Mary Teo’s Nasi Lemak Nyonya Style: The recipe

Mary Teo’s Nasi Lemak Nyonya Style: The recipe

Forget nasi lemak as trendy burgers and cakes - here's how an 83-year-old Nonya grandma does the classic rice dish her old-fashioned, Peranakan way. Learn it, and it'll never go out of stock. More vanishing home recipes here.

From the kitchen of Madam Mary Teo, 83.

This recipe serves 5-7 people.


10 candlenuts

20 dried chillies, soaked in hot water and deseeded

1 piece of belacan (shrimp paste)

1 stalk of lemongrass, chopped into 1-inch pieces

500g shallots, peeled and washed

1kg kuning fish

4 cups coconut rice

7 cups water

1 pack of coconut cream

1 bundle pandan leaves

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1. Remove the tail, fins, guts and gills of the ikan kuning.

“To tell if your fish is fresh, it has to be shiny and firm and the gills must be red in colour. Fish cannot (be kept) too long; just the next day and (the gills) will be pale.”

2. In a wok, shallow fry the fish in small batches until each side turns golden brown but not too crispy.

3. Remove from wok and set aside

“If it’s too crispy, the zhap (rempah) will not be able to infuse into the fish.”


4. Pound candlenuts and lemongrass until incorporated.

5. Blend shallots, chillies, belacan and pounded candlenut and lemongrass until it forms a fine paste and turns a bright orange colour

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6. In a wok, fry the rempah in the leftover fish oil in medium heat until fragrant and the chilli oil comes out

“Too hot and your rempah will be chaotah (burnt)! Cooking must have patience, must have skill. If you don’t fry properly, your nasi lemak will be koyak (spoil).”


7. Add fried fish to the rempah and fry until each fish is evenly coated.

8. Place fish in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight

‘You taste it now and you taste it tomorrow and you will see the difference.’

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9. Wash rice thoroughly.

10. Mix coconut cream and water and add mixture to rice.

11. Add pandan leaves. Steam rice in cooker until the rice is soft and fragrant.


12. Heat up the marinated fish in the microwave.

13. Pair it with the rice, otah and ccumber slices at the side. 

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Like any olden-day Peranakan matriarch, for Mdm Teo it wasn't about overt expressions of affection. “Mama expresses herself through food, through cooking for people".

Source: CNA/yv