Nasi goreng is the Indonesian version of fried rice that has a wonderful mix of flavors from the chili-shallot base and sweet soy mixed through. It's quick to make and easy to adapt by adding in different vegetables and protein. Delicious every which way.
This post may contain affiliate links, where we earn from qualifying purchases. See more details in the policy page.
It might just be me, but I kind of feel fried rice is often under-valued. It's one of those dishes that is often either seen as a late night, greasy indulgence from the local take out, relegated as a side, or just a way to use up leftovers. But it really can be much more interesting than all of those, as this dish highlights.
This Indonesian fried rice uses a set of seasonings to make it unique from the better-known Chinese or Thai versions (my vegetable egg fried rice is more in the Chinese style) as well as Japanese fried rice. All have things that make them tasty, but I am a big fan of this version for being packed with flavor, and I love all the sides.
Origins of nasi goreng
Nasi goreng literally translates as "fried rice" in both Indonesian and Malay. "Nasi" means rice and "goreng" is fried. At it's base, it's a way to use up leftover rice and, often, meat. It is often considered the national dish of Indonesia, or at least one of them along with other favorites like beef rendang.
The dish is often believed to have been brought by Chinese immigrants and adapted over the years to incorporate ingredients found locally. And indeed, the seasonings in this dish, as I mentioned above, are what make it unique.
The dish is also popular in neighboring Malaysia and Singapore, which is not too surprising as people have migrated between the countries at various points. You will naturally see some variations, as with many long-standing dishes.
While this is a type of fried rice, a few ingredients make it distinct from other versions:
- Kecap manis - this is an Indonesian sweet soy sauce that you will find in many Indonesian dishes. It's both that bit sweeter and thicker than 'regular' soy sauce. It adds much of the brown color to the rice here. You may think it is hard to find, but it's actually available in most Asian supermarkets, and some larger general grocery stores.
- Chili-shallot base - this dish uses a mix of shallots and chili, and often garlic, as the flavor base. You can either use fresh chili or chili paste for this. Sambal olek is the classic Indonesian chili paste that is best if you go for paste, as I did, and it's pretty widely available. This combination gives a wonderfully aromatic base, with a bit of a spice kick.
- Shrimp paste - if you can, you also want to add some shrimp paste in that chili-shallot base. It gives a kind of umami, savory depth of flavor. You don't need a lot, as it can be pretty strong. You want the Indonesian/Malay terasi or belacan which is shrimp mixed with salt and fermented, rather than the more garlicy Thai version. This can be harder to find, so if you can't find it, or just don't like it, you can skip.
- Fried egg - although it's not an absolute must, adding a fried egg on top of your rice is a pretty common way to serve this dish. And it's a wonderful addition, too. You want to fry the egg(s) first before the rice, so they are ready to add after the quick cook. If you prefer, you can also scramble the egg and mix it into the rice, but personally I really like the yolk running into the rice and the crisp edge.
I've shown the packets in the ingredient photo above for the less common items to help with what you may be most likely to find, in the US at least.
Other optional additions
Along with the seasonings and the rice, you can then adapt to taste in terms of other additions. Some keep it simple, and certainly that's more typical when it's a breakfast dish.
As a main meal, you might add some meat or seafood, with it being a great way to use leftovers. Chicken is pretty common, but you could also add shrimp, squid or other meats or seafood.
If you don't have leftover meat, you can cook the meat/seafood from scratch before you cook the rice. Just remove from the pan and add back before serving. You can also make it vegetarian with simply vegetable additions, like shredded cabbage, carrot, beans or peas.
Some recipes include some other seasonings in there, like galangal or turmeric. This is a dish you'll find enjoyed at home, at street stalls and in restaurants so it has many variations, some regional and others depending on the cook.
In fact some regional versions don't even include the 'core' ingredients mentioned above. So feel free to experiment, though the below gives a great core base to start from.
A wok is more traditional for cooking this, but a wide skillet/frying pan also works, or just a pot that's big enough to have some space as you cook. Make sure you have everything ready to go before you start cooking, as this dish is all about quick, relatively high-heat cooking. And when cooking, as with most stir-fried dishes, you want to keep everything moving fairly often so it doesn't burn.
Top tip: prepare the rice
While you don't have to have day-old rice for this fried rice, you do want to make sure you cook and cool it before you make this. The cooling helps the rice to become a little firmer and for individual grains to separate rather than clump and mush together.
If you don't have previously leftover rice, just cook some and spread it out on a plate to help it cool down more quickly. Wait until it's cool before cooking, but you can prepare other ingredients.
It's worth mentioning that if you are cooking for those that can't eat spicy food, then you can skip the chili in the base. Instead, just serve some chili paste alongside for those who want to add it. However, it will mix in better and give more flavor if you add at the start. So, if you can, this is the best option.
What to serve with nasi goreng
While this is already packed with lots of yummy goodness, a few sides and toppings are common. First, many add some slices of cucumber and tomato on the side. These give a nice contrasting freshness and lightness (and cut through the spice).
Another common item on the side is krupuk udang which are shrimp/prawn crackers that are popular alongside a number of Indonesian dishes. You can buy the uncooked crackers online and in some Asian stores, then just fry them briefly to puff up. You can also sometimes buy them ready made. They're really tasty, so worth adding if you have them.
A common topping is crispy fried shallots, bawang goreng, which are another Indonesian favorite. Sliced scallion is another option, too. You might also have some fermented fish or peanuts on the side, though these are maybe a little less common. There are no hard and fast rules to the dish, as I say, so feel free to adapt to suit.
Nasi goreng is a wonderful variation on the fried rice theme, that comes together quickly, with just a few ingredients. It's easy to adapt to what you have, to use up more leftovers, or make a bigger meal. Every way, though, it's a dish packed with flavor you'll want to put on repeat.
Try these other tasty rice dishes:
- Spanakorizo (Greek spinach rice, lovely as a side or main)
- Lebanese chicken and rice (a delicious combination of rice mixed with meat and spices, topped with chicken and fried nuts)
- Persian sweet rice, shirin polow (a delicious rice side, flavored with orange and carrot)
- Kedgeree (an Indo-British favorite combining rice, lentils and smoked fish)
- Plus get more Southeast Asian dishes and main dishes in the archives.
Nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice)
- ⅔ cup jasmine rice (⅔ cup gives approx 2 ⅓ cup cooked, 350g)
- 2 shallots
- 1 clove garlic
- ½ teaspoon belacan also called terasi, shrimp paste (skip if don't have)
- ½ tablespoon sambal olek chili paste, or use 1-2 fresh red chili
- 1 chicken tender approx ½ chicken breast, optional
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil or other neutral oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 ½ tablespoon kecap manis sweet soy sauce
To serve (all approx)
- 6 slices tomato
- 6 slices cucumber
- 2 handfuls shrimp/prawn crackers krupuk udang, fried if not already cooked
Ahead of time
- If you have leftover rice, then skip these steps. Rinse then cook the rice according to packet instructions - typically a little under twice as much water to rice, cover, bring to simmer then simmer covered until water is absorbed.
- One the rice has cooked, spread it out in a layer on a plate or tray and let it cool for around 2 hours. You can place in the fridge to chill further.
When ready to make fried rice
- It's best to get everything prepared before you cook. Peel and finely slice the shallots and mince or finely grate the garlic. Mix together the garlic, shrimp paste and sambal olek so they are well combined. Dice the chicken into small pieces, both if fresh or already cooked, if using. Break the chilled rice up with you hands so the grains are less stuck together.
- Warm the oil in a wok or wide skillet/frying pan over a medium-high heat. If the chicken is uncooked, fry it briefly, turning so that it is cooked through then remove and set aside.
- Fry the eggs in the oil, keeping them separate, ideally so that the bottom becomes gently crisp but the yolk is still runny. Remove the eggs from the pan and set aside.
- Add the garlic-chili paste and cook briefly, stirring constantly, then add the shallots. Cook a couple minutes to soften the shallots then add the rice.
- Cook, stirring regularly, for a couple minutes so that the rice becomes well coated with the garlic and chili. Add in the kecap manis and mix through.
- Add in the cooked chicken, mix through then remove from heat and serve. Divide into two portions and serve each topped with a fried egg, with around 3 slices of tomato and cucumber and a handful of shrimp crackers on the side.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.