Nasi goreng, literally meaning “fried rice” in Indonesian and Malay, can refer simply to fried pre-cooked rice, a meal including stir fried rice in small amount of cooking oil or margarine, typically spiced with kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), shallot, garlic, tamarind and chilli and accompanied by other ingredients, particularly egg, chicken and prawns. There is also another kind of nasi goreng which is made with ikan asin (salted dried fish) which is also popular across Indonesia. Nasi goreng is sometimes described as Indonesian stir-fried rice, although it is also popular in Malaysia, Singapore and the Netherlands.
Nasi goreng has been called the national dish of Indonesia, though there are many other contenders. It can be enjoyed in simple versions from a tin plate at a roadside food stall, eaten on porcelain in restaurants, or collected from the buffet tables of Jakarta dinner parties.
In 2011 an online poll by 35,000 people held by CNN International chose Indonesian nasi goreng as the number two of their ‘World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods’ list after rendang.
Nasi goreng had the same beginnings as other versions of fried rice; as a way to avoid wasting rice. Frying the rice could prevent the propagation of dangerous microbes, especially in pre-refrigeration technology Indonesia and Malaya, and also avoid the need to throw out precious food. Nasi goreng is traditionally served at home for breakfast and it is traditionally made out of leftover rice from the night before. Besides ingredients like shallot, tomato, pepper and chili, the rice is fried with scraps of chicken or beef; usually leftovers from a chicken or beef dish.
Nasi goreng is often described as Indonesia’s twist on fried rice. And as with other fried rice recipes in Asia, it has been suggested that it can trace its origin from Southern Chinese fried rice. However it is not clear when Indonesians began to adopt the Chinese fried rice and create their own version. The Chinese influences upon Indonesian cuisine can be seen in mie goreng that appeared simultaneously with the introduction of the stir frying technique that required the use of a Chinese wok. The trade between China and the Indonesian archipelago flourished from the era of Srivijaya around the 10th century and intensified in the Majapahit era around the 15th century. By that time Chinese immigrants had begun to settle in the archipelago, bringing along with them their culture and cuisine. Chinese people usually favor freshly cooked hot food, and in their culture it is taboo to throw away uneaten foodstuffs. As a result, the previous day’s leftover rice was often recooked in the morning. Previously, Indonesians probably simply sun-dried the leftover rice to make intip or rengginang (rice cracker), the dried rice also could be ground to make rice flour.
Nasi goreng is ubiquitous in Indonesia, and also popular in neighboring Malaysia and Singapore, as well as the Netherlands through its colonial ties with Indonesia. In Philippines, nasi goreng known as Sinangag or garlic fried rice. Today microwave-heated frozen nasi goreng is available in convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven and Lawson in Indonesia.
The main ingredients of nasi goreng include pre-cooked rice, sweet soy sauce, salt, garlic, shallot, chilli pepper, spring onions, nutmeg, turmeric, vegetable oil, onions, palm sugar, ginger garlic paste, and slices of cucumber and tomato for garnishing. Some recipes may add black pepper, terasi (shrimp paste), fish sauce, or powdered broth as a seasoning and taste enhancer. Eggs might be mixed into fried rice or fried separately, either as telur ceplok/telur mata sapi (sunny side up eggs), or telur dadar (omelette), and also telur rebus (boiled eggs). Originally optional, the addition of fried egg is often named as nasi goreng spesial (pakai telur) or special fried rice topped with fried egg.
Nasi goreng often add condiments as add-on upon the fried rice. Fried shallot and traditional crackers are often sprinkled upon to give crispy texture, pickles are added to give sour freshness in otherwise rather oily dish, while chili paste is to add the zesty spiciness according to one’s preference. Some common condiments are:
• Bawang goreng: fried shallot, spinkled upon nasi goreng
• Kerupuk: various types of crackers, usually emping or prawn crackers
• Acar: pickles made from vinegar preserved cucumber, shallots, carrot, and small chilli pepper
• Sambal: chilli sauce
There is no single recipe of nasi goreng, as every fried rice dish with certain mixtures, additions, ingredients, and toppings could lead to another recipe of nasi goreng. Usually, in Indonesian households, the ingredients of nasi goreng to be prepared for daily breakfast are the leftovers of the previous day’s meals preserved in the refrigerator, with fresh vegetables and eggs added. The basic ingredients of nasi goreng are rice and sliced or ground bumbu (spices) mixture of shallot, garlic, pepper, salt, tomato ketchup, sambal or chili sauce, and usually sweet soy sauce. Some variants may add saus tiram (oyster sauce), ang-ciu (Chinese cooking red wine), kecap ikan (fish sauce), or kecap inggris (like Worcestershire sauce). The texture of leftover cooked rice is considered more suitable for nasi goreng than that of newly cooked rice, as freshly cooked rice is too moist and soft.
Nasi goreng is known as fried rice variants commonly found in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. There are similar fried rice dishes from neighboring countries, such as Philippines style fried rice called sinangag, and Thai fried rice from Thailand.
In most parts of Indonesia, nasi goreng is cooked with ample amounts of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) that created golden brownish color and the flavour is mildly sweet. However, in other places such as Eastern Indonesia (Sulawesi and Maluku), the sweet soy sauce are usually absent and replaced by bottled tomato and chili sauce, creating reddish-colored nasi goreng. This variant is called nasi goreng merah (red fried rice) or nasi goreng Makassar after the South Sulawesi capital. Some variants of nasi goreng, such as salted fish or teri Medan (Medan’s anchovy) nasi goreng, are not using kecap manis at all, creating lighter color similar to Chinese fried rice or Japanese chahan.
The most common nasi goreng usually uses chicken and egg, however, some variants are usually named after its additional ingredients, such as nasi goreng kambing (with goat meat), nasi goreng pete/petai (with green stinky bean), nasi goreng jamur (with mushroom), nasi goreng sapi (with beef), nasi goreng udang (with shrimp), nasi goreng seafood (with seafood, such as squid, fish and shrimp), nasi goreng ikan asin (with salted fish), nasi goreng teri medan (with Medan’s anchovy), etc. Other specific nasi goreng recipes include nasi goreng kampung and nasi goreng Jawa (Javanese fried rice). While nasi goreng amplop is fried rice “enveloped” inside thin omelette skin, almost identical to Malaysian nasi goreng pattaya.
Malaysia and Singapore
Nasi goreng is a commonly popular household dish in Malaysia and Singapore. It is also can be found in restaurants and food courts in the country. In Malaysia and Singapore, variations of nasi goreng include nasi goreng kampung (fried with anchovies/leftover fried fish, kangkong), nasi goreng USA (with fried egg and stirred fried beef in chili sauce), nasi goreng pattaya (fried rice in an omelette envelope), nasi goreng ikan masin (fried with salted fish), nasi goreng seafood (fried with prawn, calamari slices and crab sticks) and nasi goreng belacan (fried with leftover sambal belacan and fish or other meats). However, since Malaysia and Singapore has significant Overseas Chinese community, Chinese fried rice recipes, such as Yeung Chow fried rice are also popular, next to local nasi goreng belacan.
Javanese-Surinamese nasi goreng in The Netherlands.
In the Netherlands, Indonesian cuisine is common due to the historical colonial ties with Indonesia. Indonesian migrants (or their offspring) cater Indonesian food both in restaurants and as take-away. Also, take-away versions of nasi goreng are plentiful in toko Asian grocery shop and supermarkets. Supermarkets also commonly carry several brands of spice mix for nasi goreng, along with krupuk and other Indonesian cooking supplies. Chinese take-aways and restaurants have also adapted nasi goreng, plus a selection of other Indonesian dishes, but spice them Cantonese style. In Flanders, the name nasi goreng is often used for any Asian style of fried rice. Distinctive version of nasi goreng has been developed, such as Javanese-Suriname version of the dish. In the Netherlands, nasi goreng has been developed into snack called nasischijf (Dutch for “rice disk”), it is a Dutch deep-fried fast food, consisting of nasi goreng inside a crust of breadcrumbs.
Nasi goreng can be eaten at any time of day, and many Indonesians, Malaysians and Singaporeans eat nasi goreng for breakfast. In most of households, last night leftovers stored in refrigerator are often used to create nasi goreng for breakfast; such as chunks of chicken, shrimp, vegetables, fish, beef, bakso or sausages. The rice used to make nasi goreng is cooked ahead of time and left to cool down (so it is not soggy), which is one reason to use rice cooked from the day before.
While most Indonesian households serve it for breakfast, nasi goreng is also a popular choice for late night supper served by street vendors, in warungs and also by travelling night hawkers that frequent Indonesian residential neighborhoods with their wheeled carts. The nasi goreng is usually cooked on order for each serving, since the cook usually asks the client their preference on the degree of spiciness: mild, medium, hot or extra hot. The spiciness corresponds to the amount of sambal or chili pepper paste used. The cook might also ask how the client would like their egg done: mixed into nasi goreng or fried separately as telur mata sapi or ceplok (fried whole egg) or as telur dadar (omelette). The term spesial pakai telur means the nasi goreng has two eggs per serving, one mixed into the nasi goreng as scrambled egg, another fried separately. As well as offering nasi goreng, the travelling nasi goreng cart vendors usually also serve mi goreng, mi rebus, and kwetiau goreng.
Nasi goreng is a popular dish in Indonesian restaurants and Asian fusion restaurants. It is often served for breakfast in Indonesian hotels. In restaurants, the dish is often served as a main meal accompanied by additional items such as a fried egg, fried chicken, satay, vegetables, seafoods such as fried shrimp or fish, and kerupuk (meaning crackers, also called “prawn crackers” and many other names). In many warungs (street stalls), when accompanied by a fried egg, it is sometimes called nasi goreng istimewa (special fried rice). Nasi goreng is usually sold together with bakmi goreng (fried noodles) and mie rebus (noodle soup). They sell a simple nasi goreng with small amount of shredded fried chicken, scrambled egg, green vegetables, and served with pickled cucumber.
Microwaved frozen Nasi Goreng sold in 7-Eleven store in Jakarta, Indonesia
Some seasoning brands sold in supermarkets, such as Sajiku-Ajinomoto, Royco and Kokita offering “bumbu nasi goreng”, an instant nasi goreng seasoning paste to be applied upon frying leftover rice. Today the modern convenience stores such as 7-Eleven and Lawson operated in Indonesia also offering prepackage frozen microwave-heated nasi goreng take away.
In popular culture
• Tante Lien’s song “Geef Mij Maar Nasi Goreng” (Just Give Me Nasi Goreng), recorded in 1979, illustrates historical culinary ties between the Netherlands and Indonesia, as well as whimsically describing the craving of people of Indo (Eurasian) descent repatriated in the Netherlands for Indonesian cuisine.
• In the 2013 film “Java Heat”, Indonesian actor Ario Bayu plays Lieutenant Hashim, a police detective of Detachment 88 ate one of the Nasi Goreng, the traditional Indonesian food while questioned by Jake Traver (portrayed by Kellan Lutz) about eating his food before his mobile patrol car was overturned and killing two terrorists and survives Achmed (portrayed by Mike Muliadro) and surviving him after both were trapped in the overturned mobile patrol car.
• During their 2016 concert in Indonesia, the Australian band 5 Seconds of Summer dedicated a song inspired by the dish entitled “Nasi Goreng”.
Nasi goreng variants
Red nasi goreng in Rantepao, South Sulawesi.