With infusions of aromatics such as kaffir lime, turmeric, ginger, galangal and lemongrass in the air, the Malay cuisine is the result of different cultures coming together, each bringing a myriad of flavors. The best part is that the food is not served in alternate courses but arrive together — every meal is nothing short of a glorious feast.

There’s just something about our cuisine that signals comfort and safety around the table.

Today, Malay cuisine is mix of cultural influences from the Chinese, Indian and Indonesian communities. Even within the Chinese community, there are different strands and styles of cooking from Hakka to Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochow, and so on.

The flavors of northern  and southern Indian dishes have also been adapted to suit Malay tastes. The result is “Mamak” food and dishes like murtabak and rojak.

The Javanese influence on Malay food is also quite distinct, a result of the trading history between Central Java and East Java with the ports in the Straits of Malacca. Ingredients such as asam jawa (tamarind sauce), kunyit (turmeric), and lengkuas (galangal) that are commonplace in Javanese cooking have made their way into Malay dishes.

Food in our culture is also about hospitality. It’s not just about the food; it’s the communal act of gathering around the table to share the love.

All the components to make ‘nasi ambeng’. Photo: Zulaikha Ishak

Sudah makan?” is a common greeting when meeting people. It can be translated as “Have you eaten?”, or “Would you like to accompany me for a three-hour meal at the restaurant around the corner to talk about all aspects of life?”

But ultimately it means: “How are you doing? And can I take care of you today?”

What better way to start 2018 than to reflect on the beautiful harmony, rich cultural amalgamation and passion for food that we have in Southeast Asia?

Today’s recipe is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Nasi Ambeng is a dish that consists of white rice, prepared with several side dishes served on one tray. It is especially popular in the Javanese-Malay communities of Selangor, Johor, Singapore and Java.

The side dishes may include chicken curry, vegetables, bergedel (fried potato and meat patties), salted fish, serunding (meat floss) and so on.

If you’re considering a quick 15-minute meal, immediately toss that illusion out the window and into the grave. This dish needs at least two-hour preparation (if you’re organised), and another two hours to cook (if you have not lost your mind by then).

It’s a great dish, because you can see everyone in the kitchen scraping and squeezing, pounding and stirring at all times — the kitchen comes to life magnificently.

Follow these instructions, slowly and steadily. The journey is just as rewarding as the result!

  Nasi Ambeng  

There are eight components to make this recipe. Please note that exact measurements for some ingredients are not given, consistent with the Malay spirit of “hantam je lah” (just wing it).

  1. Fragrant Rice  


 Pandan leaves


1. Measure rice to desired amount and pour into ricer cooker. Add one cup of water for each cup of rice.
2. Place folded pandan leaves in the rice cooker.
3. Leave to boil and steam until done.

  2. Urap (vegetable and coconut salad 


 Bean sprouts, cleaned
 Cabbage, shredded
 Green beans, cut into 2cm pieces
 Grated coconut

For the spice paste: 

 4 garlic cloves
 3 red chillis
 2cm of galangal
 Kaffir lime leaves, shredded
 1 tbsp palm sugar


1. Grind or blend all spice paste ingredients. Heat oil in pan and sauteé paste until fragrant.
2. Add the grated coconut; mix well and set aside.
3. Pan fry all the vegetables lightly, set aside and allow to cool.
4. Serve by combining the vegetables with the spiced grated coconut mix.

  3. Opor Nangka (young jackfruit in coconut gravy)  


 Young jackfruit, cubed and boiled until soft
 Coconut milk
 Kerisik (roasted coconut paste)
 1 cup of tamarind juice
 Kaffir lime leaves
 Salt and sugar to taste


For the spice paste: 

 5 onions
 4 garlic cloves
 1 inch ginger
 1 inch galangal
 2 stalks lemongrass
 ½ inch fresh turmeric
 1 tbsp dried chilli paste
 1 tbsp coriander seeds


1. Grind or blend together all spice ingredients. Sauteé the paste in a pot until fragrant.
2. Add lime leaves, jackfruit, and enough water to cover the jackfruit.
3. Add kerisik and stir well.
4. Add the tamarind juice and coconut milk, add sugar and salt to taste.

  4. Ayam Masak Lemak Chilli Padi  

Get the recipe here.

  5. Serunding Kelapa  


 Grated coconut
 1 cup of tamarind juice
 2 tbsp ground coriander
 1 tbsp ground fennel
 1 tbsp ground cumin
 1 tbsp salt
 1 tbsp sugar
 2 kaffir lime leaves

For the spice paste: 

 4 dried chillies, de-seeded and soaked in warm water
 2cm of galangal
 2cm fresh turmeric
 1cm of ginger
 4 shallots
 3 garlic cloves
 2 lemongrass bulbs, bruised
 1 tbsp cooking oil


1. Grind or blend all spice paste ingredients. Sauteé in a pan with oil until fragrant.
2. Add the grated coconut, tamarind juice, ground spices, salt, sugar and kaffir lime leave.
3. Stir continuously until the coconut becomes slightly crispy. Serve hot.

  6. Bergedil  


Old potatoes, peeled and washed then cut into wedges
 Spring onions, chopped finely
 Coriander, chopped finely
 1 egg, beaten
 White and black pepper


1. Deep fry the potatoes and set aside to cool.
2. Mash the potatoes along with all other ingredients, except the egg.
3. Season well and shape into medium-sized balls.
4. Dip in beaten egg wash and deep-fry until golden.


  7. Rendang Daging  

Get the recipe here, but substitute the chicken for beef.

  8. Sambal Goreng  


 5 red chillies, cut slanted and de-seeded
 1 big onion
 4 garlic cloves
 1 lemongrass stalk, cut slanted
 4 tempe pieces, cubed
 4 tofu pieces, cubed
 A bunch of long beans, cut slanted
 De-veined prawns or chicken livers
  1 cup tamarind juice
 2 cups of coconut milk
 2 tbsp belacan (roasted shrimp paste)
 Salt and sugar to taste

For the spice paste: 

 3cm ginger
 3cm galangal
 4 fresh red chillies
 5 shallots
 4 candlenuts
 3 garlic cloves
 1 lemongras stalk


1. Deep fry the tempe and tofu separately until golden brown. Set aside.
2. Stir fry the long beans, chicken livers or prawns and set side.
3. Sauteé the blended spice paste until the oil separates.
4. Add in sliced chilli, ginger, lemongrass and shallots. Sitr and add in the roasted belacan, tamarind juice and coconut milk.
5. Add salt and sugar, then the fried tempe and tofu — it’s ready to serve!