Nasi Kukus: A Specialty Dish from the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia
Step into the world of Nasi Kukus, a specialty rice dish hailing from the enchanting east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, specifically Kelantan, Pahang, and Terengganu. This delectable creation consists of steamed rice, accompanied by a choice of protein and a generous serving of curry or gulai.
As its name suggests, Nasi Kukus translates to “steamed rice” in Bahasa Malaysia, highlighting the meticulous steaming process that involves individually steaming the rice in single-serve aluminum bowls. These bowls are then carefully arranged on tall column steamers, where they undergo a 25-minute steam bath, resulting in perfectly cooked, fluffy rice. To infuse a delightful aroma, pandan leaves are sometimes added to the steaming water.
The protein component of Nasi Kukus typically features chicken, although options like mutton, beef, fish, and squid are also available. A beloved rendition of this dish is Nasi Kukus Ayam Goreng Berempah, showcasing succulent, spiced fried chicken. The chicken, often larger cuts such as chicken leg quarters, is marinated overnight in a batter comprising flour, cornflour, and a medley of herbs and spices like turmeric, lemongrass, ginger, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds. After the marination process, it is deep-fried to perfection, resulting in a crispy and flavourful exterior while retaining its tender and juicy interior.
Different types of chicken are used to cater to varied preferences. Some Nasi Kukus establishments offer Ayam Dara (spring chicken), prized for its tender and juicy meat. Another option is Ayam Kampung (village chicken), which is leaner but boasts a sweeter flavour profile.
The dish’s character is further enhanced by the delightful curry or gulai poured over the steamed rice. Some places serve a combination of beef and chicken curries with a thick, sweet kerutub/kerutuk gravy. Fish or pineapple curries may also make an appearance. Typically, the curries have a mild spice level, reflecting the preference for milder flavors in the east coast states. However, for those seeking an extra kick, sambals can be added to elevate the heat. To balance the richness of the dish, refreshing elements like fresh cucumbers, crunchy bean sprouts, or tangy pineapple acar are included.
While Nasi Kukus originated from the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, it has now spread throughout the country, making its presence felt in restaurants and roadside stalls across Malaysia.