Discovering Indonesian Food In Jakarta
Filipinos may or may not have given much thought to the contrast in size of our ASEAN neighbor, Indonesia. If the Philippines has over 7,100 islands, Indonesia has over 17,500 with a range of languages/dialects, just over 300, and spread across three timezones. Imagine the variety of flavors and produce dispersed across the land, we sympathize if you can’t all in one moment.
Their love for rice also dwells just as deep as it does in the Philippines but spices, heat, and a more prevalent use of coconut based sauces and chilis paint a vivid contrast between both cuisines. There’s a lot of territory to cover and though it would take way more than a few days to outline the entirety of Indonesia’s regional cuisine, here are some basic things we discovered whilst we were in Jakarta. You may soon start counting on both hands how many times we compare a dish that they have to one we’ve already tasted here in the Philippines.
At the enigmatic and eclectic Indonesian resto, Lara Djonggran, we met up for an evening of drinks and dessert ironically enough to first discuss breakfast with a couple based in Jakarta—Adwin is Indonesian, and Maira is Filipino.
As a side note the first breakfast we ourselves experienced at our Akmani hotel buffet had a lot of rice, but the Nasi Goreng (fried rice) tray was consumed very quickly and was the first to go empty. We made do with a pastel or type of samosas with chicken inside the server pointed out, white rice, and hard-boiled eggs with satay sauce served on the side.
Adwin and Maira were married in Jakarta and have been based there ever since. They issued a bit of a very basic food launchpad when it comes to what some day-to-day Indonesian eats look like from their urbanite view. Their stories stem from having lived in Jakarta for so long, a bustling city ripe with tradition.
“By 4 or 5 in the morning they get the cakes [kue kue in Indonesian, kueh in Singaporean] from Pasar Senen[market],” what Adwin refers to is actually their version of Filipino kakanin delicacies like our own puto, biko, kutsinta, or suman but note that the word kue also stands for typical sponge type cakes. They are usually bought early in the morning. At Pasar Senen it is pretty much the source for the fresh bakes, the drop-off point if you will, of newly baked or steamed kue kue.
“At Pasar Senen, that’s where most of the bakeries or shops buy their cakes from. “Kue” is cake.” Apparently in Indonesia they’re pretty big on cakes, upon AirAsia’s Manila entourage arrival in Jakarta a cake already awaited the group. These are often partnered with tea or coffee, both of which Indonesians consume lots of in the morning.
In the most honest sense Adwin pointed out that breakfast doesn’t seem to be quite a huge deal in Jakarta ‘til later in the day. “A typical Indonesian breakfast is actually like a light lunch, so they would eat rice in the morning…” Maira interjects “Nasi Goreng (fried rice)…” Adwin continues “We also have Nasi Uduk (nasi being the Indonesian word for rice), cooked in coconut milk…but actually we eat a lot more at lunch and dinner…”
They also mentioned the very hobbit-like concept of a kind of “elevenses” or late morning snack before lunch in the form of a noodle dish called ketoprak, similar to Filipino pancit palabok. Ketoprak, however, has a peanut sauce. One fried delight we had at breakfast together with Air Asia at the airport before the maiden flight to Jakarta was perkedel or fried corn fritters. We downed several of these before take-off and quickly forgot about the ever so usual Chicken Satay.
As a special treat for Air Asia delegates we were brought to Nusa, a high-end, beautifully laid out Indonesian Gastronomy restaurant in which Javara, a sustainable indigenous and artistanal food business, also retails adjacent to the restaurant. Javara as an organic food retailer also supplies the restaurant with farm-to-table produce and it is spearheaded by the lovely Helianti Hilman, a joyful and passionate advocate of the preservation of biodiverse farming.
Our lunch, to be fair, was not typically traditional but rather an experimental blend of traditional Indonesian flavors and ingredients delivered with modern presentation. We were greeted by delicious, refreshing glasses of sweetly chilled iced blue pea flower tea (blue ternate) upon our arrival.
We started off with an Amuse Bouche, an appetizer, a trio of traditional Indonesian flavors on one plate two of which we managed to identify as rendang (a coconut based saucy and spicy beef stew) and gado gado in bite-size mouthfuls.
The next course was a different take on a mushroom soup, this is sort of like a tropical vegetable soup similar to your nostalgic Friday Filipino “monggo” dish. At least in terms of flavor profile that’s what we enliken it to. This course was called Lodeh Tempe Kulat Pelawan, which featured the Pelawan mushroom in the center (specially grown only in a certain region) atop a savory rice cake with luxurious red rice from Borneo. A vegetable broth is poured in and it ties the whole dish together. The result is quite savory and light but not too salty.
The main entrée was Ayam Besengek, chicken steamed for 6 hours with a coconut base sauce and garnished with virgin coconut curls. The chicken breast was tender, and while white meat usually disappoints due to dryness, this did not. It was moist with each mouthful and every bite was a delight to eat.
A welcome dinner was held for Air Asia’s Philippine delegates one night at Seribu Rasa Menteng, a restaurant just a few minutes walk from the Akmani Hotel. There is another traditional rice dish apparently often served at special occasions such as this, especially formal dinners. It is eye-catching and neatly prepared. The dish is called Nasi Tumpeng. The peaked tumpeng is served on a garnished platter and comes in different varieties.
To celebrate an event that is positive or to symbolize prosperity the type of tumpeng prepared is usually Tumpeng Nasi Kuning. Nasi Kuning or Indonesian Yellow Rice gets its hue from being cooked with turmeric. The tumpeng kuning rice is cooked together with coconut milk, lemongrass, bay leaf and salt. It is attractively shaped into a cone with a peak using a banana leaf . The shape is meant to represent mountains and the custom is for a guest of honor to claim its peak as a symbol of success. At the ceremonial dinner for Air Asia, Chair Maan Hontiveros claimed the peak from the top of the tumpeng.
For a dose of sweet discovery we return to the bedecked venue in our conversation with Adwin and Maira. At the dimly lit and ornately decorated restaurant, Lara Djonggran we ordered two types of dessert, one iced and one simply chilled.
The first one we ordered was like an Indonesian version of our local champorado meets ginataan, Es Dawet Ketan Hitam is a chilled, delicious sweet black rice pudding with coconut milk and pandan. It’s certainly a comfort food candidate but you may want to share it with someone since it’s quite rich and heavy.
The tall iced dessert Es Campur Mahameru was also similarly pointed like the tumpeng and when cut into revealed cream and eight exotic tropical fruits; young coconut, black cincau, palm fruit, pineapple, jackfruit, avocado, fermented cassava, ‘selasih’ seeds.
If any of these Indonesian eats and dishes we mentioned have piqued your interest, why not discover them for real? Air Asia now has daily flights to Jakarta, the round trip flight we experienced was just little over four hours between destinations with pleasant in-flight service and smooth runway landings. Check out AirAsia.com for affordable round trip flight packages today.
Photographs by Julia Arenas, Kue kue photo from www.instagram.com/jakartafoodtraveler