Kangkung Cuisine: Indonesia

Water spinach, or kangkung, is available all year round in traditional markets and supermarkets. It can be found all over Asia. Filipinos, Singaporeans and Malaysians call it kangkong, while in Hong Kong it is referred to as ong choi.

In Indonesia two types of kangkung can be found. kangkung darat has pointed light green leaves and white flowers. It grows well in dry soil like on the edges of paddy fields as gastronome and epicurean el supremo Suryatini N. Ganie writes.

Kangkung air has pointed dark green leaves with rounded ends. Its flowers are either a yellowish white or reddish white color. This variety of kangkung grows best in fish ponds and small rivers with calm water.

I often come across foreigners in the supermarket interested in the leafy vegetable and ways to cook it.

Kangkung is a vegetable for any style of cuisine, and I hope these recipes can shed some light on its versatility and offer suggestions on how to cook it.

Indonesians commonly use the vegetable to make gado-gado, Singaporeans use it to cook sayur kangkong and people in Hong Kong add it to a delicious stir fry of garlic, bean curd and shrimp sauce.

An ideal dish for vegetarians is to put a layer of mashed potato on a greased oven-proof dish, place seasoned stir fried kangkung leaves and steamed tofu slices on top, cover with another layer of mashed potato, beat an egg and pour on top and bake the dish for 20-25 minutes in a medium-hot oven.

As well as being a relatively inexpensive vegetable, kangkung is tasty, contains vitamin A and C, has a calming effect on the nerves and is good for those suffering from insomnia.

Kangkung also goes well with most herbs and spices, chicken, beef, water buffalo, pork and seafood.

Beans and sprouts also combine well with kangkung. Try mixing tauge (mung bean sprouts) with steamed kangkung for a crunchy addition.

In some parts of Indonesia, people eat kangkung air raw. However, this is not recommended unless one knows the exact source of the vegetable as it sometimes grows wild in swampy soil.

People need to take care when cooking Kangkung as the vegetable has a high water content. It shrinks to nearly one third or a half of the size of the raw item when cooked.

Purchase about 150 grams of kangkung for two portions when eaten with a staple or mixed into a salad. And about 100 grams per serving when eaten on its own.

People living near lakes where kangkung grows abundantly consume the vegetable on a daily basis. In such places, a formal etiquette has to be observed when serving kangkung.

When receiving honored guests it is almost a taboo to serve kangkung. Dishes in which the vegetable is commonly used, such as gado-gado, are made with bayam instead. Bayam is another type of spinach, and considered to be of a better “class”.

In other parts of the archipelago, kangkung can be expensive. At formal events sometimes caterers serve a dish named mi kangkung, especially at post-wedding parties.

To make this dish, just add some noodles to a broth, add braised kangkung leaves and enjoy! This dish is best served hot with a dash of sambal, or chili sauce.

Enjoy your kangkung!

Suryatini N. Ganie