I have a theory… (yes, yes, I hear your collective groans.)
And it’s a theory that might end up just as famous and as controversial as the Higgs Boson, believe you me! (I always tend to say “Higgins Bottom” for some odd reason).
Tapi theory ani pasal Nasi Katok $1.
I’ll start with a simple hypothesis: The nyaman-ness of the Nasi Katok is dependent upon it being wrapped (bebungkus) and how long it rests.
Nasi Katok has three general components: the steaming hot white rice; the sambal; the meat (ayam goreng or daging, or even both). The more generous vendors will give you some pusu or even some egg as condiments (I’ve had a quarter of a boiled egg, half an egg, as well as a slice of talur dadar yang the most nipis in the world). And on even rarer occasions, you’ll get a slice of timun (I am a fan of the wilted timun sometimes; I didn’t get called “Si Kubis” in hostel for nothing. I actually loved the slimy cabbage that was served on almost a daily basis).
A few other factors are significant here as prerequisite: the heat of the steamed rice; the complementariness of the sambal and the ayam or the daging.
The latter will have to be nyaman in the first place. Many a times I’ve heard people say, “Inda nyaman sambalnya ihh…” or “Inda berapa nyaman dagingnya ah…” leading them to conclude that particular Nasi Katok inda nyaman, and condemning it to oblivion, and the vendor to lingkupness.
The sambal has to have the right balance of sweetness, saltiness, tanginess, and even padas-ness, even if your preference is Sambal Biasa. It should also be of thick consistency, not runny.
The ayam, which is the most commonly used meat compared to daging, should be fried with an extra hint of saltiness. Usually the chicken is simply turmeric-coated ayam goreng biasa, but several places use ayam bekuah (not my personal choice). And more often than not, the chicken is fried sampai karas. But you’d be surprised that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I’ll show later. But absolutely something to avoid is coating the chicken with flour or breadcrumbs – again, this will become clearer later.
But the most important factor, I believe, is that the rice MUST be steaming hot. This is because the steam from the compacted rice will continue to “cook” the ayam goreng yang karas atu (tenderizing it at once), and the softness of the rice makes it act like a sponge that drinks up the sambal. The salty turmeric coating will infuse into the rice as well because of the steam. So, if you can imagine all these in a compact wrap (bebungkus), the steam from the rice then tenderises the hard-fried chicken, and infusing its flavour and the sambal into the rice, as shown below.
So, that thing about not using flour or breadcrumbs with the chicken should now make sense– all that coating will just turn soggy in the steaming process – it’ll be like eating a wet sock, not a nice experience altogether.
BUT it’s not just the steaming; it’s also HOW LONG it occurs. The whole packet must be left to rest for some time, I would say between 7-10 minutes or so would be optimal. You might argue steaming cannot possibly accelerate when resting as the packet of rice would slowly lose its heat – point taken – which is why the precondition was set earlier for the rice to be steaming hot. And 7-10 minutes is a plausible period after which the packet of rice can be said to be “getting cold”. Now, I know Bruneians are foreign to the idea of “resting” cooked food (“jangan lalai”), but if you think about it, most Nasi Katok are bought as tapau or take-aways. Jarang urang kan makan on the spot. That period of travel from the stall to your destination should give it enough time to rest and infuse. And THAT is when it’s best to devour. Have you noticed that dine-in plated version of Nasi Katok almost always tastes “kurang sikit” – to my mind, it’s that crucial compact-steaming that’s missing here. Ia tah kurang rasanya tu.
So, now that I’ve got you at the edge of your seats salivating for more enlightenment, lemme explain this to you in more pseudo-scientific terms. The rice is the God particle, the Boson of the Standard Model.
The steam is the Higgs field that “binds” or “pulls” everything together.
But what the Boson Higgs theorem doesn’t explain, albeit via this vague (dubious?) parallel, is how the rice itself (the God particle) is enmeshed as it also gets inflated and softened, absorbing all the fantastic tastes, thus making it even more palatable.
The whole Nasi Katok packet then, is the Universe. And when everything falls into place, this “universe” becomes perfect – or “nyaman”.
I suppose a simpler analogy would be of the Nasi Katok packet as a Pressure cooker, cooking from the latent heat of the hot rice rather than an external source.
Of course, I’ve had Nasi Katok on the spot, and to me they’ve always fallen short of expectations, of that most fulfilling experience, that “oomph”.
Now, I know this may not be the most scientifically sound paper, but I’m quite confident my hypothesis is correct. Higgs Boson took 40 years to prove. I have time.
Either way, now, I’ll just sit back and wait for that Nobel prize as I sip on my cat poo Vietnamese coffee. So, whenever you’re ready… You’re welcome, world.