“When I come to Al Ehsan with my friends, sometimes we have competitions to see who can eat the most Nasi Lemak,” says Afiq Ibrahim, a local lawyer from Kuala Lumpur. “There are times I’ve eaten two or three plates in one sitting!”
Regarded by diners as Malaysia’s crowning food glory, you can’t really go wrong with Nasi Lemak. Coconut rice, hot sambal, peanuts, dried anchovies and a boiled egg, accompanied by a flexible meat side (think fried chicken, rendang or stew), it’s calorific, comforting and oh-so-very delicious.
Restoran Al Ehsan sits on a buzzing street in Petaling Jaya (PJ), lit up along a row of mamaks, motorbikes and plastic chairs. Clued-up locals from KL and its surrounding townships travel here especially for the Nasi Lemak; a tasty number, classic enough to keep loyalists happy but different enough to make it special.
A huge grill and serving station mark the entrance to Al Ehsan, manned by an indefatigable cook who effortlessly plates up rows of food. A long line of steel trays is dotted by a garden of Nasi Lemak. Whites, reds and crispy browns set as offerings to customers.
The interior is plain and simple; the food is anything but. Rich, salty rice cooked in coconut milk is an exciting base, a central taste that sets this Nasi Lemak’s elevated tone. The peanuts provide crunch and the egg brings the soft, marrying together different textures.
What is most unique here is the sambal. Typically salty with anchovies, this sauce is sweet like chili jam. It’s a surprising hit that with chutney-like-effect converts you to the belief a boiled egg goes well with sugar.
While the side of meat is optional, I’m telling you now that Restoran Al Ehsan’s crispy fried chicken is mandatory. Generous chunks of meat with dessicated salty skin will have you licking your fingers, scraping the last of the trimmings with mournful delight.
To drink, one Malaysian classic deserves another. Milo Ice, a powdered chocolate milk drink, rounds of a fantastic, filling, fried feast.
Restoran Al Ehsan’s Nasi Lemak may be a little odd, and definitely more than a little fattening, but in the immortal words of many of their customers: who cares? Order that second, third and fourth plate now.
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