Nasi Tumpang: Arguably the Best-looking Rice Dish in Malaysia
Nasi Tumpang is considered one of the best-looking rice dishes found in Malaysia. It is traditionally associated with Kelantan where it is also called Nasi Tupe in the local dialect. Nasi Tumpang is basically a banana leaf rice dish, wrapped into a cone shape, and densely layered with various dishes or ‘lauk’ in between the rice.
‘Nasi’ means ‘rice’ in Malay, while the word ‘Tumpang’ translates to ‘overlapping or occupying the space’. It refers to how the dishes are hitching a ride together with the rice.
Nasi Tumpang was created out of necessity back in the days where fishermen or farmers’ wives needed to pack rice for their husbands. The dish had to be convenient enough to take along to work, and be eaten during rest time without plates or cutleries. The wives would tightly wrap the leftovers dishes from the previous dinner and some fresh cucumbers using banana leaf into a practical and aesthetic rice cone.
Nasi Tumpang is no longer just eaten by fishermen or farmers anymore. Nowadays, it is enjoyed as an eccentric spectacle where vendors showcase their skills by crafting multilayered Nasi Tumpang with all sorts of ingredients like fried egg, rendang, sambal, cucumber, serunding (fish/beef/chicken floss), thick curries, and rice. The rice is sometimes mixed with glutinous rice or even dyed blue with butterfly pea flowers.
There are two ways to eat Nasi Tumpang. Some people work through it layer by layer, savouring each dish separately. Meanwhile, some people combine all the layers into a heaping mess, mixing all the different flavour profiles into one. Both have their own pros and cons.
Today, Nasi Tumpang can be found in Kelantan and some specialty restaurants in other states. It is slowly getting harder to find due to its time-consuming and tiresome process.