Monday, March 3, 2008

Soto Ayam (Indonesia)

Zola: There are some people who, when you meet them, you just know you're going to be friends with them. And so it was with Lee. Although, truth be told, Lee's the kind of guy that most people want to be friends with--slightly mischievous and a wicked sense of humor. I probably needed Lee's friendship a lot more than he needed mine. As exchange students in Indo, everything seemed to come easily to him--the language, making friends, great host family. As for me, you may recall that I didn't fair all too well with my host family, I was lazy about learning Indonesian, and it was hard for me to make friends with Indonesian kids my age and still feel like I was being myself. Quite bluntly, they were religious and I was, well.. not. I had two very close girl friends--Nicole, whom you've met through sugar pie adventures, was one. But there was something comforting about hanging out with a boy that didn't care that I was an obnoxious girl who listened to lots of Bad Brains and Dead Kennedy's and [ahem, allegedly] partied too much, let alone if we shook hands [boy/girl hand shaking strictly forbidden for devout Muslims in Indo. Made that mistake more than once.] Through that amazing internets machine, I found Lee so many years later, still a self-professed "art/skate/food nerd"--and perfect candidate for our Food Chains. Like the good egg that he is, he didn't let us down.

Lee: My story sucks and is a little too sentimental for my liking, completely lacking in humour and substance, but if I don't send it, I'll find 50 more reasons to put it off, like fixing my scooter, or finishing making that billy cart, or putting my skills to use making a website for the missus.

so here goes...

This dish was a huge part of my daily routine when I lived in the Indonesian city of Surabaya as an exchange student. I'd get home from school around lunch time and wait for the lady with the local Soto Ayam cart to come by and I'd go out and order some. If I had friends over, she'd bring it all into our house and serve it up to us in my room and we'd scoff it down, piling rice into the bowl to soak up the soup. It is a great feel good dish and the perfect pick-me-up if you are feeling sick or tired.

Soto Ayam - Chicken Soup with Vermicelli
Serves 4

500g chicken thigh fillets
1.25L water
6 Red shallots, chopped finely
5cm piece ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp peanut oil

To serve
100g rice vermicelli, soaked in hot water until soft
4 boiled eggs, sliced
Mung bean sprouts
Crispy fried onions
Lemon wedges
Steamed rice

1. Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Drop in the chicken and boil for a couple of minutes until cooked, skimming off any scum. Remove chicken and reserve water. Shred the chicken a set aside.

2. Over a medium heat, add oil to a saucepan and add the spring onions, ginger, garlic, turmeric, salt & pepper and saute for 5 minutes. Add reserved water, bay leaves, soy sauce and chicken. Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

3. To serve, divide vermicelli into 4 serving bowls. Ladle chicken soup into each bowl, including a few pieces of chicken in each. Top with sliced eggs, mung bean sprouts and sprinkle fried onions over it all. Place a wedge of lemon in each bowl and serve with a big bowl of steamed rice and a small dish of sambal.

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