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Nasi Gila Gondrong Obama: The Inventor of Crazy Rice

The celebrity status of Indonesia's hit fried rice has got nothing to do with Obama

Rice to the occasion. The father-son pair of Nasi Gila Gondrong Obama are proud pioneers of Jakarta’s long-selling meat-drenched “crazy” savoury rice. And the celebrity status of their signature dish has got nothing to do the former US President. 

Tossing, stirring, mixing layers of meat, rice, oil and sweet sauce in a giant hot wok

For 12 hours starting 5pm everyday, the small Nasi Goreng food cart tempts passer-bys with smells of hot fried umami-drenched rice. Go closer, and you'll see bursts of sausage, corned beef, offal, meatballs, and chopped chillies – all whipped up in a giant oily wok. 

Kecap manis, the national condiment of dark, sweet, soy sauce balances savoury rice 

Now all that salt is sweetened by kecap manis, a thick dark drippy soy sauce that’s used in perhaps almost every kitchen in the country. Then, the nicely browned rice is lined with a side of plainer rainbow-rimmed keropok, or crackers. 

Freshly fried with crispy crackers on the side 

The sheer amount of ingredients in the mix is really how the dish got the first part of its name. The term “gila” is Indonesian for “crazy”, and here, a whirlwind of meat cuts and spices like chillies and onions is tossed into each other repeatedly to get a triple flavour threat of intensely sweet, salty and smoky fried rice

Acil, the son and current owner of Nasi Gila Gondrong Obama heating up the wok 

The creator and father, Suparudin, began making Nasi Gila some 36 years back in 1984. Then, he pushed a tasty food chart around the central neighbourhood of Menteng. Today, his son makes the same crazy rice at a buzzing sidewalk in the same area, near the elementary school ex-US President Obama attended. And that’s how that last part of the name came to be.  

If you’ve eaten it, you know the simple tangle of rice is really Jakarta on a plate- chaotic, piping hot, and eye-wateringly spicy. And the only way to eat it? As the locals do, finishing off the grease-soaked grub while sitting on plastic stools. 

A full plate of Crazy Rice 

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It’s not the only thing done that way of course. Other variations of Nasi Goreng, Indonesia’s national dish, is countless and complex across Southeast Asia.   

To start, the fried rice dish has a sophisticated spiced flavour created by shallots, garlic, pungent shrimp paste, chillies, and of course, sweet savoury kecap manis. The meat too, could come in chicken, beef, mutton, pork or meatballs.  

Then, the rest of the region embraces it in varying ways.

The most widely ordered one is arguably, Nasi Goreng Ayam, a classic and filling fried rice with chicken. Then, there’s Nasi Goreng Kambing, with thick, tender squares of mutton, originally thought to have been cooked by the Dutch settlers who arrived in Jakarta in the 17th century.

There’s also Nasi Goreng Tom Yum. Ever heard of it? Found in Malaysia with obvious Thai inspiration, the piquant rice is given a blend of spicy-sour Tom Yum flavour, including lemongrass and fish sauce. And still another. The Nasi Goreng Paprik is a highly invigorating mix of stir-fried chilli paste, where paprik is the Thai phrase for pad = stir-fry and prik = chilli.

Nasi Goreng even pulls from as far as Japan. Nasi Goreng Pattaya, which resembles Japanese omurice, or omelette encased over fluffy rice. You’ll find it with a side of chilli sauce, ketchup and cucumber.

And even one that’s inspired by the brilliant blue dish Nasi Kerabu. Nasi Goreng Kerabu is curry-spiced, anchovy-infused, and topped with ginger flower.

The next one, Nasi Goreng USA, takes its inspiration not from the US, but local ingredients. Indeed, its acronym USA refers to U = Udang (Prawn), S = Sotong (Squid) and A = Ayam (Chicken).

In Singapore, you may find Nasi Goreng that’s given a Chinese spin. It’s saltier, typically containing lard. But the distinguishing feature is usually “hei”, or char that’s infused by the wok as one fries rice. Still though, the Nasi Goreng found in Indonesia is typically stronger, and spicier than its neighbours.

As you see, there are endless ways to make Nasi Goreng.

But across all, you’ll find that the unifying style is experimentation. So add anything you desire to a hot oily wok, turn up the heat, and as the inventor of crazy rice would do, have fun, go crazy and share it around. You might just become a national hit. 

  • Watch the full story of Nasi Gila Gondrong Obama here 
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