We tell you all about nasi ulam, it's other local names, why it's popular and where the best places to buy the dish can be found.
You don’t know what Nasi Ulam is? Seriously? Well, you’re missing out, but you must know that since you’re here, reading this article—so good job.
Nasi Ulam is definitely a dish you should know about because of its surprisingly versatile nature and many different variations. Plus, no one can agree on who made it first, which means it’s a dish worth fighting over.
This article will tell you where it came from and how to make it. So keep reading if you want to stop missing out.
As with any noteworthy dish, few agree on the exact origin of it. However, we do know there are two main variants with many subvariants. One of these variants belongs to Indonesia; the other belongs to Malaysia.
If you are one for food travel (and you should be), we recommend trying both variants in these countries. Plus, food is always a great excuse to travel.
History of Nasi Ulam
Nasi Ulam, also known as Kampong Salad or Rice Ulam, is one of those dishes that has been around for as long as anyone can remember. With so many variations from so many different Southeast Asian countries, it’s hard to know where this herby dish started and how it evolved.
Regardless of the specific history, you’ll be thankful for the constant and varied evolution of the dish. We’ve never had a bad one!
Nasi Ulam in Indonesia
Indonesia has two versions of this dish stemming from Betawi culture. The first dish is from Jakarta’s northern and central parts and is more of a wet, soupy dish. The second dish is more common in southern Jakarta and is a dry dish.
Both versions consist of the expected rice and herbs. However, it’s more common in Indonesia to add an extra zing to it by adding chili, lemon basil, sliced cucumber, and grated coconut, among other ingredients. Other dishes such as beef jerky or omelets are served on top.
Nasi Ulam in Malaysia
You can find the other tasty version of Rice Ulam in Malaysia. The Nasi Ulam recipe gets a distinct and wonderful Malaysian kick with wild pepper leaf and cashew leaf shoots.
While typically a dish of its own, you may find fried fish mixed in for extra texture and flavor. If the recipe includes the butterfly pea flower, the rice will be blue.
We would be lying if we said we had a favorite version. You’ll need to try all varieties to make an informed decision. Maybe try them twice…you know…for research.
Nasi Ulam Recipe
If you’ve been told that Nasi Ulam is a rice salad, you’ve been lied to. It’s an herb salad, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Herbs and spices are the stars of the show and make this dish the culinary treasure that it is.
As you’ve likely gathered by now, there are countless varieties of Nasi Ulam. Pretty much everyone in Southeast Asia knows this dish is the sh….well, it’s great.
The fact that there are so many ways to make it means that there is a version even the pickiest of eaters can enjoy. We’ll keep it simple for our recipe, but feel free to find your inner Michelin chef and spice it however you like.
- 2 cups rice, rinsed (basmati or jasmine recommended)
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 cup water
- 1/3 cup protein of choice (chicken, shrimp, or fish recommended)
- 1/2 cup kerisik, ground into fine powder
- 1/4 cup mint
- 5-6 wild betel leaves
- 3 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 lemongrass
- 1/4 cup Thai basil
- 1/4 cup Vietnamese mint
- 5 shallots, finely sliced
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- salt to taste
- Add rice, coconut milk, water, and salt to pan over high heat and bring to a boil
- Cook on high heat until all liquid evaporates (but obviously don’t burn it)
- Turn heat to low, stir, and cover for 15 minutes
- Meanwhile, take the many lovely herbs (mint, wild betel, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass (white part only), Thai basil, and Vietnamese mint) and slice thinly
- Remove rice from heat, stir, and let sit for 5-10 minutes if you can wait that long
- Mix everything else with the rice
- Serve immediately to yourself (or other people if you decide to share)
Where to Try Nasi Ulam
There’s only minor shame associated with not wanting to make Nasi Ulam yourself. Whether you don’t have access to the right ingredients, tend to burn things, or are just lazy, you can still enjoy this life-changing dish.
To do this, you have no better choice than to go to Table and Apron. To do this, we have good news and better news (if you enjoy food travel). The good news is you need to travel to Malaysia. The better news is you can get the best Nasi Ulam here.
While the food is top-notch, they have a cafe-meets-restaurant vibe that any millennial or Gen-Z-er would love. So book that trip and get going!
Change Your Life with Nasi Ulam
We hope that by now, all you can think about is Nasi Ulam. If not, feel free to read this article over and over again until that’s true.
Whether you want to break out your inner culinary king or queen or want an excuse for international travel, you need to try this dish. Remember, you can customize it however you want. Pretty much any herb belongs in this dish.
For more life-changing, earth-shattering recipes, head to our food and beverage blog!