Half the enjoyment of going to a foreign land comes from eating the local food! And since I wasn’t familiar at all with Indonesian food, I just relied on the recommendations that some of my friends made.
The first Indonesian food that I experienced was the Babi Guling of Warung Nasi Andi Jaya, a roadside warung that not only serves as a restaurant but also as a sort of Sari-Sari Store. Before I say anything about the food, let me just describe how it was prepared: by hand. The one preparing the food literally just arranged the ingredients on the plate by hand. She was also the one who received the payments from the customers… For one who could be so picky when it comes to food, I still pushed on and agreed to eat there… if this was part of how it is to eat locally, then I’m a go.
In all fairness to the nice lady, my lunch looked presentable. And it wasn’t too shabby either. Babi Guling is similar to our lechon wherein a pig is spit-roasted. But according to my research, the pig is bathed first in coconut water and rubbed with chili, turmeric, garlic and ginger. And yes, this thing is spicy!
Next in line is the ever-famous Nasi Goreng, which is considered as Indonesia’s national dish. The first time I tried this was for dinner at Warung Totemo, the nearest resto to Pop! Hotel Kuta Beach. It was composed of stir-fried rice, egg and meat, topped with omelette strips. There were some chicken satay plus some prawn crackers.
Another version that I tried was at the Padang Padang Beach. It was less sophisticated than the one in Warung Totemo but they were more or less similar.
Another local dish that I was able to try was the Nasi Jinggo. It was a complimentary breakfast at the hotel. It was presented like a packed meal, wrapped in banana leaves in the shape of a cone. It was basically a mix of some rice, noodles and some meat (I think it was chicken). There was a bit of serundeng or shredded coconut fried without oil with some spices, and some very hot sambal, that chili-based sauce that Indonesians seem to be crazy about. It tasted pretty good but too spicy for breakfast.
The second spicy breakfast that I had at Pop! Hotel Kuta Beach was Nasi Uduk. This one was pretty similar to the Nasi Jinggo in that it was power-packed with carbohydrates and spiciness. There was rice, noodles, fried chicken slices, crunchy bean-like things, shredded coconut and sambal.
Another goreng that I tried was Mie Goreng. I already tried this in Singapore and I sort of wanted to compare. Mie Goreng Totemo is made up of stir-fried meat, vegetables and noodles and topped with omelette strips. Warung Totemo seemed to always include chicken satay and prawn crackers to complete their dish.
In Jakarta, the first food that I was able to sample was Bakso Mie at AKSO in the Thamrin City Mall. I had a really hard time getting my order across because the waitress did not speak English! Add to that was that everything I wanted to order seemed to be unavailable. Another out-of-character behavior that I exhibited was that I was laughing the whole time even if I was supposed to be going The Hulk with hunger. Anyway, Bakso Mie is a savory meatball noodle soup. Apparently, this soup was made famous by U.S. President Barack Obama when he remembered it as one of his favorites during a visit to Jakarta.
On a side note, this Teh Botol tasted like liquid paste. As in that paste you used back in grade school to glue paper together. It was pretty bad.
Aside from main dishes, I also had the chance to try one of their salads: Lontong Salad. The main ingredient is the lontong which is made of compressed rice cake. There are also some spinach, bean sprouts, egg, sweet corn, cabbage, tofu and their signature emping melinjo or emping crackers. These emping crackers tasted different from the usual cracker snacks because it was bitter. The salad itself was served cold, but again, it was spicy.
The satay that we ordered wasn’t very much different from the ones that I had at Warung Totemo in Bali. It is basically chicken barbeque dipped in peanut sauce. I made the mistake of stirring the peanut sauce though and that resulted in a spicier dip. But overall, I like chicken satay.
Last on this list is Indonesian coffee. I was able to experience local coffee from the local coffee shop in its first branch ever: Excelso Café at Plaza Indonesia. I tried the Mega Mocha Shake which is part of the Excelso Fantasy Coffee line. This shake is composed of coffee and mocha ice cream. In truth, it is not much different from all the mocha shakes I’ve experienced. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed it.
Even though I was only able to sample so few Indonesian dishes, I would have to say that their overall characteristic is: (you guessed it!) spicy. For a tropical country that’s very hot, I somehow do not see the logic as to why they love spicy food. Nonetheless, I hope that I would be able to try more Indonesian food in the future because for a country that is made up of approximately 17,508 islands, I’m sure that there are more than 17,508 paths to gastronomic satisfaction.