The One Dish in Indonesia You Have to Eat Before You Leave

Indonesian nasi goreng
Indonesian nasi goreng | © Vee Satayamas / Flickr
Photo of Edira Putri
22 November 2017

An appetizing aroma rises as a plate of freshly-cooked rice is served. The rice looks golden brown with generous side dishes of egg, beef, or seafood. And when you put a spoonful into your mouth, it tastes a little sweet yet savory, and the rice feels soft but a bit greasy with a slight crust in every bite. Drooling yet? This is the one dish in Indonesia you have to eat: nasi goreng.

Nasi goreng literally means ‘fried rice’, and it’s the unofficial national dish of Indonesia due to its popularity. An online poll by CNN in 2011 crowned Indonesian nasi goreng as the world’s number two most delicious food (and guess what, the number one dish also comes from Indonesia). However, the Indonesians actually owe it to the Chinese for this amazingly tasty and versatile meal.

The Origin of Nasi Goreng

The earliest version of fried rice dates back to at least the 40th century BC in China. Frying cooked rice was first devised as a way to avoid throwing out leftover rice. Wasting rice will not only cost families, it was also a taboo in Chinese culture.

Nasi goreng with seafood | © stu_spivack/Flickr

So the Chinese store their leftover rice from the previous night, fry it in the morning to keep it from being stale and cold, and eat it for breakfast. They also put in whatever scraps from last night’s menu—chicken, beef, vegetables, anything.

Indonesia’s Fried Rice

During the 10th century, Chinese immigrants began to enter Indonesia and other Asian countries, bringing with them the practical habit that had turned into a much-loved recipe. When the Chinese reach new lands, they had to adjust the ingredients to local commodities, resulting in countless variations of nasi goreng. Originally, people who live in mountains usually complete their recipe with vegetables while people who live in coastal areas will add seafood to their nasi goreng.

The variations to nasi goreng are innumerable, but the basic ingredients remain the same: rice, a little frying oil, and soy sauce. The abundance of spices and herbs in the archipelago contributed in making the dish more spicy and savory as adding more garlic, shallots, chili and pepper became very common in cooking the Indonesian nasi goreng.

Nasi goreng with satay | © LWYang/Flickr

Another distinction comes from the invention of the sweet soy sauce in Indonesia. Unlike the common soy sauce which also originated from China, the Indonesian soy sauce is caramelized with a generous addition of local palm sugar. Before long, this type of soy sauce substituted the use of common soy sauce, which changed the taste of nasi goreng as well.

How to Enjoy Nasi Goreng

As everyone’s favorite dish, nasi goreng can be found anywhere, from street food vendors to fancy restaurants. A plate of nasi goreng from a street food vendor typically costs less than $2, and it comes with scrambled egg, some pickles, and kerupuk (deep-fried crackers). Just approach the seller’s cart and order, and he or she will cook it for you on-the-spot. Street nasi goreng is usually spicy, so if you can’t take your chili, you’d have to tell the vendor to go easy on the spices.

Fancy nasi goreng | © Hyun Joon Kim/Flickr

Also, when trying out nasi goreng, keep in mind that the variations are endless. Be sure to scour the menu to decide what you want, be it mutton fried rice, seafood fried rice, Javanese fried rice, or others. Other localities in eastern Indonesia even opted to replace the sweet soy sauce with tomato and chili sauce, making the rice look more reddish.

Whichever you choose, this is certainly a dish for everyone and a must-try delicacy. Trust us, you’ll keep wanting for more.

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