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Rice dishes of Southeast Asia

March 7, 2018

In light of Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Razak, recently promoting the consumption of quinoa over rice, we thought we would feature a variety of well-loved rice dishes from all over Southeast Asia this week. As everyone prepares for final exams and Spring Break looms steadily overhead, why not take a break and have a rice meal to store up energy for the homestretch?

Brunei: Nasi Katok

Nasi katok literally means “knock rice”, and is a popular street food which consists of plain rice, fried chicken and sambal. It is traditionally served wrapped in brown paper.

Cambodia: Bai Sach Chrouk

Bai sach chrouk simply means pork and rice. It is hearty, simple, and very popular. Thinly sliced grilled pork is served over rice and a side of pickled vegetables. You can find this offered early in the morning on roadside stalls.

Indonesia: Nasi Tumpeng

This is a special dish served in Java, Bali and Madura during special occasions as a sign of gratitude. The tumpeng is a pile of rice colored with turmeric. The rice is shaped into a cone, representing a mountain, and after prayer, the top of the tumpeng is cut and served to the VIP honored guest of the particular ocassion. Surrounding the rice are assorted dishes. Traditionally, there should be a balance between the vegetables, eggs, meat, and seafood.

Laos: Naem Khao Tod

Naem Khao Tod is a kind of salad made with seasoned rice balls that have been deep fried until crispy, then broken down into small pieces, then mixed with herbs and spices, lime juice, fish sauce, and som moo, a kind of fermented meat. Traditionally, it is served with lettuce that you use to wrap the salad in.

Malaysia: Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak is fragrant rice usually cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves and served in a banana leaf with fried chicken, sambal, fried anchovies, fried peanuts, boiled eggs and cucumbers. It is popular throughout Island Southeast Asia and the Malay world (Nasi Katok may be said to be a variation of Nasi Lemak).

Myanmar (Burma): Mohinga

Mohinga is an essential part of Burmese cuisine, and is traditionally served for breakfast by street hawkers and stalls. The meal is basically rice vermicelli served in a rich broth of chickpea flour and/or crushed toasted rice, garlic, onions, lemongrass, banana tree stems, ginger, fish paste, fish sauce, and catfish, and garnished with lime, cilantro, dried chilies, boiled egg, and sometimes fried fritters.

Philippines: Arroz Caldo

Arroz Caldo is a hearty favorite all over the Philippines. Plain rice porridge is called “goto” in Tagalog, but Arroz caldo is extra special. The rice is cooked with the chicken, onions, garlic, and lots of ginger. It is usually served with a boiled egg, chopped spring onions, toasted garlic, and a squeeze of calamansi, a native lime.

Singapore: Economy Rice

Economy rice isn’t one particular meal, but rather is just a name for all the various kinds of rice meals served in hawker stalls all over Singapore. The cup of plain rice, of course, is essential, and from there you get to pick and choose between 10-15 different kinds of cooked viands made with meat, seafood, vegetables, eggs, and tofu.

Thailand: Khao Mun Ghai

If you think it looks like Hainanese Chicken Rice, that’s because it is! Well, the Thai variation, anyway. Like the rest of Southeast Asia, Thailand has a large diasporic Chinese population, which probably accounts for this dish being popular not only in Thailand, but all over Southeast Asia. The Thai variant of this “Chicken-Oil Rice” is sometimes served with congealed chicken blood and winter gourd or  daikon radish in the soup. Oh, and of course, Thai bird’s eye chilies in the sauce.

Timor-Leste: Katupa

On the crocodile island, Katupa reigns supreme. Katupa is simply rice wrapped in little parcels of woven coconut leaves and boiled in coconut milk. It is served with whatever viand is available. Katupa is also popular all over Island Southeast Asia.

Viet Nam: Bún bò Huế

Bún bò Huế is a noodle soup made with rice vermicelli (bún) and beef (bò), and is a specialty of Huế, a city in Central Viet Nam. It is a complex soup incorporating different flavors of spicy, sour, salty and sweet. The broth made with beef bones and shank with lemongrass, fermented shrimp sauce, sugar, and chili oil. It is usually served with marinated beef shank, oxtail, pig’s knuckles, cubes of congealed pig blood, lime wedges, cilantro, diced green onions, thinly sliced banana blossom, mint, basil, and sometimes mung bean sprouts.

This list is in no way representative of the most beloved dishes in each country, and is only really just the tip of the riceberg. The simple fact is that rice is ubiquitous in Southeast Asia, and it comes in all forms and flavors. We love it so much that we even make our Miss Universe contestants wear it!

What’s your favorite rice dish? Let us know by email at!