Nasi Kukus Ilham,
7 Jalan PJU 7/16,
Tel: 019-337 7551
Open Daily 11.30am-10.00pm
This simple Malay eatery will satisfy your rice cravings.
MALAY food still holds much mystery for me. Maybe it is because I didn’t grow up eating it all my life.
Nevertheless, I am having a delicious journey in sampling the fare in all its glory, like at this nasi kukus (steamed rice) place.
I would not have discovered Nasi Kukus Ilham if a friend, Amran, had not chanced upon it one Friday when he dropped by the surau across the road.
This corner shop has a makeshift feel since it does not sport a permanent signboard. Instead, banners proclaiming its name hang in the middle and the side of the place.
Head towards the side and place your order. A bevy of women – all speaking Malay with Indonesian accents – will quickly tend to your needs. You will notice a tall steamer at the back where each level holds individual tins of steamed rice. A large wok with hot oil is used to deep-fry chicken (ayam goreng berempah) as and when required.
Once the deep-fried chicken is ready to go, the rice is plonked on a banana leaf and partially wrapped up in brown paper. Like a flash of lightning, one of the women will scoop a ladle each of the thick gulai.
First, a ladleful of kuah kerutup daging rich with beef and kerisik (toasted grated coconut). Next, a scoop of the gulai darat, a typical Kelantanese curry cooked in a large wok known as kawah with coconut milk, lemongrass, galangal, chillies, turmeric and galangal. This version uses chicken neck and feet, which you can add to your meal. The third scoop is the gulai ikan. All these curries mingle with my rice and remind me a little of nasi kandar.
Next comes a dollop of sambal belacan, a scoop of the pineapple acar, a sprinkle of the ikan bilis. Then you choose your preferred ayam goreng berempah.
The whole place is set up like a self-service canteen, where you pick up your food and drinks and pay for them at the counter. It costs RM5.50 for one packet of rice and a piece of ayam goreng berempah. Additional pieces of chicken are priced at RM4 per piece.
I slowly open my brown paper parcel. My squarish-looking mound of rice is coated with the gulai and topped with the pineapple and ikan bilis. It looks rather simple but I notice each element plays an important part.
Steamed for 45 minutes, the virgin white grains are puffed up to a light fluffy texture. The rice has an airy feel that allows the abundant gulai to seep into each grain so you don’t get it pooling around the bottom.
The three types of gulai when mingled together is rather mild-tasting but mix in the sambal belacan, and you get a fiery tingle to the tongue. The pineapple adds a crunchy refreshing taste to the fluffy rice.
Best you follow the other patrons and enjoy it with your fingers. Pinch a bit of the crispy skinned chicken that is marinated with a spice mix. The meat is slightly dry but well infused with flavours. Add an additional crunch with the keropok ikan you can pick up from the counter for RM3.
It is a simple but appetising meal. Wash it all down with the refreshing limau ais, tangy with the juice from two to three calamansi limes.
As I sit and observe the place, I realise that packing the food in a brown paper parcel means minimal washing up. Even cutlery is done without since most patrons eat with their fingers.
The owner Mohd Khairul Abd Amin explains that the dish originates from the East Coast. His mother, Rohana Salleh, passed this recipe down to him after trading for seven years in Kelantan.
In Kelantan, visitors will remember Zakini Nasi Kukus which is famous for their steamed rice and array of meat and vegetable dishes.
This steamed rice dish can now be found in many corners of the Klang Valley. The spread of this East Coast dish to the city has led to many different variations using various curries and toppings.
As people trickle in slowly during lunchtime, I notice it is a mixed crowd not limited to just Malays. Even the policemen from the nearby station drop in for their afternoon sustenance and ask for a plate of deep-fried chicken liver.
Children enjoy the rice simply mixed with a dash of kicap manis (sweet soy sauce) and deep-fried chicken as they munch on the crunchy keropok.
Even local stars have unearthed this place. We spot a familiar face – an ex-national badminton star eating quietly with his family.
I anticipate I will be on a quest to hunt down similar stalls. When I mention to another friend about this find, he points me to his regular stall at the Damansara Heights mosque grounds that is a skip away from Plaza Damansara. This lunchtime stall serves their steamed rice with free-range chicken (ayam kampung) and a mix of gulai with daging masak kicap.
Move over nasi lemak. I think I may have found myself a new rice hero to satisfy my carbo cravings.
Boo_licious blogs at masak-masak.blogspot.com and tweets under boo_licious.