Traditionally eaten for breakfast, nasi goreng is an Indonesian classic and is amazingly versatile – it’s like pizza to the Italians
When Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, spoke with his US counterpart to congratulate him on his election victory, he proudly announced that Obama had talked about his craving for nasi goreng.
However, I certainly didn’t look very presidential on the many occasions I waddled out of the Indonesian Restaurant, on Leighton Road in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay, having eaten that very dish – and mounds of it, with extra satay sauce. Run by a Javanese husband-and-wife team, the restaurant was a legendary hangout – Obama would’ve love it.
The name says it all: it was the Indonesian Restaurant – no other place came close. For some reason the ‘fried rice’ (as nasi goreng translates in Bahasa) was better here than the countless servings I’d tried in Bali, which is known for its fine cuisine.
The restaurant is still there today. I was sad when the old couple retired to Indonesia; their three young sons tore down the ageing wood-panel decor, raised the prices and never included the chicken satay sticks in the price (these were always grilled fresh on hot coals in long iron troughs out the back).
I used to offer a complimentary “bagus” (good) to the owner on the way out; it normally referred to how creamy the fried egg was as it dripped through the rice or how delicately he’d fried the dish. I also used to revel in his searing hot sambals – a zingy chilli condiment.
Traditionally eaten for breakfast, nasi goreng is an Indonesian classic and is amazingly versatile – it’s like pizza to the Italians. Instead of various toppings, you throw in whatever you have left over in the fridge, from vegetables to bits of fish or chicken.
You can ask for nasi goreng over a vast geographical area – from Jayapura in West Papua and up into neighbouring Malaysia – and people will know exactly what you want. However, the diversity of Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, brings you into contact with a variety of nasi gorengs – versions that are spicy, sweet, hot and sour, with a range of aromatic seasonings including fresh red shallots or rhizomes such as ginger, turmeric and galangal.
The key ingredients of garlic, soy sauce and chillies give the rice its distinctive perfume and flavour. I prefer the full-bodied taste that dried prawns or ikan asin (preserved fish) bring to the dish, as well as dipping prawn crackers into the fried egg that sits on top – sunny side up.
However you make nasi goreng, though, the elements combine to make a dish that is supremely addictive.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 chicken thigh fillets cut into strips
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 piece of ginger root, finely chopped
2 red chillis, finely chopped
4 onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
100g small dried prawns
Pinch of dark brown sugar
Pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
400g cooked long-grain rice left to cool
1. Heat the oil in a wok and stir-fry chicken strips. Transfer to bowl.
2. Stir-fry finely chopped onions, carrot, garlic, ginger and chilli for five or ten minutes.
3. Return cooked chicken to the wok, add soy sauce, dried prawns and rice. Keep stirring; add salt, sugar and pepper to taste.
4. Crush the peanuts in a dry wok and fry up. Transfer to bowl.
5. Fry the eggs separately.
6. Serve rice topped with the eggs; put peanuts on the side. Cover with chopped coriander.
7. Add prawn crackers and chicken satay sticks for an Indonesian banquet.
1. Gado gado steamed vegetables in a peanut sauce
2. Mie goreng fried noodles
3. Beef rendang beef in a thick, spicy, coconut-milk sauce
4. Nasi campur literally meaning ‘mixed rice’, this dish consists of rice topped with various meats, vegetables, tofu and hot sambal
5. Bakso spicy meatball soup