Putting your own take on a recipe is absolutely fine, says Gemma Simmonite, of Bury St Edmunds' restaurant Gastrono-me. . . as long as it’s done with respect and offers her version of Nasi Goreng
My food ‘geekdom’ if you want to call it that, lies in finding out the details of how and where a certain dish came to be. I’m fascinated as to where it originated from, and how it got changed over the process of time. Why is that spice used? How did it travel there? It predictably always comes down to who invaded, or colonised, who at some point.
Food is essentially power, changing the way that a nation will eat and cook forever. Food origins are a simple equation of geography and history, an edible love child if you will. Geography, simply because of what it owes to its terrain and climate, and what naturally grows in abundance there. History, because of who wanted a piece of that land, either through invasion, imperialism or immigration. But it’s always so surprising that something so momentous in history, so devastating to a country, results in an enduring cuisine that subsequently becomes part of a nation’s identity and pride.
This came to the fore of my thoughts after a suggestion from my business partner about one of the new dishes on the menu we’re launching next week. He wondered why hadn’t I called the fried rice dish Nasi Goreng? I had entitled the dish ‘Very Special Fried Rice’. My business partner is Dutch, and Nasi Goreng is commonly eaten in the Netherlands, along with many other Indonesian foods. This is because of the Dutch rule until 1945. . . Ah there’s that colonisation again!
His argument was that people would think it was merely a side dish because in this country that’s essentially how it’s eaten, either in Chinese restaurants or with a takeaway. My argument was ‘Well I’m not making it in the authentic way, and I’m filling it with all sorts of gorgeousness so they won’t think that’.
You see, to me a huge bowl of leftover rice with anything I find in the fridge is, quite frankly, my idea of heaven. But still we tussled back and forth on this. “Well I’m not using shrimp paste as I want it to be a vegetarian option, so it simply can’t be called Nasi Goreng.”
He countered with,: “But you are using Keycap Manis, so is it really that far away from the original?” I then considered that the words Nasi Goreng just translate to ‘fried rice’ in Malay and Indonesian, so would it really do any harm? So we agreed that it would be titled the Malaysian and Indonesian way. Yes, it’s completely inauthentic, but it is completely delicious. So we’re both happy.
But I think that’s what it comes down to isn’t it? That word ‘authentic’. The phrase ‘food appropriation’ has been a hot topic of late. Is it right that a white British couple run a Thai restaurant? Is it appropriate that a celebrity chef suggests ways to ‘improve’ a national dish or swap out ingredients? I guess the answer can only be, ‘if it’s done with respect’. Don’t try to ‘improve’ upon a national dish and at the same time call it authentic.
A couple of years ago we used to serve shakshuka skillets by the dozen for breakfast. I included crumbled feta as a topping, because that fabulous saltiness blended with the toastiness of the cumin and made utter sense to me. But heaven forbid I would cook that and claim it was THE way to cook it, and suggest that’s how it’s made in every café in Morocco.
So I see both sides of the argument. Surely we should all be able to cook and play with any cuisine, as much as a musician derives inspiration from all music styles. We are richer for the melting pot of cuisines.
So, I hope you enjoy making this dish. It really shouldn’t be over thought the way that we did. It’s simply a perfect, easy night supper. Even more perfect when you have leftover rice. Throw in anything that you fancy and – as with all my dishes -– leave out anything that you don’t.
250g cooked leftover cold rice (if none leftover, cook ahead and allow to cool)
2 cloves of minced garlic
½ teaspoon of minced ginger
50g frozen peas
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoon of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
2 medium free-range eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons of keycap manis (if you can’t find this, blend ¼ teaspoon with the soy sauce)
Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan, add the garlic and the ginger, and fry for around a minute.
Pour the eggs into the pan, and lightly scramble, when starting to solidify push to one side.
Now add your rice, soy sauce and keycap manis if using. Make sure there are no lumps or clumps, add your peas, no need to cook them as the residual heat will cook them through. Then incorporate your egg mix and your spring onions, whilst leaving a few for the topping.
Make sure that the rice is piping hot. Sprinkle with the leftover onions. A squiggle of sriracha is delicious on top.
At the restaurant we will be offering different add ons, these are perfect at home for switching it up too.
Try some of these for when the mood takes you:
Shredded cooked chicken
Diced carrots or broccoli, super for
colour and bite – so only steam lightly
True Malaysian/Indonesian style – top with a fried egg
Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
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