As I’ve alluded to in an earlier post, Jakarta is the epicenter of Indonesian food. Imagine being able to get NYC/New Haven pizza in LA or anything Mexican on the east coast and having those respective meals actually taste good. Insular transplants to the capital from around the Indonesian archipelago provide not only a broad array and diversity of edibles and tastes but also an assurance that you will probably be feeling woozy even before you sit and eat. In other words, in order to relish meals from all over the country conveniently located in Jakarta, you might need to wade the floods, dearth of sidewalks and traffic lights, miasmas of kretek, got (sewer-canals that are usually filled with toys and cats, but only one of those is living), and whatever else the Big Durian throws at you. Or…just take a cab. Seeing as I prefer taking long constitutionals wherever I am, Jakarta and its sixty or so taxi companies will have to wait for the next and much more anxious bule (foreigner) to flash their high beams at.
Let’s start with guns (or more accurately, exhaust pipes) ablazin’. One of my Indonesian friends is Batak, that is, a generally Catholic minority hailing from the Danau Toba (Lake Toba) region of North Sumatra. I mentioned to her that I like to eat, and she said “for realz?” Actually, I’m glad she didn’t say that, but anyway she thus took me to her favorite Batak warung (canteen) in Jakarta. It was in Senen, an area known for books, so I surely wasn’t too familiar with it. You know what else it’s known for? Me neither, but they did have quite the ruckus-filled bus terminal. And that’s where this warung was located (If you look at the picture, below where it says the name of the place, “Lapo Pardonuan,” a reflection of hungry buses is shown. Below that cart are the plates: pork is a common entrant, and even though I don’t drink alcohol, I noticed beer on the wall too. She told me about her favorite dish, naniarsik, which contains fish, lemongrass and Thai ginger (galangal), and cabe hijau, a green pepper mix which I finished about five plates of. That could’ve been a cause for the day’s upset estomago. To sum up the bevy of Batak dishes we had, pork, pork, rich sauce, pork. I’d go back, but it’d be easier to do without nostrils.
Ketoprak, a Betawi (Jakartan) specialty, has lontong (rice steamed in a banana leaf), tofu, mihun (thin rice noodles), bean sprouts, topped with peanut sauce and brown sugar/sweetened soy sauce, optionally with garlic and red chilies. It is served with starchy chips and importantly, a spoon. It’s one of many meals I like to eat as a snack, particularly at night, when I usually see it being sold. In fact, the sign on this vendor says malam, which means night, and Jl. Blora (Jl.= jalan = road) is a mysterious block of mostly locals-only bars and very loud Indonesian techno music. The pollution indoors is as bad as the pollution outside…
- Commonplace throughout Jakarta are …goreng and sate vendors. Goreng means fried, and the quintessential sate (you may know it as satay) involves skewered foods, mostly meat. The fried pisang (banana) in the photo isn’t quite wrapped in notes from a doctor’s ledger, but it did taste unhealthy enough for me worry about my next visit. This particularly sate was ayam (chicken), but really, underneath all of that delicious peanut sauce (bumbu kacang), it could be anything. To tell a family secret, I mostly order it for the peanut sauce, and fried onions atop.
Padang, a city in West Sumatra, is a major source of Indonesian fast food throughout the country. Though, upon first glance, you may question consuming most of it. Food is pre-cooked, possibly hours before you sit down to eat it. It sits in the windows of warung Padang (have you brushed up on your Indonesian?; don’t make me add a link to this post IN this post), hoping to lure you in, and to tempt peckish fruit flies and mosquitoes too. Once you overcome that epiphany, you tell the food-spooner (uhhh) what you want, which he then plops on top of a mound of rice. If you say bungkus, that means you want to do take-out. In that case, he uses a rubber band to bind up the food in the banana leaf, then with paper. Make sure you know which end is up (hint: just kidding). What did I order above? It looks like eggplant, jackfruit, long beans, potatoes, and a braised toothpick. The brown sauce on the side is spicy and sweet. Eats in this cuisine are strictly halal.
- Garuda is a chain of Padang-style restaurants, that is, a step up from the usual warung. I must’ve been feeling generous that night. In these places, waitstaff place a bunch of different plates on the table (pre-cooked, of course, strike 1), and whatever you “eat” from you get charged for (strike 2). Luckily though, to make me forget about these two aspects of Padang food, rendang is a staple. Rendang, usually beef, is stewed in a spicy coconut milk mix, becoming very tender (so much so that you don’t need a knife to cut it, because knives aren’t common utensils in Indonesia anyway). A bowl of water is to cleanse your hands, but where did that water come from (strike 3??) Vegetables, fish, meat and coconut milk, often spicy, all play an integral role in this cuisine.
- Have you tried any of these regional Indonesian cuisines? What did you like (or not) about them?