“Nasi goreng? Fried rice? Seriously, c’mon! What a lazy Indonesian culinary cliché!” I hear the imperious Indonesiaphiles bleat with supercilious disdain. Yes, fried rice is popular; stop being so smug. The quality of this ubiquitous dish varies from place to place. It might be delicious at your local warung (food stall), or unappealingly bland at a railway canteen. It typically contains a small handful of diced vegetables and shrimps or bits of chicken or mystery meat. The grandly named
nasi goreng spesial has a fried egg plonked on top. Intrepid eaters might want to opt for the fullon nasi goreng gila (crazy fried rice), which has every ingredient at the caterer’s disposal thrown in, especially chilli peppers. If your plate of nasi goreng isn’t served with at least one prawn cracker, you’ve been ripped off. Send it back. My own introduction to nasi goreng had unpleasant consequences. I had been in Indonesia for just two weeks – my digestive system unaccustomed to the tropics – when I bought some from a passing street cart. I was sick for three days. For months afterwards, the smell of nasi goreng was traumatic. Fortunately, I can eat it again these days. I wouldn’t want to still be turning my nose up at the country’s unofficial national dish.