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January 20, 2008

Kecap manis (Recipe: nasi goreng)

Kecapmanis

What does ABC mean to you?

Something fundamental, yes? A starting point. A building block.

In the world of food, ABC reminds me of two things.

First, an ABC I don't keep in the pantry: When Ted and Cousin Martin and I traveled through Malaysia, we tasted a dessert called ABC, air batu campur -- literally, "water stone mix" --  a mound of shave ice topped, improbably, with red beans, sweet corn, grass jelly and a drizzle of evaporated milk. Also called ais kacang, it looked like a kind of psychedelic sno-cone.

Second, an ABC I always have in my pantry: kecap manis, a wonderful, sweet soy sauce sold under the ABC brand and, in our house, known as "that ABC stuff in the cupboard."

Kecap -- also spelled ketjap -- manis (pronounced KEH-chup mah-NEESE), is a thick, syrupy, soy sauce fundamental to the cuisine of Indonesia and, to a lesser extent, Malaysia and Singapore. Made of palm sugar, salt, soy beans, garlic and star anise, kecap manis has the consistency of molasses or honey, and an addictive salty-sweet taste.

Used as a dipping sauce, on its own or mixed with sambal oelek and lime, kecap manis also adds flavoring to stews, soups and marinades. Stored in a dry cupboard or in the refrigerator, it will keep almost indefinitely, though it should be replaced after two years.

In addition to ABC brand, you might find Cap Bango, with an illustration of a pelican on the label. Both brands are imported from Indonesia. Cap Bango has a bit of a smoky-sweet overtone. It's harder to find in my local Asian markets, whereas ABC is almost always available.

If you can't find kecap manis, you can make your own. Simmer soy sauce and palm sugar or brown sugar together until the mixture turns to syrup. Or mix one part molasses with two parts soy sauce. Here's another recipe that adds the flavor of lemongrass, garlic and star anise.

Kecap manis would taste great on cottage cheese, but unlike American tomato ketchup (which shares the same word derivation, from the Cantonese koechiap, meaning "sauce"), it could never pass for a vegetable.

Nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice)

The Dutch East India Company plied the spice trade in Indonesia for 200 years, and traders returning to Holland brought with them a taste for livelier food. Today Indonesian groceries are available in every Dutch market. A mainstay of the Indonesian rijsttafel -- a buffet of many small dishes served with rice -- nasi goreng is also a typical breakfast dish that makes good use of leftover rice and bits of meat, chicken or fish. Serves 4-6.

Ingredients

1-1/2 cups basmati rice (or 3 cups leftover cooked rice)
3 cups water
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp canola oil
1/4 tsp galangal
1-1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
2 bunches scallions, minced
1 large carrot, minced
3 stalks celery, minced
2 cups minced chinese cabbage or bok choy
3/4 lb cooked chicken breast (or other leftover meat), diced
1/2 lb mung bean sprouts
4 Tbsp kecap manis
1 tsp sambal oelek (or other hot sauce, or cayenne pepper), or more to taste

Directions

Cook rice with 3 cups water, and set aside to cool completely (or cook rice ahead and refrigerate for at least 1 hour). Add the oil to a wok or frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, and stir for 30 seconds. Then add galangal, coriander and cumin, and stir to make a paste. Taste, and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Stir in the scallions, and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes. Add carrots, celery and chinese cabbage or bok choy, and continue stir frying for 2-3 minutes more. Add the rice, a bit at a time, and stir to coat the rice with the seasonings. Add chicken and bean sprouts, and continue to stir. Add kecap manis, mix well, and then add the sambal oelek. Taste, and add sea salt to taste. Serve hot.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Pie-ella
Vegetable fried rice
Prawn fried rice

Comments

I will have to be on the look out for this.

I want some kecap manis NOW :D
And that spicy fried rice would totally hit the spot on this bone-chilling day.

Wow, Nasi Goreng sure sounds delicious. It would certainly wake me up with a bang at breakfast time! :-)

This is something I've wanted to try for the longest time! I'm sure I can get it here, just never remembered it at the right time. The best Asian markets in Salt Lake are quite a ways from my house, but I need to make a trip.

Nasi Goreng sounds delicious!

Peabody, this really is delicious stuff. It's a great dipping sauce as well as an ingredient.

Nupur, I love leftover fried rice for breakfast. A guilty pleasure...

TW, when I traveled in Malaysia, I got addicted to fried rice and fried noodles for breakfast. In Vietnam, we ate pho every morning. Then, somehow, when I get back to the US, it's cereal again, or eggs or pancakes. When I eat noodles or rice for breakfast here, it feels wrong -- but it is so good.

Kalyn, if you have trouble finding it, I'm happy to send a bottle to you. It lasts quite a while, as I use just a little bit at a time.

Michelle, it is, it is. Hope you'll try it!

this goes straight into the recipe file. Ever since I bought the rice cooker we have fried rice all the time, it´s so delicious. And I bought a kecap manis bottle last week, because it was so beautiful. Clearly a sign.

Sweet sauce - as simple as ABC but yet can flavor up Nasi Goreng so well. I have not even cook my own Nasi Goreng despite calling Singapore home and being so close to Malaysia. :P

But I can't find such SE Asian ingredients in North Asia. It sucks!

HAPPY "55 & STILL ALIVE" BIRTHDAY, LYDIA! You don't look a day over 50! Hey, have you done the Dr. Oz "real age" questionaire? That will tell you your real age vs. genetic age... go to www.RealAge.com and be honest, you'll be surprised at the info they give you back. I did it and it says 3 years younger than my current age of 53...good information as well for lots of health concerns (and no, I don't work for them, I just happened to come upon the web site).

XO,
Pam

I just bought mine from amazon not too long ago. Bee of RAsa Malaysia said it was important as a dipping sauce for Bah-kut-teh so I went and bought it. Glad to know there's another recipe i could try this in.

I have had no appetite recently...This however, is making me salivate! I love fried rice and this version has so many compelling flavors. I like the other ABC's too!

Lobstersquad, I'm so glad your love affair with the rice cooker lives on! This is a great recipe for some leftover rice.

Tigerfish, I'm so surprised that you can't find kecap manis. I'll be happy to ship some to you if you send me an email.

Pam, thanks for the birthday greetings.

Veron, this is also good in vegetarian potstickers; I'll post the recipe one of these days. And try it in scrambled eggs, too!

Callipygia, fried rice is such a comfort food for me. I like it sweet or spicy, Chinese or Malaysian, or just with whatever is left in the fridge. Hope your appetite returns.

Sounds interesting and really appetizing--I'll have to find an Asian grocery around here and keep my eyes peeled!

I don't think I've ever seen this type of soy sauce before, but will definitely be keeping an eye out for it now.

Mike, when you do find an Asian grocery, you'll find it's so much fun to buy condiments there.

Cate, this is really a cross between soy sauce, dark soy (which is sweetened), ketchup and molasses. Doesn't that sound delicious?

Thanks. I can't get them in Taiwan but I am sure to get it in Singapore. You are so kind and sweet :)

Everyone in the Netherlands always had this condiment and thought I was crazy to never have heard of it! They are big into Indonesian food and it truly is a great addition to the pantry. Thanks for the reminder!

Caroline, my first introduction to kecap manis was in a Dutch woman's kitchen. She was teaching me some of the dishes she grew up with, which of course included Indonesian food. I'd never heard of kecap manis, but when I tasted it, I recognized the taste from restaurant dishes I'd had.

oh i love sweet soy sauce too. so good in fried rice!

Aria, it's great in and on fried rice. I use it just like American ketchup, too -- on scrambled eggs!

I'm Indonesian but living in Ireland. Kecap manis is always in my pantry, it's a necessity. Nasi goreng is best made using left over rice but if you just cook the rice try to put the cooked rice in the fridge for at least 1/2 an hour. The less starch there is on the rice the better it will be. This dish is good for cleaning out the fridge as well. You can throw any vegetables or meat you have left in the fridge (from your sunday roast for example).
My husband love the dish just don't like the spicy one, and unfortunately I still can't convert him to eat rice for breakfast. He is very Irish :-)

Anty, welcome to The Perfect Pantry, and thanks for your advice about nasi goreng. I do hope that some day you can bring your Irish husband around to the joy of having spicy rice or noodles for breakfast! When we were in Singapore and Malaysia, I had mee goreng (noodles) for breakfast every morning, and rice for lunch and dinner. It was wonderful. Then, when we came home to the US, we stopped eating that way. I do miss it.

hi Lydia,the next time you're coming to m'sia do let me know.I really love to meet you.selamat tinggal[bye]

The other place that kecap manis is crucial is the Thai dish "Paad Si Ew" (lots of other spellings. Wide rice noodles (themselves not so easy to find), broccoli, or more properly Chinese broccoli, scrambled egg, some meat (I prefer beef), lots and lots of garlic and kecap manis. I've seen recipes that use fish sauce and oyster sauce, or sugar and soy... but nothing matches the restaurant flavor like kecap manis. It's the one dish that David Thompson gets wrong, IMHO, because he uses oyster sauce.

Joel, I agree completely. Kecap manis is one of those ingredients that lends authentic flavor, and though you can substitute, the dish will never taste the same without it.

I just bought mine from amazon not too long ago. Bee of RAsa Malaysia said it was important as a dipping sauce for Bah-kut-teh so I went and bought it. Glad to know there's another recipe i could try this in.

Not terribly important but the pacakaging for ABC brand kecap manis brand has changed dramatically since your 2008 photo. I almost missed it on the shelf at 99 Ranch Market here in San Diego because the container is now a tall cynlinder (not like a beer bottle) and the logo/label is very small around the top of the container. The words "Sweet Soy Sauce" are very large, and "Kecap Manis" miniscule. It is actually manufactured by Heinz (yes, of Heinz 57 fame) and that appears on the label.

Faw, very important information and I'm so glad you posted this. I've bought kecap manis fairly recently, but still in the same bottle. I always want to know when there's a change, so people going to the store will know what to look for. (Maybe you can post a photo on our Facebook page?)

Since the bottled Kecap Manis is not really available in our local grocery, I have to use the substitute recipe which I found. By then my Balinese Fried Fish recipe is complete with the ingredients. Hope the substitute is the same flavor as the bottled ones.

So interesting! I've never heard of it or seen it and we have a pretty amazing Asian market. Will have to look closer, because the rice recipe sounds wonderful!

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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