Cheap Eats:
Bahmi goreng
 Chicken and Fried Noodles

Ever wonder where we got a weird word like "ketchup/catsup"? The first time I wondered was as a student in England, when I saw "mushroom ketchup," and suddenly realized that there must be something more to it than smashed tomatoes. The word originates in southeast Asia. In Malaysia, kechap is a salty fish sauce. In Indonesia, ketjap manis is a sweet soy sauce, great for marinating or basting, and is an essential ingredient in a large number of Indonesian recipes.

To make ketjap manis, combine 1 cup soy sauce with 1½ cups lightly-packed, dark brown sugar and a clove of garlic that you've put through a garlic press. This is about twice what you'll need for the following recipe, but it will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 years. If you want to make less, the ratios are 2 parts soy sauce to 3 parts brown sugar, and garlic to taste.

China influenced Indonesian cuisine a lot, but so did India and, later, Moslem invaders from farther west. The ancestors of the bird we now know as chicken originated in Asian jungles, so it is no wonder that chicken appears in many of their best recipes, like this one for fried (goreng) noodles (bahmi).

Bahmi goreng
(Chicken and Fried Noodles)

2 whole, raw chicken breasts, skinned, boned, and cut into thin, narrow strips

½ cup ketjap manis (see below)

1 pound Chinese noodles

¾ cup light olive oil

2-3 onions, chopped (should be about 4 or 5 cups)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 inch-long piece fresh ginger, chopped

1 tsp. ground cardamom seeds

½ Chinese cabbage or 3 cups shredded green cabbage

½ lb. fresh or 1 8-oz. can (drained weight) bean sprouts

½ cup bamboo shoots

3 scallions, chopped (both white and green parts)

about ¼ lb. cooked, shelled shrimp (or a little more) cut into chunks

Marinate the chicken strips in the ketjap manis for at least 2 hours, making sure the meat is completely covered with the sauce. If you're going to do egg decorations (see Notes below), prepare now. Put water on to boil for the noodles.

Heat about ½ of the oil in a really large pan, or a wok, and sauté onions, garlic, ginger, and ground cardamom seeds over low heat till onions are tender. (Variation — you can toss in ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper with these spices, too.) Remove from pan with a slotted spoon, and keep warm. Add rest of oil to pan, and turn the heat up to moderate. Stir-fry the chicken strips for about 5 minutes, then remove, with slotted spoon, and keep warm. Stir-fry the shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and chopped scallions for 3 to 4 minutes, then add the shrimp and stir-fry for another 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and return the chicken and the onion and garlic mixture to the pan and cook for another 5 minutes. Finally, add cooked noodles (see Notes below), toss well, and cook over low heat for 5 more minutes.

Turn the bahmi goreng out onto a platter, decorate with eggs, if you wish, and garnish as desired. Possible garnishes: chopped peanuts and sliced scallions, or lemon wedges and crumbled fried onions.

Serves 4‑6.


Have all your stuff cut up and ready before you start to cook.

Your local Asian market will have your noodles. Almost all styles are marked "Oriental Style Noodles," but look for Chinese cellophane noodles, or Thai Banh Pho. Or just experiment. Asia is where pasta originated, and they have a lot of noodles. (Avoid soba for this dish, however — a little too heavy.)

Don't make the mistake I made the first time I tried this — I cooked and drained the noodles early, and they had coagulated into a large lump before I needed them. Boil the noodles while you're cooking the other ingredients. Follow package directions, or, if the package has no English instructions, just boil till tender, anywhere from 6 to 15 minutes, depending on the noodle. You can drop them in boiling water between chicken and cabbage stages, then drain during final simmering.

Peanut or coconut oil would be more authentic, but I feel the additional cost and storage for several types of oil is unnecessary — and olive oil is better for you. As for the shredded cabbage — life is short, I buy pre-shredded cole slaw in a bag. Fresh bean sprouts give the dish a little crunch, but canned are acceptable. But whatever other substitutions you make, use fresh ginger, not dried.

Egg Decoration. Dishes in Indonesia are often decorated with strips of omelette. Just prepare a simple, rather flat omelette — 1 or 2 eggs, a couple of tablespoons water, a pinch of salt — then cut it into long, thin strips and drape them artfully across the heap of noodles.

ketjap manis

1 cup soy sauce

1½ c lightly-packed, dark brown sugar

clove of garlic

Put garlic through a garlic press and combine with soy sauce and brown sugar.

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