This is probably the best known Indonesian dish of all. The main Indonesian daily newspaper, Kompas, nominated it as one of five Indonesian “national dishes”. (The others are soto—a meat and vegetable broth; rendang—rich and spicy stew of meat slow-cooked in coconut milk; sate—basically, a kebab; and gado-gado—vegetable salad with peanut sauce. I’ll feature these when we can all start moving around again.
Just two days before 9/11 international TV news network CNN conducted an infamous survey on Facebook. They received 35,000 votes on the question of what is the world’s most delicious dish. Rendang came first; nasi goreng was second. I’m not sure a psephologist would have been impressed by the methodology!
Nasi goreng, like some of Italy’s tastiest dishes, was originally a way of using up cooked rice. Food is not wasted in Indonesia—particularly semi-sacred rice. Traditionally it would be served for breakfast, using what was left over from the previous day’s dinner. It is a dish that perfectly symbolises these times of scarcity and belt-tightening. If you steam rice for the nasi goreng it is important that you do it the day before and let it get cold—and dry. Don’t be tempted to use hot, moist, freshly cooked rice. (And, by the way, I’m going to show you my tried and tested way of steaming rice in my next post.)
This recipe makes one major concession to the current situation. One of the key ingredients should be Indonesia’s ubiquitous shrimp paste. I am not sure how readily available this is in supermarkets right now. In an article a few years ago I wrote that it was available from Tesco and Sainsbury’s. Currently it is not showing on their websites. So instead I have used a combination of anchovies and fish sauce. The result is not the same—but I think it’s still pretty tasty!
As befits a dish designed to use up leftovers for breakfast, it is dead easy to make. Essentially, fry chopped ingredients in a pan, add the rice, stir, and serve. Ingredient quantities are not critical. As always with my food, don’t skimp on anything that provides flavour to the finished dish: in this case, garlic, shallots, anchovies, and fish sauce.
Go for it!
- Shallots | 4 medium size
- Garlic | 4 or 8 cloves, depending on size
- Chillies | as you’ll see from the picture, I used 3 red finger chillies, plus 5 or 6 smaller, hotter ones, a mixture of red and green; you can use whatever is available, and make it as hot as you’re comfortable with
- Anchovies | small tin
- Cooked white rice | 400g
- Sweet soya sauce (kecap manis) | 3 tbsps
- Fish sauce | 2 tbsps
- Eggs | 4 large
- Rapeseed oil | 3 or 4 tbsps
For optional topping, after cooking
- Tomatoes | 5 or 6
- Pickled vegetables (acar) — I will post a recipe for these very soon
- Prawn crackers | 8
- Shallots, garlic, chillies
Chop roughly then blitz in an electric chopper until the pieces are around 3 or 4 mm thick—they need to blend in the rice without turning into mush
Crack open into a cup or bowl, ready to add to the pan all together
- Prawn crackers
- Add the oil to a large, hot frying pan
- Add the shallot/garlic/chilli mix
- Stir and fry over a medium-high heat for a minute or so
- Sprinkle over a couple of teaspoons of salt and incorporate
- Add the anchovies; mash them into a coarse paste with your stirring spoon
- Continue to fry for about 5 minutes in total—until the shallots just begins to caramelise
- Add the rice and gently mix together
- There may be a few lumps in the rice—break these up with a pestle, if you have one; otherwise use a large stirring spoon or fork
- Add the sweet soya sauce, and the fish sauce and gently stir these in
- Push the mixture in the pan to one side, add a drop more oil to the empty side of the pan, and slide in the eggs
- Scramble the eggs in the corner of the pan, then mix together with everything else
- Spoon into bowls for serving
Given that this was originally a dish of leftovers, it is quite normal to add to the mix a bit of shredded chicken or beef, or prawns—you might want to add some sliced sausage.
I always add fresh, sliced tomatoes or cucumber to the top of the rice before serving. And prawn crackers never go amiss.
What goes particularly well with nasi goreng is a spoonful or two of acar—vegetables pickled in sweet vinegar. Everyone likes this when I serve it at my supper club dinners. It’s so simple to make—I’ll post a little recipe shortly.
Where to find Asian ingredients
Most small towns these days have a shop selling at least some fresh Asian ingredients, and the big supermarket chains stock an ever-growing selection. You can also buy a lot of things on Amazon. Just bear in mind that the supermarkets and Amazon do tend to use ‘Thai’ as the generic description for any ingredients from South-East Asia, including Indonesia. There is also a website called Thai Food Online that sells almost everything.
Until recently I got the majority of my Asian supplies from Sun Hung Chang a great supermarket that has been going for 20 years at the top end of Commercial Road in Portsmouth. But for the last year or so I’ve been able to buy more and more from Ikon Enterprise. This is a wholesaler that has opened a retail outlet in Bordon. They have very good prices, and are very close to Haslemere, Surrey, where I live. Their address is 29 Woolmer Way GU35 9QE