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Nasi Ulam is Malay for "rice" (nasi) with a whole variety of local greens. These greens comprise vegetables, herbaceous plants, edible wild plants, shoots, leaves, and stems.
Also known as kampung salad, Nasi Ulam is a signature dish of Peranankans as well as the Malays. Nasi Ulam has been a popular dish with the natives of the Malay Peninsula. But like many dishes in South East Asia, other cultures also have their version of the dish, especially the Peranakans who adapted the dish until it became an integral part of Straits cooking. It is now known as "Queen" of all Peranakan rice.
Unlike the western green salad which is usually accompanied with European style dressings such as vinaigrette, Nasi Ulam is eaten together with sambal (chilli -based paste). Just as there is a large variety of ulam (raw vegetables), so too there is large variety of sambals. The white rice can be enhanced with a variety of combinations of ulam and sambal. The ulam is usually only par cooked in the heat of the freshly cooked white rice, retaining most of the freshness and crispiness of the vegetables in their raw form.
There are about 50 varieties of ulam and numerous varieties of sambal. Nasi Ulam is usually made with the eight most popular variety of raw vegetables. Some of these are ulam raja (king of greens, stem and leaf) with sambal udang (chillipaste and dried prawns) kachang botol (winged bean, young fruit) with sambal belachen (chilli with prawn paste), petai (young beans) with sambal goreng (fried chilli paste) or daun pegaga (leaf and root) with sambal kelapa (chilli paste with coconut), terung pipit (fruit) or pucuk gajus (leaf and shoot) with any other combination of sambal.
In the Malaysian states of Kelantan and Trengganu, Nasi Ulam and Nasi Kerabu are synonymous. There are not only regional but racial variations of this dish . The Chinese are likely to blanch the vegetables to remove the bitterness. The Malays and Indians would eat the ulam raw but the Indians would have the added ingredient of the famous pucuk karupeli (curry leaf).Traditionally, whatever the combination, Nasi Ulam or Nasi Kerabu consists of white rice, green salad, and sambal.
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The information in this article is valid as at 2000 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.