Have you tasted Indonesian food? Some expatriates never go beyond the usual nasi goreng (fried rice), bakmi goreng (fried noodles) or sate (charbroiled meat or chicken on skewers), but for the more adventurous there is a wonderful variety of tasty treats right here in Jakarta.
Indonesians love to eat, not only meals, which they may consume at any hour of the day whenever they feel hungry, but also snacks of many kinds. Eating is also a social activity and meals are often shared with others who happen to call in unexpectedly. .It is easy to extending the amount of food available by adding another hastily prepared dish such as dadar telor (omelet). It is considered impolite not to provide some sort of snacks to a guest, whether invited or unexpected.
A normal Indonesian style family meal consists of white rice served with 3 or 4 accompanying dishes. When guests are present and on special occasions, the number of dishes served is much greater and served in abundant quantities. According to Indonesian hospitality a wide variety and choice of dishes should be provided to honor a guest. Whatever is not eaten is never wasted. Often guests are encouraged to take home some of the leftover food and plastic bags or containers are always on hand for this purpose. The remainder goes back to the kitchen, to be eaten by domestic staff or to be reheated and served again the next day.
Generally all of the dishes are placed on the table together and guests are asked to help themselves. This is the origin of the Dutch expression rijstafel. Unlike a formal Western style dinner, courses are not served separately and are not necessarily hot.
It is becoming more common for Indonesians to serve a soup that may be eaten before the main meal, but traditionally Indonesian soups are served and eaten together with the rice and other dishes. Many Indonesians prefer to take their soup after eating their rice.
You can sample the dishes one at a time if you like, but it is more common to mix everything together. It is a complement to the hostess if you take second or third helpings and you do not need to empty your plate before you add a little more of whatever you would like.
Sometimes Indonesian food is served and eaten not at a table, but on woven mats covering a low platform or the ground. This style of eating is called lesehan and is common in Yogyakarta and Central Java as well as West Java. Traditionally food is eaten with the fingers of the right hand, and many Indonesians insist that certain dishes taste much better this way. Finger bowls, often with a slice of lime floating in the water, are usually provided for such meals. These days Indonesian food is generally eaten with a spoon and fork, the spoon in the right hand and fork in the left (or vice versa for lefthanders) to hold food steady while breaking off portions with the spoon, and to assist in loading up the spoon. Most food is cut up into relatively small pieces before it is cooked, although chicken and duck are usually served on the bone, and fish is often served whole.
Indonesian food is usually cooked in advance and served at room temperature, although there are some dishes that should be consumed hot and fresh from the stove or barbecue. Indonesian food has been influenced by other cuisines, such as Chinese, Indian and Dutch, but has been adapted and modified to suit the local palate.
Rice is the staple food of Indonesians and they are happy to consume it three times a day. In fact there is an expression “Kalau belum makan nasi, belum makan” (If you have not yet eaten rice, you have not yet eaten), which implies that no matter what snacks you have consumed you have not had a proper meal until you have filled your tummy with rice in some form or another. White rice is preferred, rather than unpolished brown rice, even by those who are aware of the loss of nutritional value in the processing. Ideally rice should be boiled then steamed but most modern Indonesians find it very convenient to use an electric rice cooker. Nasi goreng (fried rice using the leftover rice from the previous day) or bubur (rice porridge) are often served for breakfast.
For special celebrations or ritual meals called selamatan, nasi kuning (yellow rice) is traditionally served, usually in the form of a tumpeng, a cone shaped mound of yellow colored rice served on a large platter elaborately garnished and accompanied by side dishes. The rice is cooked in santan (coconut milk) flavored with spices including turmeric, which gives the yellow color. Other special rice dishes include nasi uduk (rice cooked in santan but without turmeric). This is a richer, more aromatic form of white rice and is served with accompanying side dishes. In West Java the Sundanese people serve cooked white rice wrapped up in cylindrical shape in banana leaf. This is called nasi timbel, and after opening the rice parcel the banana leaf becomes the “plate” on which to put selections of accompanying dishes such as grilled or fried fish, chicken, cooked or raw vegetables and sambal (chili paste).
Rice can also be cooked in banana leaf or woven coconut leaf containers to create a solid mass of compressed rice, which when cold is cut into mouthful sized chunks. Lontong, cooked in banana leaf, often accompanies sate, gado-gado (cooked vegetable salad with spicy peanut sauce) or curries, while ketupat is the special compressed rice cooked in rhomboid shaped coconut leaf containers that is served at Lebaran to celebrate the end of the Islamic fasting month. Ketupat is usually served with opor ayam (chicken in mild white curry sauce) and sambal goreng (vegetables, meat or liver cooked in santan with chili and spices). The Sumatran equivalent of lontong or ketupat is lemang, which is glutinous or sticky rice cooked in bamboo and traditionally accompanied by rendang (beef cooked in santan with chili and spices until liquid is absorbed).
Another rice dish that you may find on the menu in Indonesian restaurants is nasi rames. This is a meal in itself, a plate of ordinary white rice topped with generous spoonfuls of various meat, chicken and vegetable side dishes. Nasi kebuli is a dish of rice cooked together with chicken or meat and spices.
Each region of Indonesia has its own specialties and there is great variety in the cuisines. One of the most famous is West Sumatran or Padang food, which uses a lot of chili, spices and santan. Padang dishes include rendang, kalio (similar to rendang but the sauce is not reduced and thickened), gulai (a spicy curry), kari (curry), dendeng balado (thin sliced and crisp fried beef with red chilies). Padang food is Indonesia’s version of fast food. All the food is cooked in advance and displayed on dishes stacked up in the window of the often distinctively decorated restaurants. When you come in and sit down at a table waiters will immediately appear bearing 10 or 12 small plates of different dishes along their arms, and a huge variety of food will be set down on your table, along with a plate of rice and a glass of hot tea for each person. You may choose whatever you like and at the end of the meal the headwaiter will check all of the dishes to count what has been consumed. Needless to say you pay only for what you have eaten. Some recommended Padang restaurants :
- Sederhana and Sari Ratu chains,
- Natrabu (Jl. KH Agus Salim 29A, Menteng, Phone 3193 5668, 3193 5718, www.natrabu.co.id/restaurant.htm),
- Nasi Kapau (Jl. Melawai Raya 21A, Kebayoran Baru, Phone 739 2483, 739 4038),
- Sari Bundo (Jl. Ir. H. Juanda No. 27, Central Jakarta, Phone 368 5055),
- Garuda Restaurant (Jl. Iskandar Muda No. 79D, near Pondok Indah, Phone 724 6999, 724 3204).
Javanese food tends to have a sweeter taste with palm sugar or the dark sweet type of soy sauce being added to most dishes. Traditional dishes from Central Java include ayam goreng (spiced fried chicken), ayam panggang (broiled chicken cooked with either sweet soy sauce or santan and spices), semur daging (beef braised in soy sauce), empal daging (slices of beef cooked with spices then fried), opor ayam (chicken in mild white curry sauce), gudeg (jackfruit cooked in santan and served with chicken, egg and soybean cake) and sayur asem (tamarind flavored vegetable soup). One of the specialties of East Java is rawon (diced beef cooked in spicy black sauce). You can find Javanese fried chicken at :
- Mbok Berek Ny Umi (Jl. Metro Duta 5-6, Pondok Indah, Phone 750 0807, 750 0808 or Jl. Melawai Raya 66, Kebayoran Baru, Phone 722 2957),
- Ayam Goreng Suharti (Jl. KH Wahid Hasyim 51, Menteng, Phone 310 0251 and other branches) and
- Gudeg at Gudeg Bu Tjitro (Jl. Cikajang, Kebayoran Baru). Payon (Jl. Kemang Raya 17, Phone 719 4826) is an open-air restaurant serving traditional East Javanese fare.
In West Java fewer spices are used but some kind of sambal is always served with meals. A sambal is a chili-based hot and often spicy sauce or relish served as an accompaniment to other dishes. Take only a tiny portion and taste with caution! Acar (pickled cucumber and carrot with little green chilies (the hottest ones!) is also frequently served, along with krupuk (prawn crackers) or emping (nut crackers). Sundanese meals generally include lalab (a selection of raw or lightly cooked vegetables) each mouthful being dipped first in sambal, as well as the Sundanese version of sayur asem or sayur lodeh (vegetables cooked in santan). In addition to nasi timbel mentioned above, Sundanese restaurants usually offer fried or barbecued fish or chicken as well as pepes ikan (marinated fish wrapped in banana leaf and grilled). In Jakarta you can find Sundanese food at :
- Dapur Sunda (Jl. Cipete Raya 13, Cipete, Phone 769 4834 and other branches),
- Padzzi Pondok Ulam (Jl. Ampera Raya 137, Kemang, Phone 780 5835, 782 9714),
- Ratu Kuring (Jl. Mampang Prapatan 135, South Jakarta, Phone 799 6886),
- the Sari Kuring chain (Jl. Melawai Raya 6, Kebayoran Baru, Phone 726 5363, Jl. Jend. Sudirman Kav 52-53 (SCBD) lot 21, Central Jakarta, Phone 515 5302, (Jl. Wolter Monginsidi 41, Kebayoran Baru, Phone 7278 6138).
While pork is rarely found in other parts of Indonesia, Bali is well known for its pork dishes, such as babi kecap (pork braised in soy sauce) and sate pentul (minced pork sate) as well as ayam/daging bumbu Bali (chicken or beef in chili and tamarind sauce), lawar (raw vegetable salad), sate lilit (minced fish and shrimp sate) and duck dishes such as bebek bangor (crispy duck) and bebek betutu (smoked duck). For Balinese food try :
- Ajengan (Jl. Panglima Polim I/65, Kebayoran Baru, Phone 722 0227),
- Bebek Bali (Taman Ria Senayan, Jl. Gerbang Pemuda, Senayan, Phone 574 7667) or
- Bebek Bengil (Jl. Mahakam I, Kebayoran Baru or Darmawangsa Square, Jl. Dharmawangsa VI/IX, Kebayoran Baru, Phone 726 6926/27, 722 1230 and other branches).
Food from Manado, North Sulawesi is also very popular and focuses on seafood with many dishes being fiery hot. Manadonese specialties include ikan kuah asam (fish with tamarind sauce), ikan cakalang garo rica (fish with chili), ayam rica-rica (grilled chicken with chili), cumi/ayam woku belanga (sauted squid or chicken with spicy green chili sauce), sayur Manado (hot and spicy mixed vegetables) and ayam isi di bulu (chicken cooked slowly inside a bamboo tube with green chili sauce). You can find these dishes at :
- Beautika, Jl. Hang Lekir 1, Kebayoran Baru, Phone 722 6683,
- Cak Tu Ci (Jl. Panglima Polim V/15, Kebayoran Baru, Phone 724 4833),
- Ikan Bakar Manado Rica-Rica (Jl. H. Agus Salim 67A, Menteng, Phone 331 687).
- Waroeng Camoe-Camoe (Jl. Panglima Polim IX/53, Kebayoran Baru, Phone 720 8294 and other branches)
In addition to the restaurants mentioned above serving regional cuisines, there are also numerous restaurants in Jakarta offering a general selection of Indonesian food from across the archipelago. Some recommended restaurants for starting off your culinary journey through Indonesia are :
- Sate Khas Senayan (Jl. Pakubuwono VI/5, Kebayoran Baru, Phone 726 9032),
- Kemang Square, Jl. Kemang Raya 3A, Phone 7179 4717, Jl. Cokroaminoto 78, Menteng, Phone 392 8763
- Waroeng Podjok (branches in Plaza Senayan and Pondok Indah Mall),
- Kafe Museum (Museum Fatahillah, Jl. Taman Fatahillah 1, North Jakarta, Phone 693 1040),
- Dapur Babah (Jl. Veteran I/18, Central Jakarta, Phone 385 5653),
- Harum Manis (Pavillion Apartment Retail Arcade, Jl. K.H. Mas Mansyur No. 24, Central Jakarta, Phone 5794 1727),
- Kembang Goela (Plaza Sentral parking lot, Jl. Jend. Sudirman Kav. 47-48, Phone 5205 6251),
- Lara Djonggrang (Jl. Cik Ditiro 4, Menteng, Phone 315 3252),
- Seribu Rasa (Jl. Haji Agus Salim 128, Menteng, Central Jakarta, Phone 392 8892),
- Oasis (Jl. Raden Saleh Raya 47, Central Jakarta, Phone 315 0646) famous for its traditional presentation of rijstafel. Many hotels, such as the Borobudur, Dharmawangsa, Sahid Jaya and Sheraton Bandara, also serve excellent Indonesian food in addition to international cuisine.
Enjoy tasting Indonesian food, and as they say here: Selamat Makan!
Provided by: Colliers International