In search of spice: nasi goreng (part 1)

One day in early October, while walking around Waterloo, Andrew and I bypassed a couple of appealing-looking lunch trucks (one selling Mexican and the other falafel) in favor of an inexpensive, homey-looking little Thai-ish restaurant, partly because I’m a little arrogant about my ability to suss out a menu and discover a hidden gem. I say “Thai-ish” because there were a number of non-Thai dishes on the menu, but it wasn’t trendy enough to merit a label like “pan-Asian.”  I don’t actually know the nationality of the family who ran the place (but see below).

The restaurant didn’t blow us away – it was awfully basic – but after hoovering a bowl of prawn crackers we were both happy with our mains, Andrew in particular, as he discovered nasi goreng for the first time. (I had a noodle soup with some nice, fresh seafood in it.) He’s since ordered it twice at lovely Mudmee in Spitalfields, and likes to call it Hermann Goreng. OK, now that I think about it, I wonder – is nasi goreng an Indonesian/Malay dish you happen to find at Thai restaurants, or are there Indonesian or Malay folks running Thai restaurants and including a few of their own dishes? Analogously, perhaps, most of the sushi restaurants in Washington, DC are owned by Koreans, and most of the Mexican restaurants there are owned by Salvadoreans, and in the latter case, one does tend to find a few Salvadorean dishes on the menu (pupusas, fried plantains, and the like).

Fast forward to the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and we’re trudging around Cambridge – where we hope to be moving in the next couple of months – looking at neighborhoods and, of course, checking out the foodie amenities. Mill Road has a few Chinese groceries, and the one we went into had Thai, Indian, Malaysian, and Japanese staples (and probably others I’m forgetting). I grabbed some Thai panang curry paste and a jar of sambal oelek (my standby yummy hot sauce), and decided to try a jar of nasi goreng paste.

Now, I have probably broken cardinal rules of countless recipes over the years, and it surely demonstrates my Western imperiousness, but I don’t remember ever making an Asian dish containing a lot of ingredients without improvising some part of it. Likewise, tonight, when I attempt this recipe from the BBC of all places (in fact they have several), there won’t be any prawns, the shallots will instead be regular white onions, the raw chicken breasts will be replaced by leftovers harvested from last night’s roast, and while it occurred to me to grab some cilantro at Tesco the other day, I didn’t. Oh well. It’s cold out and I’m staying in.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “In search of spice: nasi goreng (part 1)

  1. oliver

    I suspect “nasi goreng” is a liberal concept that doesn’t imply much more than that there will be rice and frying, but I don’t really know. As far as having it on the menu, maybe the restaurant is run by southern Thai moslems? Green or crescents among the decor?

    • After last night’s dinner at Kopi Tiam (see upcoming post; turned out half the dishes there were Thai, though we didn’t try any), I’m thinking the first place may have been Malaysian, and non-Muslim. Pretty sure I had seafood curry laksa.

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