Monday, October 8, 2012

The Kampung Fried Rice, Original Kampung Style(?)

Somewhere in the past, somebody, believed to be in China, created fried rice out of necessity. It has been long theorized that fried rice is a food made out of left-overs, as there were no refrigeration back then. It is always what was left from last night or previous day's dinner/meal, always the cold left-over rice, cuts of meat, vegetables and maybe eggs. Nobody knows whether he or she that created the fried rice ever knew that fried rice will be a food that will be enjoyed globally.

Today there are endless versions of fried rice. From Asia all the way to Africa, fried rice is enjoyed in each culture's way. In Malaysia alone, there are countless variations from one house to another and from one eatery to another. The Malays and Chinese have their similar yet different versions, and Indian Muslim restaurants have also included fried rice in their menu today. The influx of Malays from Thailand expanded the variation. Today, dishes like Nasi Goreng Pattaya, Nasi Goreng Cina, Nasi Goreng Padprik seem to dominate Malay stalls and restaurants. The Chinese, while many retain the original version (in essence) of fried rice, some modifications have been made. I understand that many Chinese have included frying pounded chili first when making fried rice as Malaysian Chinese prefer their fried rice hot and spicy. Even those who sticks to their traditional method of cooking serve the dish with an accompaniment of either pickled chili or cabai melaka/cili burung to give the fried rice an extra kick.

For me, fried rice in Malaysia is too commercialized and the Thai influence is too much for me to bear. In Alor Setar, if eating out, I would prefer the Chinese Fried Rice at Kuang Ming as it is hearty and holds no unwanted surprise (i.e. crushed cabai melaka hiding in the rice) for my mouth. But there's a fried rice recipe which is so simple, and yet you will never find it in shops in Alor Setar, that I always crave. I also realized that this fried rice is fast becoming extinct as I found out that younger generations have no idea about it. Also, I am not sure whether this recipe is purely northern or not.

When I was much younger, I used to wake up to the sound and smell of my mother preparing breakfast in the kitchen. The smell is enough to make me run to the kitchen. It usually consist of items from last night's dinner or left-over in the fridge: some sambal belacan, shredded fried fish, always ikan kembung, eggs (optional) and maybe some vegetables. My mother would sometimes slice some garlic and shallots. The shredded fried fish is mixed together with the rice, along with some thick soy-sauce and salt for seasoning.

Rice with shredded fried ikan kembong and sambal belacan
My mother would start by frying the garlic and shallots, and then the sambal belacan. The aroma at this time will be so delightful. Those who do not want it too hot will add some sugar into the sambal. When the mixture is slightly caramelized, the combination of rice, shredded fried fish and soy-sauce will be poured in and fried. After the rice is almost cooked, usually between 3-4 minutes (my mother uses medium fire on her stove), she will some vegetables, such as cabbage or some other greens. One or 2 eggs are added into the fried rice and cooked for a further 1 or 2 minutes before taking the wok away from the stove.

In some versions, like with my parents, we enjoy this dish accompanied by fish curry, also from the night before, buy I enjoy it whther just plain or with curry.

Now that my mother is tired and buys most of the dishes from shops outside, and my wife and I are too busy to cook most of the time, we rarely get the chance to taste this. I still get to eat this dish, although with a slight variation, when I go to my in-laws.

I asked a few friends from KL on this version of fried rice, but none of them has ever heard about it. Does this version of kampung fried rice available outside of the Northern region? I would love to know that, and whatever variations that they offer.

Here's the recipe again:

The Malaysian Malay Nasi Goreng Kampung, or also playfully known as Nasi Goreng Kampung, Kampung Style

A clove of garlic and some shalolts - sliced
1 cup of cold rice - do not use rice that has just been cooked
2 tablespoons of sambal belacan - can add more, depending on preference
2-3 fried ikan kembong or similar - deboned and shredded
1 egg (optional)
Mixed vegetables (optional)
Some oil for frying

1) Combine rice, shredded fish, salt, fish-sauce (optional), thick and light soy-sauce and mix well. In some version, the egg is also added.
2) Heat oil in a pan or wok, throw in the sliced garlic and shallots and fry them for a few seconds
3) Add the sambal belacan into the hot oil. In some versions, the garlic and shallots are mixed with the sambal belacan and poured in together into the hot oil.
4) Depending on preference, either fry until the sambal combination until slightly caramelized or slightly dried and caramelized (garing)
5) Add the rice mixture and keep stirring for the next 2-3 minutes, depending on the flame before adding the egg (if not mixed into the rice yet) and vegetables. Before adding the egg and vegetables, you can add more soy-sauce if needed.
6) Remove from stove, plate and enjoy.

I am lucky as the food stall I frequent near my office was able to cook this fried rice for me, as long as I debone and shred the fish myself, which is not even hard to do. This is indeed a home recipe as you can never find it in stalls and restaurants (so far). Those who has never tried should give it a go. I even made this dish a few times when i was studying in Hawaii...a few times as every time I start frying the sambal belacan, it drove the non-Asian occupants of Essex House crazy.

I really hope that I am wrong about the new generation not knowing this recipe. I also hope that this fried rice recipe is not confined to the northern region only. Please keep me informed on this matter.