Ekkado is not a Japanese food. It’s Indonesian.

I have always wondered about Hokben. This is a Japanese fastfood chain in Indonesia, and we were always under the impression that there’s a Japanese chef behind the idea. Ten years ago, going to Hokben was like going to Sushi Tei right now — an unknown cuisine from a foreign land, with a delicious taste.

Yeap, I downloaded this logo to my computer just to showcase how Japanese the logo looks like in this otherwise bland and full of text blog post.

I only found out last month that the whole chain is fully run by Indonesians. Hokben apparently was inspired by a small restaurant in the land of the rising sun with the same name. Unfortunately, the original Japanese restaurant is closed, leaving a legacy of 100+ restaurants in Indonesia, not knowing who’s their real father.

HokBen serves mostly fried foods that is usually found in a box of bento. These include chicken katsu, ebi furai, and ekkado. Yes, the last one was ekkado. Never heard of it before?

Ekkado perplexes me. I’ve never heard of it, even though I consider myself to be a big Japanese food fan (partly because of HokBen, but that’s another story altogether). I’ve heard of various katsu, croquettes, or even shirako (don’t Google it — it tastes nicer than it looks). But I’ve never heard of ekkado as part of proper Japanese cuisine. Have we all been living a lie?

A serving of Ekkado.

Ekkado is a quail egg, enclosed with a mixture of prawn meat, enclosed with tofu skin, and tied with a strand of chives before being deep fried. Apparently it’s a HokBen specialty, according to the chain’s website. Does it mean that it cannot be found elsewhere, even in Japan? I’d like to think so.

After various Google searches that took me 2 minutes and 3 search pages (yeap, I stop looking after 3 pages — beyond that is a dark and scary place), I cannot find any references of ekkado being a proper Japanese food, served in bentos sold in various train stations in Japan. Nothing linking ekkado with Japan was found.

As it happens, all of the links are either in Bahasa, or in broken English because someone uses Google Translate from Bahasa to English, or in proper English because some Indonesian decided to translate the recipe to English.

Satisified being a keyboard warrior in my crusade to prove that ekkado is not a Japanese food, I decided to probe further. What is ekkado, and how can HokBen introduce it with that name? I believe I have an answer to both.

Ekkado is actually a Chinese dish, known in English as fried money bag. Not only Chinese, but similar dishes can be found in Thai recipes. Here’s one such recipe. Another recipe even made it into MasterChef Australia, and my god do they look delicious.

Fried money bag — the original ekkado.

What’s interesting is that in the various recipes, fried money bag actually does not contain an egg. Instead, it contains a typical dumpling mixture — it can be pork meat, or a mixture of pork and shrimp. Quail egg was not in the majority of the recipes that I’ve seen, in my Google exploration that lasted 2 minutes. So probably, some HokBen chef in Indonesia looked at kids who don’t want to eat quail eggs, and decided that putting quail eggs in such attractive casing will entice kids to eat them.

As for the naming, fried money bag comes from the fact that it looks like a bag of money. According to another recipe on this dish,

These fried dumplings, resembling golden money bags or dim sum purses, symbolise wealth and prosperity during Chinese New Year.

How about ekkado then? Can we draw a similar meaning? I believe we found the answer.

Ekkado is a portmanteau between two words: egg (as in the quail egg), and kado (Bahasa word, meaning gift. Think of French cadeau). It actually carries a similar meaning! A gift of egg, wrapped in tofu skin and prawn dumplings. Delicious!

So, there you have it. I think ekkado is a Chinese dish with Japanese twist with quail egg, invented in Indonesia, and which is regularly served and introduced in Japanese restaurant in Indonesia that no longer has their counterpart in Japan. Sounds perfectly Indonesian to me — a confluence of cultures in one small bag of deliciousness.

I’ll be off to Hokben to taste them again. And no, they’re not paying me for this post. Yet.

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