A surprise discovery: Nasi lemuni in KL!

Mari Canai’s Tengku Rozidar likes to introduce new dishes at her eatery every month. — Pictures by Choo Choy May
Mari Canai’s Tengku Rozidar likes to introduce new dishes at her eatery every month. — Pictures by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, July 30 — You don’t have travel north to eat nasi lemuni, a rice dish cooked with lemuni herbs, as it can now be found at Mari Canai, an eatery at Plaza Damas.

The fluffy black flecked rice dish is served just like nasi lemak; accompanied with sambal, fried ikan bilis, toasted peanuts, hard boiled egg and cucumbers.

The nasi lemuni is served like nasi lemak with sambal, toasted peanuts, fried ikan bilis, hard boiled egg and cucumbers.
The nasi lemuni is served like nasi lemak with sambal, toasted peanuts, fried ikan bilis, hard boiled egg and cucumbers.

Here, it is served in packed form every weekday evening from 5pm and every Sunday, as a larger plated version together with a selection of other cooked dishes.

So what’s the big deal about nasi lemuni, you may ask? This rice dish is traditionally eaten as a confinement dish as it is believed that vitex trifolia, the herb, can enhance blood flow, balance hormones and improve one’s digestion.

On Sunday, you can opt to add on sambal kerang (cockles) or even rendang daging with your plate of nasi lemuni.
On Sunday, you can opt to add on sambal kerang (cockles) or even rendang daging with your plate of nasi lemuni.

While it has all these good-for-you benefits, most importantly the rice dish is absolutely delicious.

Mari Canai’s owner Tengku Rozidar tells us that she’s been serving the rice dish for the past six months, at the request of her husband who hails from Penang.

Since the herbs are only grown up north, she sources them from her family connections. The fresh herbs are blended and kept frozen for the eatery’s usage.

Try the nasi lemak Sri Pandan scented with pandan with a piece of fried chicken and a dollop of sambal (left). All the rice cooked at Mari Canai is steamed in small batches (right).
Try the nasi lemak Sri Pandan scented with pandan with a piece of fried chicken and a dollop of sambal (left). All the rice cooked at Mari Canai is steamed in small batches (right).

She adds, “Not many people know of this and they are also not adventurous since the colour is not that nice.” Most of her Chinese customers are game to try out nasi lemuni and once they taste it, she tells us they return for more.

Previously available only on Sundays, she recently introduced the smaller bungkus style on weekdays a few weeks ago. Try to grab the rice dish early as the eatery prefers to steam the rice in small batches since they want to serve a menu with more variety.

Even though the eatery started out with roti canai, there’s a large assortment of dishes for you to relish. Tengku Rozidar explains, “When you go to the mamak, don’t you find Western dishes and tom yam... we are the Malay version of a mamak shop.”

The varied menu takes its lead from Tengku Rozidar who is blessed with the ability to cook anything under the sun after she has tasted it, a skill she inherited from her father.

With a varied menu, Mari Canai at Plaza Damas draws many regulars who live around the area.
With a varied menu, Mari Canai at Plaza Damas draws many regulars who live around the area.

She admits that in her 20s, she couldn’t cook at all and only started in her 40s, when she had to entertain.

Her repertoire also includes Kedah dishes, like the nasi daging utara that is served with air asam and served as a teatime special from 5pm to 9pm on weekdays.

For that special teatime menu, they also serve their own version of the popular Kelantanese nasi Kak Wok dish; rejigged as nasi Cek Mek Molek where steamed chicken rice is used instead of plain rice.

Nowadays, she introduces a new food item at least once a month. In recent times, inspiration comes from her travels, like the roti canai with durian from Vietnam or even nasi Arab since her husband works in Oman.

Drinks include unusual ones with a rose theme, like the Teh Tarik Cinta and Teh Tarik Damas.
Drinks include unusual ones with a rose theme, like the Teh Tarik Cinta and Teh Tarik Damas.

She also serves bubur Arab, her version of the popular Hyderabadi haleem or stew with meat and fresh herbs that is often eaten during Ramadan to break fast.

As her regulars live and work within the vicinity, they also look forward to the variety offered here to perk up their daily meals.

Every day, there’s a special with dishes like nasi tomato, nasi dagang, nasi Arab to nasi hujan emas (essentially nasi minyak with coloured rice grains).

The comforting lontong Jawa is made with cholesterol-free sawit santan.
The comforting lontong Jawa is made with cholesterol-free sawit santan.

On a daily basis, they serve nasi ulam. For the weekends, do try the lontong Jawa, a cholesterol-free and lighter version since it uses santan sawit made from palm oil.

Nana Frits is Mari Canai’s version of pisang goreng cheese; this version has mango sauce and caramel chocolate chips.
Nana Frits is Mari Canai’s version of pisang goreng cheese; this version has mango sauce and caramel chocolate chips.

Tengku Rozidar tells us there are diehard fans for that comforting dish served with a whole hard boiled egg, coconut serunding, tempeh, vegetables and compressed rice cubes (nasi impit).

You also have a pandan scented nasi lemak Sri Pandan and a Johor staple, kacang pool daging, served on weekends.

In line with the craze over pisang goreng cheese or banana fritters served with cheese, Tengku Rozidar has introduced her own version named Nana Frits — bananas with sesame seeds studded golden batter that are served with various toppings like mango, orange and even a savoury version with mushrooms.

Pick up their addictive crunchy pisang goreng which has sesame seeds for a creamier taste.
Pick up their addictive crunchy pisang goreng which has sesame seeds for a creamier taste.

A plain pisang goreng is also offered. For drinks, try their hot and romantic teas, born out of Tengku Rozidar’s personal love for the rose fragrance. The frothy Teh Tarik Cinta is pink and reminiscent of air Bandung while the milder Teh Tarik Damas uses rose tea and fresh mint leaves to impart a more delicate scent. Other unusual choices include Teh Tarik Jagung and Nescafe Asmara.

Mari Canai
F-0-2, Block F
Plaza Damas
No. 60, Jalan Sri Hartamas 1
Sri Hartamas, KL
Open daily: 8am to 10.30pm

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