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What Is Nasi Kerabu?

Autumn St. John
Autumn St. John

Nasi kerabu is a traditional Malaysian dish that is famous for its blue rice. In addition to the rice, this filling dish also contains fish, which is the base of the kerabu, or vegetable mixture. The other elements of typical nasi kerabu are the coconut-based sweet and salty sauce and the garnish, which includes vegetables and a variety of ingredients commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking.

The rice in a nasi kerabu is blue because it has been pre-cooked in the blue extract from the dried flowers of the Clitoria ternatea plant. These flowers, which are a strikingly vivid shade of blue, are also used to dye rice in other Malaysian dishes such as pulut tai tai and nonya chang. In a typical nasi kerabu recipe, a ratio of 1 cup (237 ml) of cooked rice to one medium fish is used.

Thai basil is commonly used as an ingredient in nasi kerabu.
Thai basil is commonly used as an ingredient in nasi kerabu.

Traditionally, the fish used for the kerabu is mackerel. In a typical recipe, the fish is grilled and flaked before being fried together with grated coconut and blended ginger and shallots. The resulting mixture then has sugar and salt added to it. Sometimes dried fish is used in place of fresh produce.

In many nasi kerabu recipes, the base for the sauce is coconut milk. Other ingredients normally include shallots, dried chili and lemongrass. The milk is combined with these flavors and set on a stove to simmer, with salt and sugar being added to the sauce as it does so.

Nasi kerabu is a traditional Malaysian dish.
Nasi kerabu is a traditional Malaysian dish.

The garnish usually consists of a salad vegetable such as cucumber, along with runner beans. Traditional Southeast Asian flavors used include lime, fish sauce and herbs such as Thai basil leaves and Vietnam coriander. Herbs and spices such as cilantro, mint, ginger and turmeric are sometimes used as alternatives, depending on how Westernized the recipe is. As with the sauce, chilies and lemongrass also usually make an appearance in the garnish.

Usually, nasi kerabu is served with the kerabu on top of the rice, along with some torn pieces of Vietnam coriander. It is traditional to serve nasi kerabu as a side dish to a main meal. Many food stalls in Malaysia sell the dish to passers-by.

There are many other Malaysian dishes with nasi as their base. Two of the most well-known examples are nasi goreng and nasi ulam. Nasi ulam is, like nasi kerabu, a herbed rice dish, and nasi goreng typically consists of fried rice, spices and protein such as chicken, prawns and egg.

Discussion Comments


@anamur-- Your post brought back a lot of memories. Yes, nasi kerabu is a very popular food for Ramadan and Eid (the three day holiday when Ramadan ends).

My friends and I used to have nasi kerabu almost daily for iftar dinner during Ramadan when I was in Malaysia. And nasi kerabu is so cheap there. The small restaurants and vendors make the best nasi kerabu and sell it for a really low price.

When someone in our group discovered a new place to have nasi kerabu, we would make arrangements to go there the next day. It was our goal to find the best nasi kerabu in town! This food brings back such fond memories.


I saw this food at a University event that featured international food. I was so shocked when I saw the blue rice! But the ladies who made it were there and they explained to me what it is and convinced me to try it. It was surprisingly very good, I had never tried Malaysian food before and didn't know what to expect. But I'm so happy that I got the chance to.

I've even wanted to try to make it myself but that seems to be impossible considering the ingredients and the time it needs. I have no idea where to get all the ingredients. I also looked at a recipe of it and it looked like it would take four hours to make it!

I think I will have to wait for the next international food event to have nasi kerabu again.


I think nasi kerabu is a really popular dish in Malaysia during the Muslim holiday Ramadan. I was there during Ramadan last year, completely by chance and every food stall and restaurant I went to was serving nasi kerabu. There were also lots of people who broke their fasts with nasi kerabu that they got from food vendors.

I had it twice when I was there, one with fish and another with chicken. I liked the chicken one better. I know it's not the original way to make nasi kerubu but I can't seem to eat rice and fish together for some reason. So I was really happy to find a food stall with chicken nasi kerubu.

It's a really filling meal because there are so many flavors combined in one plate. It's really fun to experience each flavor one by one, first the rice, then the fish or chicken, the veggies and the sauces. I would love to go back to Malaysia again and eat more nasi kerabu.

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    • Thai basil is commonly used as an ingredient in nasi kerabu.
      By: S.White
      Thai basil is commonly used as an ingredient in nasi kerabu.
    • Nasi kerabu is a traditional Malaysian dish.
      By: Iryna Volina
      Nasi kerabu is a traditional Malaysian dish.