In the time BMG (before mi goreng), my culinary repertoire consisted of microwaved party pies, reconstituted soup with instant noodles for bulk, and the (not so) classic salt and vinegar chip sandwich.
Making mi goreng taught me about mise en place – a term more common in a professional kitchen than in a small, mustard-yellow, laminate-covered kitchen in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. The procession starts with the click of the handheld lighter searching for the hiss of gas; the whoosh of the flame on the stovetop. Mum fills a saucepan with water and places it over the heat, an invisible cue for me to take out the red and white packets of Indomie mi goreng instant noodles from the cupboard. Two packets for each person: today we’re cooking for four – my parents, my brother and I.
I tear open each packet and pry out the flavour sachets. Indomie, the original Indonesian brand, contains five crucial flavours cleverly divided across two sachets. In the plastic sachet is sweet soy sauce (kecap manis), chilli sauce and seasoning oil. The accompanying foil sachet holds seasoning powder and fried shallots. I pop the plastic sachets into the saucepan, the rolling boil helping to loosen the sauce, making it easier to squeeze from the packet, when the time comes.
Mum is rinsing tomatoes and cucumber. I take a lemon from the fruit bowl and place it next to the chopping board. Together, mum and I set about slicing each fruit: the tomatoes into segments, the cucumbers at an angle stacked in groups of four to five, as many as I can manage. The lemon is topped and tailed, then sliced into wedges. We rummage in the crisper searching for any wilting Asian greens (bok choy, choy sum, gai lan, chrysanthemum leaves), or a head of iceberg lettuce.
The found greens are subjected to a quick rinse, chopped and placed into a plastic pastel colander – the ones you find in the furthest aisle at Asian grocers, stacked in piles as tall as a small child. The water begins to bubble. Chả lụa, a Vietnamese pork sausage, is relieved of its banana leaf wrap, sliced into discs and again, into strips. If we’re lucky, thinly sliced lap cheong (Chinese sausage) is added to the mix.
As soon as the water starts to roll, I plunge a pair of chopsticks into the water to fish out the plastic sachets and replace them with cakes of dried noodles. The chopsticks are used to submerge them in the water for a moment before cycling through each block, bringing the noodles at the bottom to the surface. I roll through the stack of cakes before each of them start to uncoil from their tightly wound state, transforming into a sea of yellow curls.
I know better than to leave them any longer, and bring the saucepan over to the sink where the colander sits, holding the prepared tomatoes, cucumber and bottom-of-the-crisper greens, the chả lụa – they’re blanched and continue to cook under the heat of the noodles.
The saucepan is returned to the stove, the flame has been lowered. I empty the seasoning powder and fried shallots into the pan, followed by the kecap manis and the chilli sauce. Mum never adds the seasoning oil, my tastebuds adapting to her inclination for acid, I forgo the oil too. Somehow it intensifies the heat of the chilli.
The flavours are mixed (again, using chopsticks), with a squeeze of lemon to loosen the sauce. The ingredients from the colander are tipped in, the heat adjusted. We work quickly to coat everything with flavour, working against the flame. The noodles crisp in the frypan – as do the lap cheong slices, and maybe an additional egg.
Bowls are arranged in order. Larger servings for dad and my brother, the rest split between mum and me. Each topped with the saucy remnants from the bottom of the pan, and the goodies in the frypan.
This is the dance that is repeated throughout my childhood: standing atop the dishwasher lid to reach the stove, preparing 20 packets of noodles for a hungry horde of dirt-covered cousins busy running amok on the family farm, while our parents toil in the greenhouses. They’ve left snacks and instructions. We leave the dishes piled high in the sink before racing across to the neighbour’s paddock fence to stare at the horses.
This is the dance that is repeated throughout my childhood: standing atop the dishwasher lid to reach the stove, preparing 20 packets of noodles for a hungry horde.
In adulthood, I keep a stash (the five-pack, to be precise) at the ready for long days, long weeks, and lockdown lunches. I never stray too far from the base flavours: the addition of sriracha somehow throws everything off–balance, it languishes in the fridge alongside a full bottle of kecap manis I bought in case I included too many fridge ingredients. The flame on the gas stove doesn’t come to life unless a lemon is present – the hit of acidity instantly causing my mouth to salivate.
My culinary repertoire has grown since our life in the old mustard kitchen, but mi goreng is still the perfect antidote for a fridge that needs to be cleansed of wilting greens and too–soft tomatoes. Long live Indomie.
Make this Indonesian street food favourite without a single instant noodle in sight.
Mee goreng are the fried yellow noodles eaten commonly in Malaysia; in this popular version, found in mamaks (open-air eateries), the noodles are tossed through a rich sauce of kecap manis and tomato ketchup, as well as potato, fried tofu, calamari and egg.
Mie goreng translates as ‘fried noodles’ and there are as many variations as there are islands in Indonesia. Common to each version are the chewy egg noodles that form the base of the dish, coated in a delicious sweet and salty sauce, stirred together with vegetables, meat, tofu or seafood.