By: Adline A. Ghani
I don’t know what it is about nasi ayam or chicken rice, but I’ve always had nothing but fond memories of it. When I try to draw up the memories, however, it’s a total blank, but my psyche tells me that the fond memories are indeed there. I often attribute this phenomenon to my undying love for this popular Malaysian food. Brainwashed by nasi ayam? Trust me, it’s possible.
Nasi ayam, to me, is the perfect food. If there was ever a comfort food that you could serve me, just buy me a packet of nasi ayam, and if I were to be stranded on a deserted island, guess what I’d like to eat until the end of my days? What’s not to love about nasi ayam? There’s the scrumptious rice itself, which is flavoured with chicken stock, garlic and ginger; and the serving of chicken on the side, which is either roasted or steamed.
Then there’s the bowl of hot chicken broth that works to soothe the senses, and that healthy serving of lettuce, tomato and cucumber slices. Last but not least is the sweet chilli dipping sauce accompanied by a dollop of soy sauce. One could say that it all comes together in perfect harmony on the plate and the palate. Sigh.
Although nasi ayam is popular across all Malaysian cultures, its origin is in Hainanese cuisine. Some versions of Malaysian nasi ayam incorporate Cantonese influences as well. Of course, like most Malaysian dishes, no two nasi ayam are alike, because each cook or establishment puts their own twist on it; and it’s not just roadside stalls that serve nasi ayam anymore. This dish is such a popular food in Malaysia that several chain restaurants serving mainly nasi ayam have emerged, like The Chicken Rice Shop and Rasamas. Even Kentucky Fried Chicken has taken to serving their own version of nasi ayam.
Although nasi ayam itself has mild flavours and won’t put your taste buds on overdrive, the most unusual type of nasi ayam has got to be the famous ‘chicken rice ball’ of Melaka and Muar. As the name suggests, instead of the usual bowl of rice, you can expect to be served a golf ball-sized ball of rice, which comes with the usual nasi ayam side dishes and condiments. In Hainanese, this dish is called it "Pui Chin," which means "Rice Pearl," as it was traditionally prepared as an offering for ancestors and deities.
Some friends of mine, who fancy themselves connoisseurs of chicken rice balls told me that the rice was originally shaped that way for ease of storage and transportation. The ball shape also reportedly keeps the rice warmer for longer – go figure! If anything, it sure is a novel idea, and no doubt pretty popular! Last, but not least, in case you recently ate nasi ayam served with boiled bean sprouts, you should know that this tradition apparently originated in Ipoh!