In Indonesia, you’ll hear this being pronounced with a very strong ‘r’ sound, berrrr-guh-dellll. In Malay, I’ve heard it been pronounced as baa-guh-dell. I prefer the Indonesian pronunciation, and boldly defend the bergedel as being Indonesian in origin, but who knows.
Everyone has their own recipe, and every restaurant or eatery’s bergedel will taste different. I remember in certain parts of Indonesia, bergedel, rice and soto soup are options for sides in KFC meals, in place of the western standard of mashed potato or coleslaw. Whatever the taste, it is always made with mashed fried potatoes, seasoned, and using one hand, the mash is formed into spheres, flattened slightly into 1.5-inch thick discs, then dipped in beaten egg and deep fried. You can use two hands of course but in typical Malay style, we usually use the right hand when handling food.
The herb used in Bergedel is what we call daun sop, and in our supermarkets as ‘Chinese Celery’. I believe anywhere else it may be called by the name of Lovage, but ‘chinese celery’ is not too far off, as it does smell like celery, but skinnier and leafier. (I wrote a post about my confusion in names for this herb in Singapore, read here)
You can find packets of crispy fried shallots in most Asian grocers, which makes life really easy. Back in the day, this wasn’t so, so of course we made it in our own kitchen in large batches to always have on hand for sprinkling on soups or gravies where flavour appropriate. It should keep in an airtight container, in a cool dry spot for about two weeks before going a bit off which you can tell by sniffing it.
To make it yourself, get some small shallots, the purple skinned ones typically found in Indian grocers. Peel, and slice thinly, lengthwise. Heat your oil, over medium heat till hot. You will fry in batches. Don’t overload your fryer, so the end result is crisp, the onions should have plenty of space to move around a bit.
Take a fistful of your sliced onion and over the oil, gently squoosh and rub the onions in your fist as you release it into the oil; this separates the rings of onions. As a gauge, if you’re using a large wok for deep frying, you can fry about 1.5 to 2 fistfuls at a time. Don’t be tempted to use high heat, you want it on medium heat and agitate occasionally to bring the outer edges in and vice versa. You will find that the onions that turn brown faster are at the edges of the oil, so move it around occasionally for even browning.
When the onions look light gold, like your breakfast toast, you can remove them to a flat plate lined with kitchen paper. Spread it out to cool quickly, and fry the rest of your onions. As the fried onions cool, they will darken to the correct dark caramel colour, and crisp up. Store in an air tight container and they should keep for about 2 weeks. Use as garnish for soups or gravies or anything you like, even some fried eggs!