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Appears in

Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia

Fire Islands

By Eleanor Ford

Published 2019

  • About

Like many of the dishes I learnt in Java, this noodle soup has an intimidating number of ingredients. I promise it is worth it; the heady combination of aromas from the dried spices, fresh spices and herbs with a creamy coconut base makes something very special. This recipe was given to me by Sri Sutarti who cooks incredible food for families in the Australian embassy in Jakarta. Adjust the chilli quantities according to your taste. Sri uses 1 large and 5 small red chillies, but in Jakarta they pack less of a punch than the ones I buy in London, so I scale these down. The large red chilli is there for colour, the small ones for fire.


  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 cardamom, lightly cracked
  • 5 cm (2 inches) galangal, halved and smashed
  • 3 cm ( inches) turmeric, chopped, or ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 cm (¾ inch) ginger, lightly smashed
  • 1 cm (½ inch) kencur (optional)
  • 3 lemongrass sticks, bruised and knotted
  • 6 lime leaves
  • 3 salam leaves (optional)
  • 2 skinless chicken breasts
  • 500 ml (2 cups) chicken stock
  • 200 ml (generous ¾ cup) coconut cream
  • 2 teaspoons tamarind paste
  • 1 tablespoon crisp-fried shallots
  • handful peeled raw prawns (optional)

Bumbu spice paste

  • 1-3 red bird’s eye chillies, stems removed
  • 1 large red chilli, seeded
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 10 small red Asian shallots, roughly chopped
  • 3 candlenuts or 6 blanched almonds
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon crushed black pepper

To serve

  • 200 g (7 oz) vermicelli rice noodles, softened in hot water
  • large handful Thai basil leaves
  • large handful beansprouts
  • 2 spring onions (scallions), sliced
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, halved


Start by making the bumbu. Put the chillies, garlic and shallots in a pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook until soft. Drain away the fire-fanged liquid and transfer the solids to a food processor or high-speed blender. Add the remaining bumbu ingredients and grind to a paste, adding a little water if needed to bring everything together.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the star anise, cloves and cardamom. Once their aroma rises from the pan, scrape in the bumbu followed by the galangal, turmeric, ginger, kencur, lemongrass, lime leaves and salam leaves. Slosh a little water into the bowl of the food processor or blender, swirl to pick up the residue and add this to the pan as well.

Turn up the heat a little and add the chicken breasts. Fry until the aromatics have lost their harsh rawness and are fragrant and there is a little colour on the meat. Add the chicken stock and 500 ml (2 cups) water. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through. Remove from the broth and set aside for later.

Add the coconut cream and tamarind to the pan. Cook on a slow boil for 5 minutes, stirring often to keep it from separating. Strain out and discard the aromatics if you like, and return the soup to the pot ready to reheat. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed - the right amount of salt will really make the flavours zing.

Divide the softened noodles into four large serving bowls and top with thin slices of the chicken breast. Add the basil, beansprouts and spring onions.

Reheat the soup, adding the crisp-fried onions. If you are using prawns, add them now and simmer until they lose their glassy rawness and turn pink. Ladle the soup and prawns into each bowl. Top with the boiled eggs and serve at once.