Categorized | Art & Culture

Feasting on the Secrets of Indonesia

Although almost all Jakartans love Indonesian food, many just stick to familiar standbys such as gado-gado, nasi goreng and sate ayam. But the archipelago contains a huge number of unique culinary traditions, and immigrants from all over have brought their regional cuisines with them to the capital. They’re not always easy to find, but for passionate foodies, tracking down authentic dishes from far-flung corners of the country is a delicious adventure always worth undertaking.

There are few, if any, people with more passion for Indonesia’s rich culinary offerings than Lisa Virgiano, the founder of Underground Secret Dining, a group that seeks out the city’s most unique food vendors and organizes tasting events at secret locations with strict caps on the number of guests to ensure a fun, intimate eating experience.

The group’s intriguing offerings and air of mystery have made it extremely popular among Jakarta’s foodies. For the group’s second anniversary, which was celebrated on June 26, members decided to do something a little different. Instead of bringing guests to the vendors, organizers brought eight of their favorite food purveyors together to one location, Soemantri Brodjonegoro Stadium in Kuningan, for a festival of food open to all.

One of the eight vendors was Enny Inayat Alhadar, who proudly presented food from her hometown of Ternate in Maluku. Her booth featured a variety of main dishes and snacks. For example, Enny served roti coe , a steamed bread with a canary nut jam filling. It wasn’t much to look at, but proved to be quite tasty.

“Canary nuts are one of the main ingredients in Ternate dishes,” Enny said. It is used in all kinds of foods, from main dishes to sauces and desserts.

Enny also prepared a traditional Ternate breakfast dish of grilled sago, a starch extracted from the sago palm, dipped in sambal jantung pisang (banana heart sauce). The grilled sago has a texture similar to bread. The sambal is made out of terasi (shrimp paste), crushed canary nuts, onion, kangkung (water spinach) and vinegar. Its lively flavor makes it a tasty way to start the day.

Another staple breakfast dish in Ternate is lelampa , a greasy, savory rice cake that is wrapped in banana leaves and filled with fish and canary nuts.

One of Enny’s most famous dishes is steamed green cassava cake, popularly known as angka duriang in Ternate. Duriang is a slang term for durian, which is one of the main ingredients in the cake, along with pandan leaves and coconut milk. The glutinous cake is topped with sliced canary nuts and eaten hot.

While Ternate cuisine relies on canary nuts and sago, Sumatran cuisine is known for it’s frequent use of fish as well as curry sauces and soups.

“We like something soupy on our plates. We don’t like dry food,” said Butet Sirait, another vendor who came to the dining event. She sells traditional dishes from Tapanuli, a region in the highlands of Sumatra, at a stall in Pasar Mayestik in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta.

Butet, who considers herself Batak Toba, one of the three largest ethnic groups in North Sumatra, said there was a story behind the authentic dishes she brought to the event.

“For worship ceremonies, we usually cook gota ,” she said. Gota is a grilled meat dish that is traditionally cooked with blood. It is usually made with pork, but Butet replaces the pork with beef in Jakarta to appeal to a wider market. She also replaces the blood with coconut milk.

Other famous dishes among the Batak Toba people are naiura and tombur . Naiura, commonly served at a welcoming party to wish respected seniors a long life, is made from a raw carp fish fillet soaked in kaffir lime juice, galangal, candlenut, lemongrass and andaliman , or sichuan peppercorn. The fish is “cooked” by the lime juice, making it similar to a South American ceviche. Tombur is similar to naiura, but the fish is served steamed instead of raw.

“Our ancestors taught us that eating fish will improve our brain and make us clever,” Butet said.

Other than fish dishes, Batak people often serve traditional steamed cakes, such as lapet and ombus-ombus , along with beer or coffee, to their respected guests.

Another regional cuisine represented at the event was Balinese, which often uses the technique of wrapping meat in coconut leaves for grilling, a technique known in Indonesian as “pepes.” Candlenuts are also used frequently in Balinese dishes, including their most famous condiment, sambal matah , which combines the nuts with onions, chilies and coconut oil.

Gusti Puja, who presented authentic Balinese dishes to the foodies at the event, was born in Singaraja on the island. She said making authentic sambal matah is a process that takes several days due to the use of fresh coconut oil, which is essential to getting the flavor just right. Coconut is shredded and soaked in warm water until it is soft to produce coconut milk. The milk is then simmered until the oil separates and floats to surface. Then the oil is skimmed off and mixed with sliced onions and chilli to make the fresh, vibrant relish.

A variation on sambal matah is sambal serai , or lemongrass sauce. To make it, Gusti replaces onions with shredded lemongrass. The result is a tangy sauce that she said is perfect to go with her ayam suwir (shredded chicken), urap daun belimbing (starfruit leaf salad), and chicken sate.

While Underground Secret Dining focuses on Indonesian cuisine, they are more than willing to help showcase other unique food creations.

The second anniversary event also featured a stall selling Hokkaido Thousand Layer Cake. According to Jo Eng, who markets the dessert, it is a layered cake based on the French crepes but filtered through Japanese sensibilities. It is called Hokkaido after the hometown of the Japanese chef who invented the cake. The cakes are very thin, moist and filled with sweet creamy custard. The dessert is already very popular in Japan and Taiwan.

“All of our cakes are made to order, since they can only last for a few days,” said Eng. The freshness of the cake is evident in its taste and texture, which is somewhat similar to tiramisu, except that the Hokkaido cake is so soft that it feels like it melts in your mouth.

The USD second anniversary event showed just how much Jakarta’s food scene has to offer beyond the glitzy mall restaurants and upscale eateries.

For those with a bit of patience and a hunger for cuisine that is a little out of the ordinary, finding unique dishes is simply a matter of keeping your mind, and your stomach, open to new experiences.

Dapur Mami Enny (Ternate cuisine)
Jl. Kebon Nanas Selatan 1 No. 3,
East Jakarta, 13340.
Tel: 021 819 7179
Mobile: 0815 910 9312

Toko Sirait (Batak Toba cuisine)
Pasar Mayestik, Kebayoran Baru,
South Jakarta.
Mobile: 0813 9814 7103

Ibu Gusti (Balinese cuisine)
Jl. Indraloka Raya No. 1 Kav Polri Jelambar, West Jakarta.
Tel: 021 564 8954

Hokkaido Thousand Layer Cake
Web site:
Tel: 021 3623 2828

Underground Secret Dining

Sources: The Jakarta Globe

Popularity: 1% [?]

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This post was written by:

Bambang - who has written 128 posts on Good News From Indonesia.

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