Nasi Lemak-Udek-Campur-Kandar-Tumpang-Tumpeng – Part 1

Remember that time Australian cooking show Good Chef Bad Chef did a segment on how to make Nasi Lemak (steamed coconut rice with condiments, and what some would argue is Malaysia’s national dish), and then proceeded to cook Nasi Goreng (fried rice)?  

Good Chef Bad Chef mercilessly mocked in Malaysian media following the airing (screenshot via

When I shared it on social media, I found out many people didn’t even know what “Nasi” meant, let alone the difference between the two dishes.

So here’s my non-comprehensive rundown on common types of Nasi (not Nazi) dishes to help you along on your food journey. Or, in the case of cooking shows, to bolster your claim to Malaysian culinary expertise beyond the basis that your host “travels frequently to Malaysia”.

First up, here’s a quick Malay/Indonesian lesson – 

Nasi = Rice

Lemak = literally, “fatty”, “rich & creamy” etc. “Nasi Lemak” as a term is almost always used to mean the famous Malaysian dish made up of rice cooked with coconut milk and served with fried anchovies, sambal, cucumber, egg etc. Here’s a shot of my nasi lemak as served in my Concord restaurant back in the day –

Jackie M’s nasi lemak courtesy of Ian Chow

Goreng = Fried

Ayam = Chicken

Kuning = Yellow

Campur = Mix

Therefore – 

Nasi + Goreng = Fried Rice 

Nasi + Ayam = Chicken Rice 

Nasi + Kuning = Yellow Rice (ie. turmeric rice)

Also –

Ayam + Goreng = Fried Chicken

So, that’s the easy part. Next up, the slightly more involved variations.

By way of preamble, I remember learning about the “meat & 3 veg” meal template when I first arrived in Australia. That’s basically, say, a steak or a lamb roast served with 3 types of vegetables, eg. potatoes, coleslaw, salad, etc.

In Malaysia, we sort of have the same thing, but with rice as the centrepiece, plus 3 dishes. In our Chinese-Malaysian household we might have a vegetable, a meat, and a soup to go with our jasmine rice.

So here’s the breakdown of the kinds of “Nasi” you might come across next time you eat out in Malaysia or Indonesia – 

Nasi Campur 

Nasi Campur is the Malay/Indonesian version of the “rice+” meal. Literally, it means “mixed rice”, and the idea is that the rice is served with a mixed assortment of dishes. 

I specify Malay/Indonesian because if you went to a Chinese street buffet (in Malaysia and some neighbouring countries), it’d be called “Economy (or Economic) Rice”. 

BTW both “nasi campur” and “economy rice” are labels used when eating out; we don’t say mom’s cooking economy rice or nasi campur for dinner tonight (well, I don’t anyway) – we’d say mom’s cooking curry or steamed fish for dinner etc. 

More rarely, you might see “Nasi Berlauk” – “lauk” just means “dish” (ergo, rice + dishes) so it’s the same thing as Nasi Campur (mixed rice). 

I don’t know if I’ve ever had “Economy Rice” since they’re Chinese-style dishes and pork seems to feature prominently in the spread (I don’t eat pork).

I came across 2 rice+ buffets operating side by side in the same building in Penang on my last trip there. One was Malay, the other was Chinese.

The Malay place called their food “Nasi Melayu” – lit. Malay rice – but it’s Nasi Campur. I’m guessing they called it Nasi Melayu at least in part to distinguish themselves from their Chinese counterpart.

Some of the offerings at Pak Yusoff’s Nasi Melayu in Penang

Nasi Lemak

As mentioned, Nasi Lemak as a dish refers to rice cooked in coconut milk, and served with sambal, fried anchovies, egg and cucumber. However, it’s also optionally served with other “lauk” like rendang, fried chicken, vegetables and the like, that make the Nasi Lemak at first glance indistinguishable to Nasi Campur once they’re piled onto your plate.

How then, do you tell Nasi Lemak and Nasi Campur apart? Well, Nasi Lemak ALWAYS comes with coconut rice, egg, dried anchovies, sambal, and (usually), peanuts.

Here are some different Nasi Lemaks by yours truly –

And here are more examples from other places –

Nasi Lemak at Papparich


Nasi Lemak by Sydney caterer Rita Enar using blue butterfly flower-infused rice


Buffet dishes (lauk) as optional extras to go with your Nasi Lemak at Nasi Lemak CT in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur

Nasi Goreng 

That’s just literally “fried rice”, albeit cooked Malay/Indonesian-style, which means it’s usually got a bit more oomph to it through the addition of chilli, dark (thick) soya sauce or sweet soya sauce, etc. in comparison to the uber subtle Chinese fried rice you might be more familiar with. 

Nasi Goreng by Jackie M (ahem)

Also, nasi goreng is culturally Malay (and Indonesian), which is synonymous with Muslim. 

When Good Chef/Bad Chef finally corrected their recipe online from “Nasi Lemak” to “Nasi Goreng”, many Malaysians remained irked because nobody in their right mind would use bacon in their nasi goreng without any caveat or clarification about their non-halal iteration.

Nasi Goreng with bling like serunding (meat floss) and keropok (prawn crackers) from Kelantan

Nasi Lemak Goreng

This is a fad that I’ve seen emerge more recently, where the coconut rice and sambal are tossed in a wok and fried up. Hence, “fried nasi lemak”. The novelty factor is the main drawcard and it’s not widely available, though Sydney-Malaysian caterer Rita Enar does a fabulous version. The rice is coconut-y but spicy, and it’s served with more sambal plus the other typical Nasi Lemak accompaniments – 

I’ve rambled enough in this piece so far, so I’m going to continue with the other types of “Nasi” in my next installment. 


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