It goes without saying that if you’re in Malaysia’s east coast state of Kelantan, you just have to try its food & delicacies. While Kelantan might not have the variety in terms of ethnic food offering like Penang does, it still has plenty of choices to suit every bud’s tastes, even when it comes to rice dishes. You might not even have the time to try them all if you’re just in town for a few days, but try them you must. And that’s what my friends and I did during our recent trip to Kota Bharu, the state capital of Kelantan. We not only explored the heritage and culture of Kelantan through Perdana Trail walking tour, we also ate like there’s no tomorrow.
When it comes to food, Kelantanese seem to love rice a lot, and they appear to have no problem having it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every single day. Us outsiders might ask, don’t they ever get bored with rice? Probably not. Not especially when they have many delicious options to choose from, like what you can see from the following list:
1. Nasi Dagang
[ Photo above ]
Nasi Dagang, literally “Trader’s Rice”, is one of the more popular breakfast meals in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, particularly in Kelantan and Terengganu. The dish consists of part normal white rice and part glutinous rice (both steamed and cooked together in coconut milk), fish curry (usually tuna) and other ingredients such as fried shaved coconut, sliced hard boiled eggs and acar (vegetable pickles, Malaysian style).
Although the rice is cooked and steamed in coconut milk like nasi lemak, the more popular rice dish that some call Malaysia's national dish, it is important to note that the flavour and texture of nasi dagang is totally different from nasi lemak. Hailing from Terengganu, I also noted there’s a slight difference between Terengganu’s nasi dagang and Kelantan’s nasi dagang, with the former being less glutinous and the curry slightly spicier. Both variants however are delicious. And the nasi dagang served in Hotel Perdana in Kota Bharu? It’s probably the best Kelantan’s nasi dagang, something that not only I feel but it was also attested by the hard core foodies and food bloggers in the group.
While nasi dagang might be a popular breakfast meal, it can also be eaten for lunch and dinner.
2. Nasi Kerabu
This is another popular rice dish in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, although it has come to be more synonymous with Kelantan. Kerabu is a Malay-style salad, a mixture of vegetables, fruit cuts and herbs. Served together with blue-(naturally) coloured rice, kerisik sambal ikan (fish floss mixed with grated & sautéed coconut), boiled salted egg, budu (fermented fish sauce/condiment, a Kelantan specialty on its own) and a choice of either fried and lightly battered fish or grilled beef along with some fish crackers and sometimes a stuffed chili, you might just be surprised at how all these ingredients, when they are all mixed together, can serve a beautiful taste and flavour. Indeed some of foreign visitors who have tried nasi kerabu would say that this is the best rice dish they have had in Malaysia, even better than nasi lemak.
3. Nasi Tumpang
Unlike the earlier two rice dishes, nasi tumpang is exclusively a Kelantan rice dish. Traditionally packed in a cone-shaped banana leaf for family members who’re either travelling or going to work, nasi tumpang literally has different layers to it, usually consisting of shrimp or fish curry, some sambal gravy, beef or fish floss and sometimes an omelette.
4. Nasi Minyak
Elsewhere in Malaysia, nasi minyak (literally oil rice :)) is synonymous with special occasions, especially Malay weddings, so much so people usually ask, “Bila lagi nak makan nasi minyak?” (“So when are we having nasi minyak?”) to indirectly ask how long more one has to wait before one gets married. Well, luckily in Kelantan you don’t have to wait until there is a Malay wedding reception to try it out. Why? Because nasi minyak is one of their breakfast meals.
Served with either spicy chicken curry or beef curry, you don’t really have to worry about the “oil” part because it comes from ghee. Okay, so maybe it’s not exactly a 110% healthy diet but then again, you only live once, right? ;-)
5. Pulut Nyiur
Pulut nyiur is probably the simplest breakfast meal on this list. It’s simply sticky rice (pulut) served with grated coconut (nyiur - normally slightly salted with some salt and slightly sweetened with a dash of sugar). It can be eaten on its own or with dried and salted fish, depending on one’s preference.
This is one of my favourite breakfast meals even back in my hometown in Terengganu.
Okay, so this is not exactly a rice dish but a variant of laksa. Laksam is made with very thick rolled up flat white rice flour noodles and served in a rich and thick white gravy of boiled fish & coconut milk with some greens and a little bit of red sambal & belacan (shrimp paste) for that extra oomph! It is usually served during breakfast or afternoon tea hours.
7. Nasi Ulam
Nasi ulam is essentially a steamed white rice dish mixed with various herbs, vegetables, spices, and accompanied with various side dishes. Whilst it may be found throughout the country, it is more commonly found in Kelantan. One of the more popular spots in Kota Bharu for nasi ulam is Restoran Cikgu Nasi Ulam, which has a branch at Kota Bharu’s Kampung Kraftangan (map) in the city centre. Not only their nasi ulam is delicious, their set meals provide value for money. For example, the above serving, which is suitable for 5-6 persons, and consist of 2 huge catfish, 2 huge pieces of fried chicken, a bowl of Patin Asam Pedas, grilled fish, sayur lemak, ulam, budu & sambal + unlimited supply of white rice, water and syrup drink, cost just RM56 (~USD15 at time of writing)!
8. Nasi Bungkus
Nasi bungkus literally means packed rice, and that’s what it really is. White rice packed with some dishes like fish or chicken curry for breakfast. So you might ask, “Is that it? What’s so special about nasi bungkus then? Can’t you find the same thing somewhere else in Malaysia?” Considering that some companies in Kelantan have started “exporting” their nasi bungkus to Kuala Lumpur on daily basis via air cargo, you might want to reserve the question and try it out first.
- - - - -
With the exception of nasi tumpang, these are the rice dishes that I had managed to try during my recent short weekend stay in Kota Bharu, Kelantan. There’s also nasi kapit, rice cubes served with kerisik sambal ikan (fish floss mixed with grated & sautéed coconut), of which I forgot to take a photo, heh! Admittedly I was lucky not to have to travel far from Hotel Perdana, the hotel I was staying at for these rice dishes because, apart from nasi ulam (which you can find at the aforementioned restaurant), they serve all these in Cerana Coffee House, one of their popular restaurants. So most of the time, it’s just a short trip downstairs for me. Can you imagine how much weight I gained from the trip? *shudders*
Have you tried any of these rice dishes? Which one(s) do you prefer? And if you have a favourite or two, could you recommend where else we can find the best of these dishes?
My appreciation and thanks go to Hotel Perdana Kota Bharu and Destination Malaysia for sponsoring the trip and stay in Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Opinions stated in the post are of my own.
Are you on Pinterest? Use this photo to bookmark and/or share this blog post ;)
Going to Kota Bharu, Kelantan? Do check out Hotel Perdana Kota Bharu for your accommodation requirements there.
For other www.RambleAndWander.com blog entries on Malaysia, click here.
For other travel blog series on "Top Things to Do and See in...", click here.