, after all, just nasi lemak reassembled to resemble a birthday cake.
Where to go for actual nasi lemak
If all this talk about nasi lemak has you craving for a traditional, stock standard plate of the good stuff, then allow us to list our go-to places for when we need our regular fix:
Succulent fried chicken wing, fried egg, ikan bilis, peanuts and sambal chilli. Super satisfying combo and easy on the pocket.
Three words: legendary Changi chilli. That’s exactly what this old-timer stall calls its sambal. Mercifully, it lives up to its name with loads of ikan bilis and shallots so that it is spicy, sweet and savoury in equal measure.
Also boasts a superb sambal that packs a gentle punch and excellent fried eggs and chicken wings. Don’t be put off by the queue.
Chinese-style nasi lemak with fat, fluffy grains of lemak rice. Always order the fried chicken and ask for extra sambal.
Atas nasi lemak for when we want to sit in air-conditioned comfort and finish our meal with some fantastic chendol and kuih-kuih.