Nasi Goreng: Breakfast of Champions

Years ago, whilst en route to Australia, I had one of the most memorable eating experiences of my life aboard the wonderful Malaysia Air. It was around midnight UK time, but the cabin crew had yanked open the window shutters to the rising sun and announced breakfast.

On the menu was Nasi Goreng, an Indonesian and Malay breakfast staple that generally involves fried rice, egg, chili sauce and occasionally seafood, meat or vegetables. This particular version came with a little portion of curried prawns on the side, and sent my dormant, 18 year old taste buds shooting across continents faster than any jumbo jet.

I've carried that experience with me, and was justifiably excited by the prospect of a re-run when we arrived in Malaysia. However, far from recreating that single experience, I've discovered that Nasi Goreng, a lot like multi-cultural Malaysia, exists in several different shades held together by a few common denominators.

One of those is sambal, a pungent chilli paste with variations that include prawn paste, lime juice and sugar. Sambal can be a bit much at first, but as with many acquired tastes, perseverance brings with it rich rewards.

Other common denominators include fried rice and eggs. The egg sometimes comes hard boiled, at other times it is fried whole mixed through until barely cooked. Further variations exist with fried anchovies, prawns, sliced cucumber or what ever comes to hand. This is because Nasi Goreng is essentially an economical meal, composed of leftover rice and other odds and ends.

Even presentation is up for grabs. Sometimes it comes in little pyramid shaped banana leaf packages that open to reveal a boiled egg balanced on top of a dollop of sambal and portion of rice. Other times it comes out with the different components separated on the plate, awaiting the judicious application of fork and spoon.

A true breakfast of champions.