Anyone who’s ever been to Bali is more than familiar with this dish. They probably had it almost every single day they were there since it’s so easy to find and absolutely delicious to try. But even if you’ve never traveled to one of Indonesia’s paradisiac islands, chances are you’ve already seen this spicy dish. Fried rice is an essential part of Indonesian culinary habits and culture, but what makes this dish so uniquely different from Chinese fried rice?
Nasi goreng, literally translated into “fried rice,” consists quite simply of rice with a dash of green onions and meat, topped with a fried egg. It’s a very simple recipe that can be served as a main course or a side dish and can be adapted according to the vegetables you have at home. The abundance of spices and herbs you can find in Indonesia contributed greatly to making this dish spicy but savory. Ingredients such as chili, pepper, shallots, and garlic are the most commonly used in cooking nasi goreng.
The thing that distinguishes it from other fried rice dishes is the sauce. A mix of kecap manis—a sweet soy sauce that stains and caramelizes the rice to a dark brown color—and terasi, an Indonesian shrimp paste. Unlike the common soy sauce you can usually find in your regular supermarket or Asian market, the Indonesian soy sauce is caramelized with an addition of local palm sugar, adding a sweet kick to the dish.
The story behind nasi goreng
Dating back to the 40th century BC in China, the earliest version of fried rice began to be a part of Chinese culinary habits. In order to avoid throwing out leftover rice from the previous night, the population began frying it the next morning to keep it from becoming cold and stale. Any leftover protein or vegetables from the night before would also be added to the rice, giving it more sustenance. Wasting rice by throwing the leftovers away was considered a taboo in Chinese culture and was a financial burden on the families.
With the movement of Chinese immigrants to Indonesia and other Asian countries in the 10th century, there was also a shift in the original fried rice recipe. Adapting to the new lands was crucial so there was a need to adjust the ingredients to the available local goods which resulted in the many variations of nasi goreng you can find today. Back then it was more common to find fried rice with vegetables in the mountain region, while people who lived in the coastal area would opt for seafood in their dish.
Tropical paradise and rice fields in Ubud, Bali
Indonesian fried rice recipe
For the spice paste:
- 2 small shallots, roughly chopped
- 3 medium cloves of garlic
- 1 large fresh green chili, stemmed and seeded
- 1/2 teaspoon terasi (Indonesian shrimp paste), optional
For the rice:
- 4 cups cold cooked jasmine rice or another medium- to long-grain rice
- 2 tablespoons oil, such as canola or sunflower oil
- 2 tablespoons kecap manis, plus more for drizzling
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- Kosher salt to taste
- Ground white pepper to taste
Garnishes/side servings (optional):
- 1 to 2 eggs, cooked sunny-side up
- 1 green onion, thinly sliced
- Tomatoes and cucumbers, cut into wedges
- Fried shallots
Start by preparing your spicy paste by adding half of the shallots to a mortar and grinding it until you get a coarse purée. Add the remaining shallots followed by the garlic and chilli, grinding until each ingredient is mostly incorporated before adding the terasi to the mix. The final paste should resemble thick oatmeal in texture.
If you’re using day-old rice, now it’s the time you transfer it to a bowl and break it up with your hands into individual grains. Make sure there are no clumps of rice in your bowl.
Heat your oil in a large skillet (or wok) over high heat until shimmering. Add the spice paste and let it cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly and making sure you scrape the bottom of the skillet to prevent the paste from sticking and burning. When the paste has reached a darker color, reduce the heat to medium.
Add the rice and stir it until every grain of rice is coated with the spice paste. Then, add the kecap manis and soy sauce, stirring and cooking until the rice is evenly colored and hot throughout. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
Divide into two portions and top each one with a fried egg. Garnish to taste with cucumber and tomato slices, fried shallots, and serve immediately with kecap manis alongside for drizzling.
Tried making your own version of nasi goreng at home? Then make sure to share your creation on social media and tag us at @skyhour for a chance to be featured on this article.