Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 8 June 2014 • Destination
It occurred to us that people would like to eat like locals when traveling to Jakarta. We realized we haven’t got much information about local food. So, once we heard the Mercure Simatupang Hotel was doing a month of ‘Betawi’ or Jakarta food, we had to jump in the bandwagon and munch in. It is Jakarta’s birthday coming up, so why not join the festivity? Aside to the usual ‘kerak telor’, ‘ketoprak’, ‘babanci’, and ‘semur jengkol’, what else is Betawi food?
What one must understand is that Betawi is an ethnicity made upon a lot of cultures, such as Malay, Sundanese, Javanese, a little bit of Makassar and Bugis, Ambon, Minang, and Balinese. I’m sure there’s more on this list. There are also acculturation of foreign countries such as the Dutch, Portuguese, Arab, Chinese and Indian. However, with such a rich mix of culture, Betawi has become an identity on its own, including in its dishes. At Mercure Simatupang, six Betawi dishes showcased starting on the 9th of June 2014 up to the 28th of June 2014.
We’ve learned that these dishes were based on famous menus around Jakarta. Sometime in the past, each dish was known in a specific area in the capital city. While four out of the six dishes seem common, they’re recipes of Betawi people.
What caught our eyes first was the grilled rib. The ‘Iga Bakar Condet’ came out, bone and all. It’s not often you see a cow’s rib in a fancy setting. There’s something about meat on a bone that taps me into my primordial side. Keeping this desire to grab it and bite the meat off, we used cutlery and pleasantly cut through the meat that had darkened by the spices basted on it. The meat was savory and delicious. Along with it, we had the pleasure to enjoy the ‘Ayam Goreng Jatinegara’ complete with sautéed bean cake and rice, also the oh-so-Betawi, ‘Soto Betawi’, with the delicious uric-acid-generating ‘emping’ chips! Each dish was a generous portion, a lot aside to the lunch buffet in the restaurant. One must remember to save space for desserts ☺
Also on the menu is the ‘Sate Asem Tanah Abang’ which is satay made of sliced and marinated meat with brown sugar and tons of other herbs known from Tanah Abang, ‘Gurame Pesmol Marunda’ or carp cooked in yellow sauce from Marunda, and the very Betawi ‘Nasi Ulam Kemayoran’ which is used to be a typical breakfast dish but now modified to be an all-day meal.
Pak Jajang Mulyana is the head chef for the Mercure Graffiti Restaurant. He had the time to just chat with us about the dishes and of his life’s work. Pak Jajang learned much of the Betawi recipes from Sabil Al Rasyid, a legendary Indonesian chef. However, Pak Jajang is not without his own merits. He had made the Indonesian book of records for making a 200-meter ‘semar mendem’ and 5 tons of ‘asinan’. He loves to cook, go food tasting on the weekends, and loves his job in the kitchen.
“I let my wife and children cook at home. Whether it’s good or not, I never discourage them from cooking. I always give them constructive criticism,” he answers to what he eats at home, with a nurturing manner.
What’s most interesting for me was the fact that Pak Jajang wasn’t hesitant to use a lot of spices and give the dish a rich taste. Usually, modern and western influenced restaurants will tone the Indonesian spices down a notch or two to adjust to western taste. Not this time! Each dish was very generously bathed in what Indonesia is known for: spices!
“This is what makes Indonesian food special. It’s fresh, uses a lot of herb and spices, and generally relatively cheap,” he says. He assures us he uses the best meat and free-range chicken for his dishes.
I particularly loved the Soto Betawi as it was not overly rich with the right amount of coconut milk and meat that melts in your mouth. It bought stars in my eyes from my first spoonful. Kept in a warm ceramic bowl on fire, I enjoyed the warm soupy dish and had last scoops before ending my culinary escapades and moved on to dessert. I loved it!
So, if you’re looking for some Betawi inspired dishes with all the bang, The Grafitti Restaurant at Mercure Simatupang, just might do the trick. But remember, these local menus are only available to the 28th of June 2014.
Just as a side note, we also met Captain Ruby who was kind enough to share a few tips and tricks on taking pictures of our meals. Such a nice coincidence, considering we had to take pictures of food. So how do you think we did?
Dishes were provided by Mercure Simatupang, but the opinion are our own.
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