Chips & Crackers: Not Just Snack Foods
When is a cracker a chip & not a biscuit?
"Sqwaaaark! Polly wanna cracker!" What the Polly the cocky (cockatoo) gets depends on where it lives.
In the United States, "cracker" means a thin, hard savoury biscuit. The English reserve the term mainly for the bland water crackers used for savouries and cheeses. An Indonesian Polly would have myriad krupuk (translated as crackers) to choose from.
These krupuk are more akin to the English potato crisp than biscuits. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "crisp" as "a thin irregular slice of fruit etc, spec . fried pieces of potato , usually oblong in shape". The Americans call these potato chips, while the English identify chips as being what goes with deep-fried battered coated fish.
Varieties & Uses of Crackers in Indonesian Cuisine
Indonesian cuisine has a mind-boggling variety of crisps and crackers, ranging from seafood crackers and tempe (fermented soya bean) crisps to deep-fried puffs of cow skin. They are eaten as snack foods but are also served as side dishes and used as garnishes for various main dishes. All warungs , the small eating houses and stalls found on almost every corner in cities and villages, serve crackers and crisps with their meals. Many of these crackers are available at Asian food stores in Australia.
Not all prawn crackers are equal in Indonesia. Sidoarjo, a town in East java south of Surabaya, has a reputation for producing the best seafood crackers. "Asli Sidoarjo" is the cracker equivalent of appellation contrôlée for wines. Prawn crackers come in many shapes and sizes and are made from different varieties of prawns from king-sized prawns to tiny shrimp. Varietal differences result in visual difference as well as - believe it or not - flavour differences. The fish cracker range includes defined fish species varieties. There are also squid crackers.
Small pink prawn crackers are used for gado-gado , the dish of steamed vegetables with a peanut sauce dressing which is internationally synonymous with Indonesian cuisine, as well as ketoprak a salad of rice vermicelli, bean shoots and bean curd in a garlicky peanut dressing. Large yellow prawn crackers are the appropriate garnish for rawon , an East Javanese beef stew with a black sauce made from kluwek nuts, and nasi tumpeng , a ritual feast comprising a central cone of yellow rice surrounded by various dishes.
Fish crackers are used to garnish soto , a soupy meat and vegetable dish of which every region has its own version, and empek-empek , fish cakes with a vinegary sauce.
Vegetable & Nut based crackers
Emping are crackers made from melinjo nuts, the seeds of the fruits of the gnemon tree. They are crushed into a flour, pressed into a thin water and dried in the sun. Once deep-fried, they are sprinkled with salt and used like krupuk for garnishing gado-gado and soto. Emping crackers have a pleasant subtle hint of bitterness and are delicious as a nibble with drinks. They are also sold coated with a sweet chilli glaze.
Rempeyek, a garlic-and-coriander spiced peanut-fan-rice-flour brittle, is both a delectable snack and garnish for pecel, a salad similar to gado-gado except its peanut dressing has the refreshing tang of kaffir lime leaves. (I actually prefer pecel over gado-gado because of this citrus fragrance and acidity.) You can get pecel sauce paste in blocks from Asian food stores. To make the sauce, just chop it into bits and bled with hot water.
Crackers for offal lovers
Nothing is wasted in Indonesian cuisine, and the most unlikely animal parts are turned into gastronomic treats. Cow skin is cut into tiny squares and sun-dried for krupuk kulit. When deep fried, they puff up into crisp, air-filled pillows. Delicious on their own, they are also eaten with rawon. Dried seasoned lungs are deep-fried to create krupuk paru, a side dish for Sumatran Padang meals, and Nasi Madura, the rice meal that hails from the rugged island of Madura.
Deep-fried chicken intestines and deboned chicken feet are other tasty snacks created on this minimum waste principle.
Garlic & Flour Crackers
Small white garlic crackers with multi-coloured edges are eaten with home-style dishes such as semur (spicy thick gravied meat stews) and opor cina (an Indonesian-Chinese chicken stew with onions, nutmeg, garlic and sweet soya sauce, kechap manis ).
Flour crackers known as krupuk pasar (literally, market crackers) are used to garnish fruit salads such as rujak petis which uses a prawn paste-based dressing and is a specialty of the East Javanese town of Malang, and the Jakartan rujak manis (with a palm sugar dressing).
Potato Crisps as a Vegetable Dish
Potatoes were introduced into Indonesia by the Dutch. Apart from being a snack food, potato crisps are used as side dishes for meals. Sambal Goreng Kentang (recipe below) is one example. It is eaten as a vegetable dish alongside Indonesian meat dishes with rich thick sauces such as rendang and opor ayam. It is not served with soup dishes, nor does it marry well with Indian, Thai or Malaysian curries.
RECIPE: SAMBAL GORENG KENTANG (Potato Crisps in Sweet Spicy Dressing)
150 - 175 g potato crisps
100 g beer nuts
6 tbsp palm sugar syrup
4 - 5 tbsp oil
3 medium brown onions, finely diced
2 - 3 large red chillies, de-seeded and finely sliced
2 leaves dried daun salam (Indonesian bay leaves)
¼ tsp galangal (laos/lengkuas ) powder
Commercial crisps make this a really easy dish to put together very quickly. However, use potato straws or thick cut crisps as fine cut crisps do not have adequate body for this dish.
Make palm sugar syrup by simmering 100 g of roughly chopped palm sugar with 3 tbsp water. Set aside to cool. It will make more than required for this recipe. The surplus can be stored in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator and used in curries or other Asian dessert recipes.
Heat oil in a large saucepan set over moderate heat. Fry onions, chillies, daun salam, and galangal powder until onions are golden brown.
Add palm sugar syrup to the pan and stir well. You should have a sticky dressing capable of coating the potato chips. If the onion mixture is too dry, add a dash of water. Cook for a minute. Add beer nuts and potato crisps. Toss well to ensure that they are evenly coated with the dressing. Remove from the heat.
Serves 4 as a side dish to accompany a meal of meat dish, vegetable dish and rice.