Hey, mile-high Masterchef: It’s called ‘nasi lemak,’ and the anchovies are the whole point

Nasi Lemak should really be enjoyed like this, y’all
Nasi Lemak should really be enjoyed like this, y’all

Selamat datang, Cik Katie!

Earlier today, we were out minding our own business on Twitter (never wade in, never fade out), when we came across your tweet. You know, the one where you were shocked — SHOCKED! — to have been on the receiving end of a “wickedly bad” meal on British Airways, and were thus moved to use your platform as a consumer journalist to post a PSA about it online.

https://twitter.com/KatieMorley_/status/1217406294879035392

The meal in question? Well, let’s just say that it bore more than a passing resemblance to Malaysia’s own, much beloved nasi lemak. And the things you took issue with? Well, they’re kinda the things that make nasi lemak, nasi lemak.

First things first: BA. Well, look at you, getting all “Malaysia, Truly Asia”™ with your in-flight meals! A tip of the hat to you fine people, even though we can’t personally comment on the quality of your sambal ourselves. (It’s really the post-colonial thought that counts.)

Now on to you, Katie. While we personally have never really expected to find, for instance, a good risotto flying Aeroflot, you, on the other hand, profess to like plane food, so we can only assume that you actually expected to receive a tasty Asian curry from a British airline. And since you’re usually down with aggressively seasoned microwaved meals with fake grill marks and gray token broccoli florets, it must not have been the general airplane-food-ness of the meal that offended you.

No, this was something else.

To be fair, we commend you for being adventurous from the jump, and going for this instead of the omelet that you were undoubtedly also given the option of. What happened? Flight attendant offer you chicken curry, and you were expecting something a bit more Jalfrezi and less ikan bilis? We’ve been there before — offered a local brewski, then had to stomach a liter of chicha de jora instead.

Nobody likes surprises, especially when it’s in their mouths.

However, we can’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, this situation couldn’t be explained by a Venn diagram with “unreasonable expectations” on one side, and “unfamiliar foodstuffs” on the other, with this poor nasi lemak being unfairly cast into the shaded overlapping area labeled “inevitable disappointment.”

A breakdown for the uninitiated: nasi lemak (literally “fatty rice”) is nominally a breakfast dish (though it can also be enjoyed at any time of day) consisting of rice cooked in coconut milk flavored with pandan leaves — and perhaps a touch of lemongrass, if you’re so inclined (we’re not) — served alongside a handful of various accoutrements.

What those might be vary from region to region, and from chef to chef, but at the core of the dish (our national dish) — always — is the rice.

So far, so good?

Now, speaking of those accoutrements, they most commonly include peanuts, cucumber, sambal (the spicier the better!), a boiled egg (see: the “anemic” ovule on your tray), and — crucially — tiny fried anchovies called ikan bilis. If you’re fancy, maybe you order some chicken curry or rendang on the side. You, Katie, had the chicken.

Now, we know that this all might sound crazy to you, but these are sort of the fundamental points of the dish, and if you’re offended by any of the them, particularly the idea of tiny little fish on your rice, it’s probably not the best idea to order it.

But we get it, Katie. Mistakes are made every day. To be human is to be burdened with regret, and you clearly regretted ordering this particular in-flight meal — and apparently the crew had a firm “no backsies” policy.

That’s fine. You can’t really help that you didn’t like it. Maybe nasi lemak isn’t for everyone (well, here in Malaysia, it is literally for everyone, but we digress). But what you could have helped, Katie, is getting on the internet and disparaging the very notion of millions of Malaysians’ actual favorite thing in the world.

Look, we’re not ones to ever tell anyone what to do (unless it has something to do with where to get your nasi lemak — P.S. it’s the cafe at Jason’s in BSC), but we’re gonna make an exception this time: next time, just order the eggs. They will probably suck, but you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into.

And remember to ask them to hold the ikan bilis.

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