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Tempe Kering (Sweet and Spicy Fried Tempe)

A plate with a rounded serving of rice decorated with flowers and another plate with strips of tempeh in a red sauce all arranged on a lace background

Making the blended spice paste from scratch makes all the difference in this dish. (Melati Citrawireja)

Tempe Kering (also called Tempe Manis or Tempe Oseng) is a popular street food often served with rice and wrapped together in a banana leaf like a little present. It’s cheap and filling and not too messy and perfectly tangy and salty and crispy and sweet and spicy. Why not have nearly all the flavor elements? I love this dish as a semi-quick dinner, eaten with a side of sautéed greens, or just jasmine rice and sambal or a few fresh chillies. No wrong way to do this.

[Listen to the episode featuring Melati Citrawireja and this recipe. Find more from Melati Citrawireja by subscribing to her newsletter, Three Salted Fish.]


Tempe Kering

Serves 2-3

Origin: Java, but enjoyed everywhere.


For the bumbu (blended spice paste):

one 2-inch thumb of ginger

3 cloves garlic

2 small shallots (or one large)

2 candlenuts (can sub Brazil or macadamia nuts)

3 Thai chillies, de-seeded if you prefer less spice

1 tbsp salt

Other ingredients:

16 oz tempe, sliced into one-inch length pieces

4 Makrut lime leaves, de-veined and thinly sliced into slivers

1 stalk lemongrass, cut into two-inch pieces, bruised

1 tbsp + 1 tsp fresh ground coriander (pre-ground will do but it’s just not the saaame)

1 tsp sweet soy sauce

2 tbsp coconut palm sugar or brown sugar

3 tbsp tamarind concentrate, mixed with 1/4 cup water

1-2 Indonesian bay leaves (aka daun salam)

1 tbsp salt  

Neutral oil for frying (I like sunflower or refined coconut for their high smoke temp


  1. In a large preferably non-stick pan, heat 4 tbsp oil on medium-high until it starts to shimmer. As it’s heating, sprinkle the tempe pieces with 1 tsp of coriander before carefully placing into the pan. Fry until the pieces are golden everywhere — about 3 minutes each side. Depending on your pan size, you may need to do this in two rounds, and do feel empowered to add an extra dash of oil the second time around if needed. Set the tempe aside on a paper towel or in a colander.
  2. Meanwhile, add your bumbu ingredients into a food processor or mortar + pestle and blend or pound until smooth.
  3. In another large pan, heat 1 tbsp oil on medium heat and add 1 tbsp coriander, toasting for 1 minute.
  4. Add the bumbu, stirring frequently until golden, about 3 minutes. Add the makrut lime leaf pieces, lemongrass, and bay leaf and cook, stirring frequently until aromatic, about 2 minutes.
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