If you have trouble differentiating between nasi padang and nasi ambeng, fret not. We’re here to help. Welcome to the rice age!
Ah, rice. To some people – here’s looking at you, Asians – it’s the quintessential carb option to have at every meal. Breakfast? You can have nasi lemak or porridge. Lunch and dinner? Countless options there. And ditto for supper. When it comes to Malay rice dishes, we are spoiled for choice in Singapore. If you’re only familiar with the good ol’ nasi padang, get ready to take some notes. Here’s a handy guide to the different types of nasi dishes and where you can find them on our island.
Nasi is nice: Malay rice dishes in Singapore and where to find them
1. Nasi Padang
Let’s start off with something everyone’s been talking about lately. Originating from West Sumatra, Indonesia, it consists of steamed rice with various moreish dishes that have been prepared beforehand. The most common options you can spot at nasi padang stalls include paru goreng (fried beef lungs), ayam bakar (grilled chicken), and sambal balado (a spicy dish with large sliced chilli peppers).
Unlike the Chinese economical rice stalls in Singapore, there are no fixed prices when it comes to ordering nasi padang. You can say it’s the luck of your draw. So if you’re concerned about the cost, here’s a pro tip: specify the total amount you’re willing to pay when ordering (“Auntie, can I have nasi padang for $7?”).
Where to find this dish: From hawker centres to restaurants, plenty of places sell nasi padang. Our recommendation? The beloved Hjh Maimunah at Jalan Pisang. The favoured food spot even received a stamp of approval from White Shades’ chef Hosni!
2. Nasi Ambeng
This one’s typically associated with banquets, celebrations, and festivals. A traditional Javanese sharing meal, nasi ambeng is served on a huge platter that’s lined with banana leaves. The rice mound is accompanied by dishes such as beef rendang, ayam lemak (chicken in coconut curry), sambal goreng (stir-fried long beans, tofu, and fermented soya bean cakes aka tempeh in spicy sauce), and beansprouts. Now, even though this is a communal dish, who says you can’t eat it alone? There are select places offering nasi ambeng to solo diners.
3. Nasi Rawon
From here onwards, everything gets a little more technical. Take this dish, for example. Nasi rawon is a Javanese rice dish doused in rawon gravy, a black beef soup that’s made with buah keluak (the seed of the pangium edule tree). It’s topped with paru goreng, sambal sotong (squid in spicy gravy), begedil (potato patty), and serunding (seasoned grated coconut flakes). The rice would’ve soaked up the rawon gravy by the time you dig in, giving an interesting mouth feel.
Where to find this dish: It’s not strange to find nasi rawon at many nasi padang stalls in Singapore, even though it’s not as well-known as the two abovementioned rice favourites. That said, Hjh Yang Chek Nasi Rawon & Mee Rebus at Upper Boon Keng Food Centre is a dedicated stall selling this dish.
4. Nasi Jenganan
Imagine pouring satay’s peanut sauce – but more watery and with a punchier flavour – all over fragrant rice. The gravy is called “sambal pecel”, and the dish we described is nasi jenganan. Not much is known about its origin, though it’s said to have come from Indonesia. The rice is topped with kangkong (water spinach), cabbages, long beans, beansprouts, tofu, and tempeh. That’s right folks, nasi jenganan is vegetarian-friendly! However, those with a peanut allergy should stay away from this.
Where to find this dish: Easties and foodies willing to make the trek can drop by Warong Java Nasi Padang at Bedok. Another popular option is Gerai Nenek Obek. Psst: Both stores also sell nasi rawon, which means you can get both dishes in one place. Otherwise, you can attempt to make nasi jenganan at home. Good luck!
5. Nasi Minyak
Literally translating to “oily rice”, nasi minyak hails from Palembang, Indonesia. The rice is cooked with ghee and a mixture of spices, including cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and curry powder. In Singapore, nasi minyak is only served at weddings. So, if you hear your Malay friends saying they’re going to eat this, it means they’re attending a reception, or it’s their wedding.
Where to find this dish: Well, you’re in luck – you don’t have to wait for the next Malay wedding invitation to sample this rice dish. Hamidah’s Kitchen and Catering Culture have nasi minyak on their menus. Do check its availability respectively before making your order.
6. Nasi Kerabu
Now our list focuses on rice dishes originating from our northern neighbour, Malaysia. First up: nasi kerabu, a favourite in Kelantan and Terengganu. It comprises blue-coloured rice (courtesy of butterfly pea flowers) served with chicken leg or fried fish, solok lada (chilli pepper stuffed with fish meat), salted egg, assorted vegetables, and fried crackers. Some variations replace the blue rice with white rice or nasi kunyit (turmeric rice).
Where to find this dish: There are a few options if you’re keen to try this out. Hit up Kerabu by Arang at Yishun Park Hawker Centre or La Porpo at Bendemeer Food Centre for an affordable plate of nasi kerabu. Feeling a little fancy? Permata serves an artisanal version, while Hajjah Mariam Cafe has a platter that can feed two people.
7. Nasi Ulam
This herb rice dish is said to be similar to nasi kerabu, though there are noticeable differences. Combining Malay, Indonesian, and Peranakan influences, nasi ulam involves mixing fluffy white rice with finely chopped kaffir lime leaves, laksa leaves, and lemongrass, before serving with vegetables. The Nyonya version stirs flaked fish into the rice. Sounds easy, yes? Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to prepare nasi ulam.
Where to find this dish: It’s rare to find a halal version in Singapore. But fret not, you can get your nasi ulam fix at The Little Red Hen in Amoy Street Food Centre. Phew! You can visit Chendol Melaka at Soy Eu Tua Coffee Shop along Upper East Coast Road for the Peranakan alternative.
8. Nasi Dagang
If your head is already swirling with too many rice dishes, add one more to the list. No pain, no grain, right? Nasi dagang, which means trader’s rice, is rice steamed with coconut milk and topped with fish curry. Sometimes, other ingredients accompany it, like achar (pickled cucumbers) and carrots. This is another rice dish originating from Kelantan and Terengganu.
Where to find this dish: Yes Nasi Kukus, which has multiple locations across Singapore. Or, you can also try making this at home. It sounds simple enough, no?
And there you have it, all the Malay rice dishes you can savour in Singapore. Jemput makan – that’s Malay for “enjoy your meal”!