Friday, August 20, 2010

Nasi Dagang with Tuna Fish Curry

I am always fascinated with the food and culture on the East coast states of Peninsular Malaysia, i.e. Kelantan and Trengganu. They are so different from the West coast which are very much influenced by the Indian, Indonesian , Chinese, Persian and Arab. The food and culture in Kelantan seem to be untouched through the passage of time and seem to have parallels with the Balinese.

My own theory is that they represent the traditional food that was once in this region before the huge influx of spice traders from India and the Middle East to this area. And during that time, there was a big change in the culture from a Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms (remember the enormous Borobudur and Angkor Wat structure) to the Persian influenced Islamic sultanate sometime in the fifteenth century. As Kelantan is quite remote from the influence from the Islamic sultanates, much of their culture remained from that time, similarly the Balinese (former subject of the Hindu kingdom of Majapahit) kept their heritage when they are exiled to the island of Bali. You can see the roots of the culture from the characters from the 'Wayang Kulit', a traditional shadow puppet play which depicts the story from Hindu's Ramayana, which is still perform today in both Bali and Kelantan.

Sorry to be carried away with the history lesson, now this dish - the Nasi Dagang together with the Tuna Fish Curry is a traditional dish from Kelantan. Translated, 'Nasi Dagang' means 'trader's rice'. This dish is probably a street food as a quick meal. This combination of the rice with the curry is one of my favourite.

I have cooked on several occasions referencing on Amy Beh's recipe and have modified it slightly to reflect on the ingredients that we can get in Melbourne.

Nasi Dagang (the fragrant rice)

  • 300g Red Basmati Rice (or substitute with 200g good grade Long Grain rice mixed with 100g glutinous rice)
  • 165 ml Coconut Milk (Small Can of Coconut Milk to make 3/4 cup thick coconut milk and 3/4 cup thin coconut milk)
  • 1/4 tsp Fenugreek seeds
  • 2 cloves Garlic, sliced finely
  • 3 Shallots, sliced finely ( or sustitue with 1 red onion )
  • 2 cm young Ginger, sliced finely
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Wash the rice and soak for five hours. Drain and steam the rice for 20 to 25 minutes or until half-cooked.
  2. Stir in the thin coconut milk and continue steaming for 15 minutes until the rice is nearly cooked.
  3. Combine the thick coconut milk, shallots, garlic, ginger, fenugreek and salt. Stir into the cooked rice and continue steaming for another 10 to 15 minutes or until rice is fully cooked.
Serve rice with Tuna Fish Curry

Tuna Fish Curry (the curry)

  • 400g Smaller species of Tuna or Mackerel, e.g. Bonito, Spanish Mackerel
  • 2 eggplants, quartered
  • 2 pieces dried tamarind skin
  • 200 ml Coconut Milk (Half a Tin of Coconut Milk to make 1/4 cup thick coconut milk and 1 cup thin coconut milk)
Ground the spices below in a food processor to make the curry paste:
  • 6 shallots
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cm piece galangal
  • 1 stalk lemon grass
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chili paste
  • 1 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • Sugar or Palm Sugar to taste (about 1 tsp)


Seal the fish
  1. Cut fish into 2 cm thick round slices.
  2. Season fish with salt and leave aside.
  3. Heat oil in a pan until hot, coat the fish with the flour and fry fish for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.
  4. Dish out and set aside.
Cook the curry
  1. Heat pan with 3 tbsp oil and saute combined ground spice ingredients until fragrant.
  2. Pour in thin coconut milk and add dried tamarind skin pieces and egg plants.
  3. Bring to a boil.
  4. Add in fish slices and thick coconut milk.
  5. Add in seasoning and boil for 3 to 4 minutes.
Serve with nasi dagang.