Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Secret of Nasi Goreng: a science of rice and spices

A lot of people knows what is Nasi Goreng or fried rice, and world vote it as the second most delicious food according to CNN after Rendang, which comes from Indonesia. And that is one of Indonesian pride on culinary. But when the first time I came to Japan on 2011, I was so surprised, JAPAN HAS IT'S OWN NASI GORENG!!! Then, when I came to Chinese restaurants, I saw nasi goreng everywhere!! And, there are lots of Malays who claimed that Nasi Goreng is also originally from Malaysia. So, here, I am trying to tell you anything about the secret of Nasi Goreng.

The Secret of 

Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice)

1. The Origin of Nasi Goreng

According to Wikipedia, the origin of Nasi Goreng came from Indonesia. It was spread out around the world by Indonesian immigrant into Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Suriname, and Netherlands.

However, Nasi Goreng was apparently not 100% original from Indonesia. Hold on, I have my theory to talk about that. So, it had been modified from chaofan, a Chinese style fried rice. Chaofan itself begun from Southern China, where in history, people from Southern China traveled to Indonesia back then approximately on 10th century. I believe that chaofan was introduced to Indonesian indigenous, since our staple food is rice as well. Since then, perhaps, Nasi Goreng begins with Indonesian original taste.

Chaofan aka Chinese Nasi Goreng

Wait a sec, apparently, it's not only chaofan which influenced Nasi Goreng. Since Indonesia at that time was gaining influences not only from China, but also from Middle Eastern. So that the cuisine. Pilaf is one of rice dish which was allegedly giving influence in Nasi Goreng as well.

Pilaf aka Middle Eastern style Nasi Goreng

2. The Difference between Nasi Goreng, Chaofan, Pilaf and other Fried Rice Variants

Since Nasi Goreng is a kind of mix between chaofan and pilaf, and of course a taste of Indonesian, it has a unique flavor and can be distinguished from other fried rice variants. Here, let's talk about the difference between Nasi Goreng, Chaofan and Pilaf.

a. Rice

Despite rice as the main ingredient for fried rice, however, there is a big difference between the actual rice they use from each area. As I learned from my past studies that there are many different kinds of rice, or what we call as paddy or Oryza sativa variance in agriculture. It has to be distinguished between common rice (Oryza sativa) with African rice (Oryza glaberrima), which is a different species. And most of fried rice use Oryza sativa varieties.

Japanese Rice, Oryza sativa subsp. japonica

China and East Asia (Japan and Korea) where japonica rice variety grows largely, known scientifically as Oryza sativa subsp. japonica (subsp. refers to sub species). Japonica rice characteristics are round and thick, and also sticky when it gets cooked. Middle Eastern uses the other variance, which is aromatica rice, the longer grains, thinner and less sticky compare to Japonica ones. One of the varieties is Basmati Rice. That would make pilaf has different texture than chaofan.

Basmati Rice, Oryza sativa subsp. aromatica

On the other hand, since Indonesia is located between japonica and aromatica, there is another variety which is largely grown, Oryza sativa subsp. indica.  The texture is somewhere in the middle of japonica and aromatica rice. It makes Nasi Goreng is just fine and perfect texture among the other. Rice character is apparently became a distinguish factor to differentiate between fried rice around the world.

Indica Rice, Oryza sativa subsp. indica

b. Spices / Ingredients

Chaofan uses soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil as a basic ingredients. Some styles may add scallion, ginger, chili pepper, vegetables and meat in. The characteristic of chaofan is the garlic taste on it. While pilaf uses cooked onion, garlic, cumin, cardamon, and some featured spices. Beside that, the rice had been cooked with broth, previously. Pilaf is more spicy (stronger taste) compare to both Nasi Goreng and chaofan.

Horwever, Nasi Goreng uses sweet soy sauce (kecap), mixture of shallot, garlic, salt, pepper, tomato, chilli pepper, and some styles may add shrimp paste. Completely a different ingredients which make an authentic taste of Indonesia.


The combination between rice and spices makes a big different between each country style. It is not only about food, but also about culture, and agriculture.  It is a basic instinct that people on an area knows better what suitable for what they have. Japonica rice would not work perfectly with pilaf style, as well as Basmati rice with chaofan. It could be works, but is it as authentic as the original recipe? It's a human judgement 😄

The conclusion is Nasi Goreng is delicious, as well as other fried rice styles. Rather than debating where fried rice dishes came from, I believe where there is rice, there is fried rice, whatever in chaofan style, pilaf style, or just Nasi Goreng.