Let’s take a look at Connie and Amira’s daily lunch! Economy Rice and more.
Japan Foundation staff from seven Southeast Asian countries and Japan report with pictures and videos about what they had for lunch for five days. You will hear “Delicious!” in each language in the video. Catch a glimpse of their local food culture while you enjoy the reports.
Usually in Malaysia for lunch, we would often have something that’s not too expensive and easy to get. Nasi Lemak and Roti Canai are popular dishes, but we usually eat them for breakfast, or sometimes even for supper.
For lunch, Nasi Campur (mixed rice) is a standard go-to. A scoop of white rice is accompanied by small portions of many different side dishes, such as ikan bakar (grilled fish), sambal (local spicy chilli paste), and ulam (local herbs). Nasi Campur is wallet-friendly, and it provides a variety of options for everyone.
Another factor when it comes to meals is Halal status, which is standard for Nasi Campur stores. Malaysia is, after all, a multicultural country with a Muslim majority, so even for mixed rice, we have Halal and non-Halal options. Other than that, the cooking style and dishes offered daily may be slightly different between stores. Wherever you go, given the variety offered, you will be sure to find something you like.
Whenever I want to eat something spicy or something cooked Malay-style, I would go for Nasi Campur. Although non-Halal mixed rice has curry dishes, too, the way it’s cooked is different. (Writer: Connie, Amira)
Like Nasi Campur (mixed rice), Nasi Kandar is another favourite staple dish here in Malaysia, made famous by the Tamil Muslim traders from India. It consists of steamed rice served with side dishes and various curries such as fish curry, chicken curry, beef curry and even squid curry! If you are not familiar with Malaysian cuisine, it might be difficult to distinguish between Nasi Kandar and Nasi Campur. The slight differences are in the options of side dishes offered and how Nasi Kandar is more curry or gravy-based.
With Nasi Kandar you can also choose a different type of rice, such as basmati rice which is usually used for cooking biryani. You can also opt for the fragrance-filled biryani rice cooked with spices and meat instead of your usual steam rice.
What makes Nasi Kandar popular is the toppings that go with it – such as Papadom, a crispy, savoury cracker made of black gram bean flour and eaten together with the curry-doused rice. You can also add the staple turmeric stir-fried cabbages, deep-fried bitter gourd, or even steamed ladyfingers (okra). Finally, you can also ask for the signature kuah banjir, which literally means “to flood your rice” with all the mix of curries mentioned earlier.
Personally, I love to drench my rice in curry, so I would always ask for kuah banjir. And I find that it’s the simplicity of Nasi Kandar that makes me love it so much – a simple cabbage dish, paired with fried chicken and rice that makes a hearty meal. (Writer: Connie, Amira)
Nasi Ayam Goreng Kunyit
Nasi ayam goreng kunyit is a meal set consisting of white rice with fried boneless chicken, marinated with turmeric and fried with carrots and long beans. There are also blended chilli and sweet soy sauce added on top of the rice. It’s a convenient food for those on a budget, because usually there is a fixed price for the set. The chicken is marinated in spices and fried, making it delicious.
Slowly becoming popular in the past several years, this food is a common choice among students and office workers with a tight budget. Sometimes the sets come with a drink and clear soup. Other than the chicken meal set, there are also meal sets of beef, squid and, sometimes, prawns.
When I am lazy or cannot decide on what to eat, I would go with this – I don’t have to worry about what dish to take for the day. I would just simply order this meal set to go! (Writer: Connie, Amira)
Nasi Kukus Ayam Berempah
Nasi Kukus Ayam Berempah is a set of freshly steamed rice, served with deep-fried marinated chicken, sliced cucumber, sambal belacan (local chilli paste made with fermented shrimp or prawn paste), and curry gravy. The rice is usually steamed in a steamer in individual steel bowls instead of your usual rice cooker.
They will scoop the rice from these bowls and pair them together with your favourite choice of protein (usually chicken) that is well-marinated with spices and herbs. With its affordable price, it’s another Malaysian crowd lunch favourite, and my personal go-to as well.
If I’m feeling extra hungry that day but I don’t feel like choosing my side dishes, I would get this Nasi Kukus together with a whole piece chicken, instead of just chicken strips that I would get in Nasi Ayam Kunyit. (Writer: Connie, Amira)
Economy rice is the Chinese version of Nasi Campur. Here you can find Chinese-style side dishes like sweet and sour chicken or stir-fried lotus. Most Chinese Economy Rice stores would also have tofu-based dishes such as soy sauce flavored braised tofu. However, these days, you can also find the Chinese version of chicken curry, if you like a little kick to your meal.
Some stores have pork dishes, but the one here does not. You will also find many vegetarian options at Chinese Economy Rice stores. By the way, do not be fooled by the name Economy Rice. Similar to Nasi Campur, the price of your Economy Rice may greatly vary dependending on your selection of sides, so do not be too carried away!
I am guilty of that – everything looks extra delicious when you’re hungry, am I right? But yes, I have to always remind myself, to not eat with my eyes but only take what I need.
Having takeaways in the office is helpful because we can enjoy our breaks a bit better. Or, as the locals would say, to tapau or bungkus. Tapau is a Cantonese term for takeaways or “to go”. Whereas for bungkus, it’s a Malay word with the same meaning.
Regardless of what language you speak, it’s expected that we often borrow words from each other’s languages and use them in our daily lives. And that can also be seen in the many dishes in our local cuisines, including our Nasi Campur / Economy Rice! (Writer: Connie, Amira)