Nasi Lemak Bungkus (Coconut Flavored Rice with Spicy Anchovies Wrapped in Banana Leaves)

Nasi Lemak Bungkus

Every Malaysian and anyone who has ever lived in Malaysia for a period of time would know about Nasi Lemak. This ever popular and ubiquitous dish can be found at the humblest street corner stands to the poshest hotel restaurants. In the old days, one does not have to look far to get a taste of this dish. Vendors came round with baskets filled with little pyramid shaped packets of nasi lemak wrapped in banana leaves and newsprint during ball games and public events. Yet, it is still cooked at home for picnics, parties, and regular meals.

Malaysians love their nasi lemak and can’t leave home without it. It is as popular abroad as it is in the homeland. You will likely find this dish in a gathering of homesick Malaysians and it is offered in every Malaysian restaurant I have encountered overseas. One can indeed say that Nasi Lemak is the de facto national dish of Malaysia.

Nasi Lemak Bungkus
Nasi Lemak means creamy rice. The rice is cooked in coconut milk infused with pandan leaves. A little ginger is sometimes added. The most basic accompaniments to this rice are sambal ikan bilis (spicy anchovies), hard boiled egg, slices of cucumber, and peanuts. Other popular add-ons include chicken curry, rendang (dry beef curry), sambal sotong (spicy squid), and acar (spicy vegetable salad).

Traditionally, nasi lemak is wrapped in newsprint lined with banana leaves. The banana leaves enhances the dish as it imparts a light fragrance to the rice when wrapped warm and allowed to sit for a short period of time. Nasi lemak wrapped in banana leaves are becoming scarcer as more and more vendors use waxed paper. Restaurants normally serve them on plates.

I do eat my fair share of nasi lemak whenever I visit my parents in Malaysia. 😀 These pictures were taken in the summer of 2010. I also ate lots of nasi lemak bungkus but unfortunately I did not take a picture of the pyramid shaped packages. I must remember to do so the next time I visit.

Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak Bungkus (Coconut Flavored Rice with Spicy Anchovies Wrapped in Banana Leaves)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 4 to 6 servings
  • 2 cups (400g) long grain rice (equivalent to 2¾ rice cooker cup)
  • 2 pandan leaves, knotted
  • 1-inch knob ginger, crushed
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2½ cups (600ml) light coconut milk*
  • ½ cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 4 hard cooked eggs, sliced
  • ½ cup Spanish or roasted peanuts
  • 8 pieces 10-inch x 8-inch banana leaves (optional)
  • 8 pieces of 12-in x 7-inch newsprint (optional)
Sambal Ikan Bilis
  • 4 oz (100g) ikan bilis (dried anchovies), trimmed and peeled
  • 4 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste
  • ¼ cup (60ml) water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
Spice Paste
  • 6 dried chilies
  • 4 red chilies
  • 1 serai, white part only, sliced
  • 1 onion or 6 shallots
  • ½-inch cube belacan
Cooking rice using rice cooker
  1. Wash and drain rice 4 to 5 times in rice cooker insert. Cover washed rice with water and allow it to soak together with knotted pandan leaves for 20 minutes. Drain rice and dry exterior of rice cooker insert. Add pandan leaves, ginger, and salt. Pour in coconut milk. It should come up to about the 2¾ cups level.
  2. Place insert into rice cooker and press the start button. When rice is cooked, unplug the rice cooker and allow rice to sit for 10 minutes. Fluff rice with a pair of chopsticks or a fork before serving.
Cooking rice on the stove
  1. Wash and drain rice 4 to 5 times in rice cooker insert. Cover washed rice with water and allow it to soak together with knotted pandan leaves for 20 minutes. Drain rice and add pandan leaves, ginger, and salt. Pour in coconut milk. Place pot on the stove over medium heat. When coconut milk comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and allow rice to cook until all coconut milk is absorbed. This will take about 10 minutes. Turn heat down to the lowest possible setting and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Let rice sit for 10 minutes before fluffing rice with a pair of chopsticks or a fork before serving.
Sambal Ikan Bilis
  1. Break dried chilies in half and shake off seeds. Soak in warm water for 15 minutes. Wash and soak ikan bilis separately for 15 minutes. Drain and blot dry with paper towels.
  2. Blend all spice paste ingredients until fine, adding a tablespoon of water if needed. Remove and set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a medium sized pan. Add ikan bilis and fry till golden brown, about 7 to 8 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  4. Add remaining tablespoon of oil and spice paste in the same pan. Fry spice paste for until fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. Mix tamarind paste and water in a small bowl. Pour into span and stir to get spices and tamarind juice well mixed. When it comes to a boil, add sugar and salt.
  6. Finally, return fried ikan bilis to the pan and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes. Remove.
To Serve
  1. Place a bowl of rice on plate with half and egg, a few slices of cucumber, some peanuts, and sambal ikan bilis pile on top of rice.
  2. Alternatively, place warm nasi lemak portion on a piece of newsprint lined with banana leaf. Banana leaf should be slightly longer but narrower than newsprint. Bring both long edges of banana leaf and newsprint to meet in the center with the one edge overlapping slightly on one end. Criss-cross the flaps in the center by placing bottom flap on the top on the opposite end. Fold both ends under to form a pyramid shape package.
  3. Let package of rice sit for 10 minutes before serving so that rice will absorb some of the banana leaf fragrance.

Nasi Lemak Bungkus

The quintessential Malaysian breakfast is nasi lemak bungkus accompanied by a cup of sweet kopi-o. When ordering coffee in Malaysia kopi-o means coffee with sugar only. If you just said “kopi”, it will come sweetened with condensed milk. If you added the words “kurang manis” then you will get it less sweet. For black coffee, say “kopi kosong” which is like zero coffee with no sugar and no milk. For iced coffee, say ” kopi peng”.

Malaysian coffee is strong coffee. For some it is an acquired taste. The beans are roasted with butter or margarine and sugar, giving it a slightly burnt smell. Coffee is made by pouring boiling water through ground coffee held in a cloth sock filter in a koleh or enamel mug. This resulting brew is thick, strong, and bitter. It can be drunk hot or iced. Do give it a try if you get a chance to visit.

Nasi Lemak Bungkus and Kopi-O

Biren is not much of a coffee drinker. So what kind of coffee does she drink in Minnesota? Löfbergs Lila Swedish coffee ….. err decaffeinated and brewed in a coffee brewer. :)

Swedish coffee

Don’t be surprise if you see someone doing this in the warong (Malay eatery) or Indian stall. Some Baba Nyonyas do eat with their fingers too but usually only at home. Always use your right hand even if you are left-handed. Food should never go above one’s knuckles. If other dishes are served together in a meal, use your clean left hand to take food with the serving spoon provided. Do clean both hands with the bowl or flask of water set on the table specifically for that purpose before and after the meal. I have known of visitors to Malaysia who have unwittingly drank from the hand washing bowl much to the consternation of the host!

Eating with your fingers - try it!

Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day! 😎


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    • Biren says

      Gert, I’ll give you dua bungkus. Satu bungkus tak cukup. ;). Yes, I know the one at Jalan 222. There is also a delicious nasi kandar stall there.

  1. says

    Nice dish – this is new to me. The ikan bilis look really attractive (great color!), and the sambal sounds delicious. Nice combo of flavors. Thanks for this.

    • Biren says

      I hope you get to try this one of these days. I am definitely biased but it really is a nice combination. :)

  2. says

    Wah! Your nasi lemak looks so good, I’m surprised this came out of a kitchen in Minnesota 😉 My mum’s favourite breakfast is nasi lemak and kopi-o and the newspaper bungkus reminds me of the nasi lemak aunty in my primary school canteen – 30 cents a packet!! Now I feel like cooking nasi lemak tomorrow. It will be wonderful with the kalio ayam leftover from today’s dinner! Btw – do I see serundeng and chicken curry on one of those nasi lemak plates?

    • Biren says

      I actually prefer my nasi lemak with kopi or kopi susu peng kurang manis. So sedap! That is why I need to go on a crash diet before I visit. 😉

      Those were the days. I think we only paid 10 cents or 20 cents per packet in primary school. Sometimes, someone’s mom would bring a basket with all these nasi lemak bungkus but they were so popular that you can’t even get close to it unless you have “jalan”. You know what I mean?

      I can’t remember if that was serunding or sambal hae bee. That little plate on the top left was acar. That nasi lemak was from Madam Kwan in KLCC. Used to be known as Sakura and they are famous for their nasi lemak. Prices have gone up so much and that plate cost a whopping RM20.00!

      BTW, what is kalio ayam? It probably has a different name in Malaysia.

      • says

        Kalio is a style of cooking curry from Padang, Indonesia, where my husband’s family originates. It’s like rendang but with gravy and usually cooked with chicken as chicken doesn’t require long simmering so the gravy won’t dry up like in beef rendang.It’s THE most cooked gulai in our house, in fact, I really think I could do it blindfolded now 😀

        • Biren says

          Wah, sounds really delish! Your neighbors must be salivating all the time with all the wonderful aromas coming out of your kitchen.

  3. says

    I would love to visit Malaysia and try this first hand, and then stop in at your house and try yours!! It looks yummy!!! I have plenty of banana leaves in my yard, I just have touble finding pandon leaves…and I have tried. Maybe I can find a screwpine plant for my yard! Any ideas where I can find one? :)

    • Biren says

      I hope you get to visit one day and try all the delicious food you have been seeing and reading on the Malaysian food blogs. Wow…fresh banana leaves! I buy mine frozen from the Asian grocery stores. Try the Vietnamese shops for pandan. They are known as “la dua” in Vietnamese and are usually found in the frozen section.

  4. says

    I had Nasi Lemak in a Malaysian restaurant a couple of weeks back – it was delicious! I am so glad you posted this recipe. Now I can try making this on my own :-)

    P.s. Thanks for sharing it on RecipeNewZ!

  5. says

    Rice with fried anchovies and egg is a favorite breakfast in the Philippines and I find it really good! But this one sounds even better! Rice cooked in coconut milk tastes wonderful for sure! And the spicy anchovies makes this more appetizing!

  6. says

    You say it well, Biren! Every Malaysian should know about Nasi Lemak!! Your Nasi Lemak looks delicious! My mom used to cook this when I was young, and we would cut the leaves from our banana trees, wrapped up the Nasi Lemak and eat it half an hour later. We could eat packets after packets!! My mom would usually cook a big pot of rice and we will have it for lunch and dinner! Nobody complained, everyone loved it! Thanks for the stirring up those memories!! :o)

    • Biren says

      Wah…you have your own banana trees! After that the tree “botak-lah” with so many packets of nasi lemak. 😀

  7. says

    Indeed, nasi lemak is one nostalgic food, almost a signature dish of Malaysia. Love it 😀 You’re a great ambassador to the local foods of M’sia, Biren! Banana leaves, newsprints, eating with the fingers, and all the kopi’s. LOL! There’s another “kopi” as well. The “kopi-C” or “kopi sii” with sugar and evaporated milk. “Kopi-C peng” will be iced coffee with suga and evaporated milk.

    • Biren says

      Thanks Nasifriet! Have not eaten with my fingers for a long,long time. This time is just to demonstrate how it is done. :)

      Ahh…thanks for reminding me about “kopi sii”. This is not as common and so I “sudah lupa”. 😀

  8. says

    I love coconut rice, but I guess I’ve never had the real thing. You recipe and method sound wonderful! This Nasi Lemak sounds delicious. I’ve only had a couple of dishes wrapped in a banana leaf but never anything like this. Thanks for sharing this traditional dish! That’s why I love coming here – always interesting and new foods!

  9. says

    I spent a summer in Malaysia and miss the food so much! Especially because there are no restaurants in Chicago! This will definitely be on my to cook list!

    • Biren says

      I am glad to hear that you got to visit Malaysia and enjoyed the food. Unfortunately I am not familiar with Chicago. There is a Malaysian restaurant here in Minneapolis and they serve all kinds of Malaysian favorites. Hopefully you get to cook this nasi lemak soon. :)

  10. Jeannie says

    Authentic! I love nasi lemak for the spicy anchovies lol! otherwise, you don’t see me eating it. Anchovies sambal is a must!

    • Biren says

      Yes, the sambal ikan bilis is a must. Some styles are different with a sambal and then fried ikan bilis. That’s nice too but I like the sambal ikan bilis better because mom prepares it that way.

  11. says

    I miss this, I remember having this in Mamak in Malaysia. Its always on the centre table waiting to be opened by anyone who is tempted to.

  12. says

    I learned about this dish immediately after I started blog hop. Ever since then I have been curious about this taste. Everyone in Malaysia loves this and talks highly of this… Got to visit Malaysia or probably closer to visit you Biren! :-).

  13. says

    Wow, nice collection of nasi lemak pix! S’poreans are crazy over this too. In fact, I just had it for lunch. Hubby bought it from a popular stall named “Power Nasi Lemask”. Hahaha! What an innovative name! Lovely recipe, dear!

  14. says

    Oh Biren, such a tasty dish you have here…from the coconut rice to the flavorful anchovies…
    Hope you are having a great week :)

  15. says

    WOW! You always have something so fantastic and unique up your sleeve. the anchovies with that spice and wrapped up in banana leaves? GENIUS and who doesn’t love a great flavored rich dish! Job well done!

  16. says

    Ooh I love nasi lemak! To me it’s the perfect blank canvas for adding all the yummy spicy add-ons. Ikan bilis is a must! That’s the bare minimum for me: ikan bilis, an egg, cucumbers, and loads of sambal! I like it with sambal telur (deep fried eggs) which I just wrote about too (: Or sambal udang (prawns). Or that fried fish! I’m getting carried away already.

  17. says

    Oh Biren I’m so excited about learning new things about food from different cultures and countries, this is such an exotic recipe!
    thank you for sharing my friend!

  18. says

    Ah! This brings back such amazing memories of the time we lived in Singapore! How I miss the hawker center food… Thank you for this gorgeous recipe, Biren! I am going to make this for my husband and me and we are going take a walk down memory lane :)

  19. Daniel Oon says

    Biren, of all the myriads of Nasi Lemak recipes I’ve read through & (some) made, i truly enjoy & believe that yours is the closest to what I tasted in most Nasi Lemak Bungkus throughout most states & towns i’ve eaten. In Johor State alone i’ve tasted from JB, Kulai, Skudai, Ulu Tiram, Kota Tinggi, Masai, Kluang, Muar, Batu Pahat, Air Itam, Pontian, Mersing & other states & towns like Melaka, Mesjid Tanah, Tanjong Keling, Seremban, KL, PJ, Damansara, Subang Jaya, Shah Alam, Genting, Cameron Highlands, Ipoh, Taiping, Georgetown, Pulau Tikus, Bayan Baru, Bukit Tambun, Seberang Perai, Alor Star, Sungai Petani, Langkawi, Kuala Perlis, Endau, Kuantan & Cherating …. Yours is the best so far since, to be fair, I’ve yet to explore Trengganu, Kelantan & East Malaysia. I’m not kidding but this is my gospel truth. Anyway, I’m cooking your version for tonight’s dinner, it’s “nasi lemak night”. By the way, though I’m living in Singapore, i still find our Malaysian Nasi Lemak bungkus is unbeatable, invincible in terms of simplicity, taste, portion & price. Like what Cakap Melayu, “Lagi shiok, lagi sedap!”


  1. […] The next morning, we went to the Peranakan and Eurasian enclave of Pulau Tikus (literally translates into “Mouse Island”). Pulau Tikus is a suburb of Georgetown along the north shore of the island and famous for traditional Penang fare in the coffee shops near the old market. We were drawn to the Nyonya cakes that literally sell like “hot cakes”. Some varieties are so popular that they are sold out within the hour. The cakes shown here are steamed tray cakes like serimuka, kuih bingka, kuih kosui, kuih talam, and pulut tai tai. The red circular cakes are angku (red turtle-shaped cakes) usually served during family celebrations. The dumplings on the lower left corner are chai kuih (vegetable dumpling) and the ever present nasi lemak bungkus. […]

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