Ye Olde Indonesian Staple: Gado-Gado

5 years ago

Gado-gado, staple Indonesian food with plethora of nutritional goods within, is fairly easy to make. Technically, the only things one needs to do are to steam or blanch some vegetables, pour in the peanut sauce, and it's done. 


For the time-challenged, the peanut sauce even often come in pre-packaged. All one needs to do is dilute it in hot water, and it is serve-able.

However, one soon figures out that prepackaged ingredients often lacks the delicate deliciousness and oomph found in street vendors' hand-ground sauces. It is not the inevitable use of MSG, nor the smog-induced-ingredients that come from said vendor being situated right next on busy roadsides.  

This article will inform the methods of having an Indonesian Salad - Gado-gado - the good old fashioned way. Whilst shortcuts may seem appealing to those who feels that time is of the essence, your tastebuds will sure appreciate this method better. 

First, the basic ingredients:


  • Vegetables: Street vendors usually use hardy vegetables that can stand being left in the open for the entire days. They would limit up to five vegetables: Water spinach, long beans, beansprouts, cabbages, and the optionals of cucumber or bitter gourd. All vegetables are blanched thoroughly - particularly the water spinach and cabbage that cannot afford to be undercooked. 

    Tip: Before boiling the bitter gourd, marinate it in salt, wash it off, then immerse it in salted boiling water for about 5-10 mins. This will prevent it from tasting overly bitter and overpower everything else. 

    Slice the cabbage to about quarter inch shreds, the long bean should be cut to two-inches pieces, and the cucumber to thin slices. Set them aside in their individual containers. 

  • Boiled potatoes and boiled chayote. Diced.
  • Tofu and Tempeh: Both should be pre-fried prior to mixing into the Gado-gado. Often, people take the two for granted - frying them as they come with no seasoning. This would be a mistake. One should always season both Tofu and Tempe with a paste of garlic (one clove for one block of each, one teaspoon salt, one teaspoon of coriander) for at least one hour prior to frying. 

    Fry the Tempeh until it is golden brown. Fry the tofu only for a fleeting moment to allow its frame to turn golden, but not the entire surface.  

    Dice both to one square inch-sized.

  • Prepare several hard-boiled eggs. They are to be sliced width-wise.
  • One red onion - if pre-fried red onion is available, this would be the only ingredient that is pre-prepared. Otherwise: slice the red onion to thin rings, mix with one tablespoon of flour, then fry in hot oil on medium heat until they are brown and quite crispy.


  • Peanuts. Street vendors tend to not like to use processed peanuts. They prefer to buy raw peanuts and fry it in small amount of oil - only up to two tablespoons per pound of peanuts. Fry for 15 minutes on small flame. 
  • Tip: peanuts tend to make clicking sound when fried. When sound is abated, it is likely that they are done. Pick one, cool it, then taste. Do not taste when it is scalding hot.
  • Chilli peppers.
  • Tamarind. Use about half tablespoonful, diluted in about 100 cc room-temperature water.
  • Palm sugar. Have at least one block of either (available) size at the ready. Palm sugar is usually available at Asian supermarkets and can be easily ordered online. It lasts for six months when stored in closed, dry place.

    Palm Sugar

  • Extra optional: One teaspoonful or one (1" x 1") Shrimp paste (blacan). Shrimp paste should be pre-roasted before use. However, several brands have provided pre-roasted shrimp paste. If you use bottled ones, they are definitely not pre-roasted. Warning: Roasting shrimp paste will generate a mightily malodorous stench. Suggestion is to roast it outdoors on a non-stick pan. 
Sauce making method:
The hard way is to hand-ground the peanuts, chilli peppers, palm sugar, shrimp paste, half-a teaspoonful salt; on flat pestle. When all ingredients have turned to smooth, thick paste, add the tamarind-infused water until the consistency of paste turned syrupy.
The faster way is to put half pound of peanuts, three-to-five chilli pepper (more if hot dish is preferred), salt, one block palm sugar (about 50 gr), 1 teaspoonful shrimp paste, into the food processor. Keep the tamarind-infused water handy. When every dried ingredients have been crumbled, add water little by little until the sauce reaches syrupy consistency.   
The dish:
This dish would be perfect when served with lontong or steamed white rice. However, with potatoes, one may not wish to be redundant with the carbohydrates and can opt out of the rice dishes. 
Arrange all vegetables on plates. Pour sauce over the vegetables. Mix thoroughly. Spread a handful of crunchy red onion on top. Can be served hot or cold.
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