I love rice. Steamed, fried, cooked in coconut or even in their glutinous form, these tiny white grains of nourishment are something that I constantly crave. That’s why when someone told me about a ‘nasi kukus’ place located a stone’s throw away from my house, I couldn’t wait to try it.
” Perfect packets of nasi kukus… ”
Nasi Kukus Ilham only sells nasi kukus and I don’t blame them. If their star dish pulls in the crowd, why complicate matters with too many variations? By keeping it simple, they’ve managed to maintain the quality of their winning dish and keep their customers coming for more.
At Ilham, a packet of nasi kukus comprises of steamed white rice, fried chicken, a mixture of gulai, fiery sambal belacan, crispy ikan bilis and a scoop of pineapple. That’s the standard package, you can customise it according to your liking, more gravy, less sambal, extra pineapple etc, just ask the server and she’ll gladly do it for you.
Everything is self-service here so once you’ve queued up for a pack of rice, you go to the drinks station to get your beverage and then pay when you’re done with your meal.
So, what makes the nasi kukus here so popular? Let’s start with the rice. Steamed in individual moulds, the rice is nice and fluffy, perfect for soaking up the mixture of gulai resulting in satisfying mouthfuls of gulai-infused rice.
When asked on why he steams the rice individually, the owner, Khairul pointed out that this is how they did in Kelantan. The reason why they do it this way is because when the moulds are arranged in the steamer, there’s extra space in between the moulds to allow steam to flow through. This not only speeds up the cooking process but also ensures that the rice is evenly cooked.
Each layer of the steamer has 24 moulds making it easier for Khairul to keep track of how many portions he serves in a day. On average, he sells about 600 packets of nasi kukus daily. On their busiest day, which is Friday, it reaches up to 700 packs. Post-Friday prayers is their peak time because the restaurant is packed with people coming from the nearby surau for lunch.
The rice is of course further enhanced with a trio of gulai. The three gulais are fish curry, gulai darat ( a typical kelantanese curry dish ) and kuah kerutup daging. This gulai ménage à trois gives the rice plenty of rich and spicy flavours.
For some kick-ass heat, a generous portion of sambal belacan is added in the mix. Pungent, tasty and with tons of chillies, the fiery sambal is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Unlike other nasi kukus establishments, here, they serve pineapple with your rice instead of cucumber. Khairul said he did this because he wanted to add a sweet and tangy hint to the nasi kukus. It also helps to balance out the richness of the gulai mixture. The pineapple is simply cooked with sugar and turmeric before it goes into your packet. Crispy fried ikan bilis is also served with the rice for textural variation.
And last but not least, the packet of nasi kukus is finished off with a mouth-watering piece of fried chicken. Marinated in a spice blend made up of more than a dozen ingredients, the chicken is succulent and yummy. Pinch a piece of the chicken, mix all the elements together and enjoy the explosion of flavours in your mouth. The chicken is so crispy that you can even chew most of the bones. The chicken here runs out fast so a fresh batch is fished out of the wok regularly, this means that you get a hot piece of chicken with your rice every time.
Most of the recipes used for this simple yet addictive dish come from Khairul’s mum, Puan Rohana. Because the owner originates from Kelantan, the taste of the east-coast is evident in the nasi kukus. You can detect it in the coconut-rich gulai darat, the smoky kerisik-filled kerutup daging and the hot but sweet sambal belacan.
By drawing inspiration from his home state and adding his own twist into the nasi kukus, Khairul has managed to marry his mother’s recipes and his own ideas ( his pineapple idea is super refreshing ) to make perfect packets of rice that are so delicious that customers simply can’t get enough of them. Not convinced? Come here and try it yourself. The first time I tried it, I came again the next day because I was craving for more. Now I have it almost every week. Don’t say we didn’t warn you…
Nasi Kukus Ilham