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What is Nasi lemak and why is it today’s Google Doodle?


Oh, the Google Doodle. Traditionally reserved for the celebration of historical icons or seasonal events, Google’s been getting pretty creative in recent years. And today, Google users are greeted with something quite unusual: a vibrant floral design, with a banana leaf on a plate. Click the plate, and you get an animated video titled ‘Celebrating Nasi Lemak.’ So, what is Nasi Lemak, and why have Google chosen to add it to its iconic annuals of foodie doodles?

Nasi Lemak is Malaysia’s national dish. Its historical origins are humble—a cheap and easy meal for farmers to fill up on for a long day on the soil. It involves rice cooked in coconut milk (santan), served on a banana leaf and flavoured with local galangal roots and pandan leaves.

What’s made it such an iconic and popular dish today, however, is its sheer diversity. Nasi Lemak can be typically served with boiled eggs, cucumber, onions and anchovies, but also with an array of delicious side-dishes to bring it to life.

I recently roamed the streets of Georgetown, Penang, on the hunt for this iconic dish, and was pointed towards Ali Nasi Lemak, a tiny stall nestled within the financial district. The basic combo of coconut rice, anchovies and egg cost around £0.50(!), but I had it served with tender Beef Rendang, a common accompaniment. Fragrant, spicy and bafflingly cheap, as I sat on my tiny plastic stool, I decided that this was a national dish earns its iconic status and is definitely something worth celebrating.

So why is a humble Malaysian meal a Google Doodle today? Google explains the origins of the Nasi Lemak, telling the story of a woman who accidentally spilt coconut milk into a rice pot. Her mother asked her daughter what strange dish she was cooking, to which she responded ‘Nasi le Mak!” (“Rice, Mother).

It’s clear from this attention to cultural legend, the gorgeous animation and authentic Malaysian music playing in the background that Google isn’t so much celebrating a single dish as celebrating Malaysian culture in general. It’s yet another reminder of how much food, history and heritage are intimately intertwined. And because it will no doubt encourage wandering tourists – passing the fragrant smells bellowing from the stalls of Penang – to try this invigorating dish for themselves, it’s probably one of my favourite doodles ever.

Stop dreaming and make sh*t happen!