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Surprising History of Nasi Ayam Penyet · Iconic Chicken & Rice from Indonesia

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The Indonesian dish, nasi ayam penyet is found throughout the vast Indonesian archipelago, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, in what is known as Nusantara (an old Javanese term referring to the realm of the Majapahit empire). One might have thought that the ubiquitous dish that conquered Nusantara should be as old as the Majapahit empire (1293 - 1527). Actually, it was created recently, in the 1990s 🤔 

Some think that Indonesia's most famous chicken and rice dish must be a national dish of Indonesia (like chicken rice in Singapore). It is not, whether officially or unofficially 🤔 Indonesia's official national dishes are soto, rendang, nasi goreng, satay and gado-gado.

What is Ayam Penyet? 

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The classic nasi ayam penyet dish is served with boiled rice and "smashed" fried chicken in the centre, ringed by raw cabbage and long bean, fried tempe and tofu, and sambal.

At the heart of the classic ayam penyet dish is the piping hot, deep fried chicken thigh which is given a sharp smack with a mallet, or pestle, or flat of a chopper just before serving. Penyet is the Javanese word for smashed or pressed, hence the name ayam penyet or "smashed chicken". The idea is to break the fibres, separate the meat from bone, to make it easier to eat the chicken with fingers.

If the "smashed" fried chicken is the heart of ayam penyet, its soul is the accompanying sambal. There are many variations of the sambal which is a blend of chilies, onion, garlic, belacan, nuts, lime juice, etc., grounded together to make a thick pulpy spicy paste.

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The third defining ingredient of the ayam penyet dish is deep fried tempe. Tempe is fermented whole soybeans in the form of bars or cakes.

Finally, there is a salad of raw cabbage, long bean, cucumber, tomato, etc., and fried tofu completing the dish. All these are eaten with boiled rice.

It All Started with Sambal Tempe Penyet Surabaya

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It is often assumed that ayam penyet originated in Surabaya. That is true, but only partially. Only part of the dish came from Surabaya. 

Ayam penyet is derived from sambal tempe penyet from the city of Surabaya in east Java, Indonesia. Fried tempe is pressed into a dish of sambal so that it is easy to eat with fingers.

Ayam Penyet was Created in Medan


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In 1992, the Ayam Bakar Wong Solo (grilled and fried chicken) chain of restaurants from Medan added "smashed" fried chicken to the traditional sambal tempe penyet dish. The son of Ayam Bakar Wong Solo founder 
Puspo Wardoyo love sambal tempe penyet from Surabaya, so Pak Wardoyo added it into the menu. Later, Pak Wardoyo hit upon the idea of combining sambal tempe penyet with fried chicken. The new dish he called "ayam penyet". 

Ayam penyet quickly caught on, especially among students (e.g. from high schools and University of North Sumatra) because it is tasty, filling and affordable. It soon became Ayam Bakar Wong Solo's top seller.

In 1997, Pak Wardoyo launched Ayam Penyet Surabaya restaurant chain, spreading the dish across Indonesia. Pak Wardoyo named his chain Ayam Penyet Surabaya acknowledging that his creation is based on the sambal tempe penyet dish of Surabaya (even though his company is headquartered in Medan).

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Today, there are many other restaurant chains emulating Ayam Penyet Surabaya's success, for example, Ayam Penyet President, Ayam Penyet Ria, etc.

There are also countless independent hawker stalls serving nasi ayam penyet. From Medan, Indonesia, nasi ayam penyet is now found throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

Ayam Penyet Recipe


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There are many variations to the ayam penyet dish but the defining elements are sambal, fried chicken, fried tempe and ulam (salad).

The chicken thigh is first marinated in a blend of mashed ginger, galangal, turmeric, and then boiled in stock with ginger, galangal, lemongrass, coriander seed, and bay leafs.

The boiled chicken is allowed to cool and then further marinated with powdered fennel seed, coriander seed, turmeric, white pepper, etc., for 2 -3 hours.

The marinated chicken thigh is battered with rice flour, egg and chicken stock batter. The battered chicken is deep fried till it is golden brown and crisp outside. (Some restaurants / stalls do not batter their chicken.)

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Leftover batter is dribbled into hot oil to make crackly crisps.

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Most ayam penyet stalls serve the dish with plain boiled white rice. Some stalls boil the rice with stalks of pandan leaf and chicken stock leftover from cooking the chicken thigh. This gives the rice a savoury flavour and pandan fragrance.

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The sambal is, of course, a crucial element in the ayam penyet dish. There are many variations, typically it is made with a blend of red chili pepper, chili padi, onion, shallot, garlic, tomatoes, dried anchovies, belacan, etc. Some add grounded cashew nut, peanut or candlenut to give it a nutty taste and more body. The sambal is sometimes splashed with hot oil for more flavour.


The rage in Jakarta now is ayam penyet cabe ijo or smashed chicken with green chili sambal. It is crazy spicy 😱😰
           


Written by Tony Boey on 1 Mar 2022

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Image of sambal tempe penyet courtesy of Wikipedia. Image of Wong Solo restaurant courtesy of Wikipedia.

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