If you've eaten nasi goreng—or had your eye on Yotam Ottolenghi's Black Pepper Tofu in the Genius Recipes cookbook—you're familiar with kecap manis (though maybe you've seen it spelled ketjap manis).
Pronounced kuh-CHOP MAH-nees, it translates to "sweet sauce": "Kecap" is a catch-all term for the five essential Indonesian fermented sauces (and yes, it's related to kê-tsiap, the distant fermented-fish-sauce ancestor of our beloved ketchup), and "manis" means sweet (in this case, the source is palm sugar).
Syrupy where Japanese soy sauce is thin, caramelly and slightly smoky where shoyu is salty, kecap manis is, by many accounts, the most popular sauce in Indonesia. In "History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in Southeast Asia," soy expert William Shurtleff reported that kecap manis accounted for 90% of the country's total soy sauce production as of 2010.
Add it to marinades, stir-fries, soups, barbecue sauces, glazes, or anywhere else you'd normally use maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, or agave to counter the saltiness of Japanese or Chinese soy sauce. Nigella Lawson, who describes it as "treacle-ish soy sauce," recommends replacing 1 tablespoon of kecap manis in her recipe for Thai noodles with cinnamon and prawns with 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce sauce mixed with 1 tablespoon soft dark brown sugar if you can't find it.
But kecap manis adds a layer of flavor (as well as a sticky richness) that a hacked version does not. Unlike other Asian soy sauces, it's frequently flavored with star anise, garlic, ginger, galangal, or chile.
While you can pick up a bottle at any well-stocked Asian market, making a good imitation at home is simple, much like reducing balsamic vinegar:
Kecap manis is used as both a cooking ingredient and a tableside condiment, and I'm happy eating it poured over a bowl of plain rice. But for something more elaborate, use your store-bought or homemade kecap manis to make...
Or go rogue and try it in less-than-traditional settings:
In the summer, dab it on fresh corn on the cob before sprinkling with flaky salt.
What soy sauce variety do we need to get our hands on A.S.A.P.? Tell us in the comments.