Only one national dish could make 230 million people of many ethnicities spread across 17,000 islands happy: nasi goreng! Nasi goreng – literally “fried rice” – is Indonesia’s twist on fried rice. Much different than the Chinese-style fried rice found throughout the rest of the world, orange-colored nasi goreng contains a light blend of chili and other spices.
Regardless of upbringing or financial background, people across Indonesia eat nasi goreng regularly. Nasi goreng is ubiquitous; it can be found at the simplest of warung street stalls and on the most expensive menus in fine restaurants. Although cheap and easy to prepare, it was seen fit to serve to President Barack Obama during his 2010 visit to Indonesia.
Although travelers in Indonesia typically end up eating their weight in nasi goreng before branching out to try other dishes, they all inevitably begin to miss the flavor once home.
Why Nasi Goreng?
Pronounced “nahzee go-rang,” nasi goreng had the same beginnings as other versions of fried rice: as a safe, delicious way to avoid wasting rice.
Unknown to many, old rice is far more a threat for food poisoning than spoiled meat. Bacillus cereus – a bacteria once considered for biological weapons – can form on rice kept at room temperatures. A lack of refrigeration in Indonesia means that rice is often prepared in bulk, then kept in large tubs; frying the rice prevents the need to throw out precious food.
Aside from safety, nasi goreng fits well within the typical eating style in Indonesia. Food is often prepared early in the day, then covered and served at room temperature later so that people can eat when their work schedules allow. Nasi goreng left over from dinner is often consumed for breakfast the following day.
Eating Nasi Goreng
Presentations of nasi goreng vary from place to place. Street stalls may serve up only the rice eaten with a plastic spoon, but restaurants add a variety of garnishes around the plate depending on price. Nasi goreng in a restaurant is typically served with slices of cucumber, tomato, and an airy krupuk shrimp cracker.
- Nasi Goreng Special: Typically available as an upgrade even if not on the menu, nasi goreng “special” comes with a fried egg on top.
- Nasi Goreng Ayam: Nasi goreng ayam includes a piece of fried chicken.
- Nasi Goreng Ikan Bilis: Popular in Flores, nasi goreng ikan bilis contains small, dried anchovies.
- Nasi Goreng Udang: Nasi goreng udang is served with prawns.
- Nasi Goreng Cumi-Cumi: Pronounced “choomy-choomy,” this nasi goreng is served with squid.
For the Spicy Food Lovers
Nasi goreng, despite being cooked with chili powder, is typically not spicy. Restaurants offer different types of spicy sambal (chili sauce) upon demand. Sambal comes in many different forms – taste or smell it first! Some sambal variations are based on fermented fish or shrimp paste while others contain lime juice or sugar.
Asking for your nasi goreng to be prepared “pedas” will really increase the heat; diced chili peppers will be added to the wok while cooking!