Nasi goreng is Indonesian fried rice. It actually literally means “fried rice”. The first time I tasted it was in Indonesia, at one of the food stalls along the road. The idea of eating it alone from a street vendor was somehow a unique experience as many of the reviews that you would come across online discourage eating street food in Indonesia. I remember before visiting the Jakarta International School, I received an e-mail from them with a friendly reminder of what not to do in Jakarta — one of them was eating street food. That was a stark contrast to Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong were street foods are a local fare.
What I remember of nasi goreng is it’s slightly salty taste. Unlike the Filipino version of fried rice, Indonesians (at least the one managing the stall where I ate at) use soy sauce or probably fish sauce. It can be eaten as is, or, as I had it, with some some seafood, spring onions and bell pepper mixed with it and topped with shreds of scrambled egg.
So this was what I had in mind when a friend ordered nasi goreng when we had lunch today at one of my favorite restaurants in Dumaguete, Le Chalet. I imagined it to be that same dish that I still remember Jakarta for. The picture I had of it was a plateful of rice made to appear brownish by condiments and spices. But when the dish arrived, it was the complete opposite.
The nasi goreng at Le Chalet appeared more pale than the Filipino version of “sinangag” (Taglaog term) or “kalo-kalo” (Visayan term). It looked like it was cooked with a bit of (coconut) milk. The generous slices of squid were scattered around it, and so were raisins and slices of mangoes and bananas. There was no egg, no tinge of Asian spice.
By mere sight, it appeared something that would ruin my appetite. My entire digestive system seemed to be in a debate with my mental appreciation of what nase goreng should be. But since it was the only rice dish that we ordered, I had a dig.
My first spoonful was a revelation. Indeed, you really can’t judge the book by its cover — although fact is, it appeared quite visually appealing; it’s just that it did not look close to the nase goreng I had in mind. The sweetness from the mangoes and the bananas complemented quite well the slight saltiness of the rice. The subtle (coconut) milk or cream (or whatever it was that tasted like one) pulled all the flavors together and provided a whole new perspective to the dish. In short, it did not taste ordinary at all. It had a special flavor to it that was neither too overpowering nor too alien to the palate.
A serve of Le Chalet’s nasi goreng costs P245. The waitress would usually say it’s good for one. In our case, four shared one order.
Advice: Make sure a spoonful has at least a piece each of squid, banana and mango to experience the fusion of flavors.
Gastronomic Richter Scale Rating: 7 of 10 (It may not be one that you can pair with a curry dish.)