Indonesian cuisine is a treasure trove of unique ingredients combining to make incredible dishes. Despite its rich history, and fair share of famous meals, many of this cuisines most essential ingredients are not widely known. In this part of my blog, I hope to give you useful information regarding the best ingredients that Indonesian has to offer.
Kecap manis, quite possibly one of Indonesia’s best kept culinary secrets, is an essential sauce in any Indonesia’s home. Kecap, generally refers to soy based sauces (kecap asin or kecap manis), and manis means sweet. It is essentially a sweet soy sauce.
The flavour this sauce brings is deep, and complex, and it’s always best to add it in smaller amounts, until you’re used to its properties. Like all soy sauces it brings a real depth of unami to your dish, as well as a mild sweetness, with a slight hint of aniseed. It is used both within the actual cooking of a meal, and as a condiment on the side for personal tweaking.
This versatile sauce is used across a myriad of different Indonesian foods, and in many different ways too. It is essential to any mie goreng or nasi goreng (that’s fried noodles and rice to the English speakers out there), here it is added as the final ingredient, and then cooked out to reduce the moisture and intensify the flavour. It is often used in combination with peanuts, where it perfectly balances the nuts saltiness to make sauces for things such as ketoprak, gado-gado, and sate sauce. Finally, it is a prominent ingredient for meat marinades, and is used in all forms of grilled meat meals, such as dates, and the delicious ayam bakar (translated as burnt chicken).
Sweet soy sauce is really an ingredient unique to Indonesia, in fact over 90% of its consumption happens here alone. That being said, it does, in my belief, have the potential to be the next sriracha in terms of Asian sauces becoming popular. It makes amazing sauces for a quick, and simple stir fry, and has incredible potential in meat marinades. Both regular soy sauce, and honey are common in marinades, and this one ingredient can take the place of both. It has the opportunity for some incredible creativity.
In terms of locating this sauce outside of Indonesia, it is difficult, but not impossible. Within Europe, the Netherlands has strong ties to Indonesia, so frequently stocks the sauce. Though not everyone has the good luck to be Dutch. There are many Asian supermarkets which do sell the sauce in England, so try your luck with that or a nearby Chinatown.
In terms of brands to buy, there are 3 or 4, but there are only 2 which are worthwhile to me. Bango, and ABC, see the photos for a clearer view. Like all good sauces, the taste varies slightly between the two. ABC is saltier, and Bango sweeter, though either will do perfectly if you can only find one. My personal preference is always Bango, however, for me this sauce’s main objective is sweetness, so Bango just works better.
I hope that was informative for you, keep an eye out for my next recipe blog this weekend. I’ll be using this incredible ingredient to change your perspective of salads forever.