Monday, June 4, 2012

33 Indonesian Provinces on Your Plate, Without Ever Leaving Jakarta

When it comes to food, Indonesia sure has variety. Locals in each of the archipelago’s 33 provinces have their own tastes and cook with unique ingredients, depending on what nature provides and their geographic location.

In Jakarta, one of the best spots to experiment with different Indonesian foods is the connecting “bridge” between Ambassador Mall and the ITC Kuningan shopping center in South Jakarta. With prices ranging from about Rp 10,000 to Rp 25,000 ($1.10 to $2.70) per portion and so much variety, it’s heaven for gastronomes.

There are more than 50 food stalls in three alleys, so customers can work their way from appetizer to main course to dessert, choosing from common dishes or those less known.

Last week, I visited the alleys three times with a friend to try dishes from several provinces. All three visits combined cost us less than Rp 150,000, and that included the drinks.

We went around the alleys and examined the mouth-watering foods on display. The colorful chilies, tomatoes and leaves, and the beautifully shaped papaya flowers and rice cakes, were all very tempting.

“With all the different types of food each stall offers, we would probably need more than a month of lunches to taste them all,” my friend said. “I think most people can usually only eat up to two portions of food during a visit.”

Manadonese foods dominate the area. With its famous rica-rica and sambal dabu-dabu , the local version of chili and tomato salsa, the North Sulawesi cuisine is the most sought-after by customers.

“We’ve been around for years, and it has been really good,” said Maisaroh, 22, who works in one of the stalls selling Manadonese food. “Sunday is the busiest day of the week. People from the church upstairs eat here after they finish. A lot of them are Manadonese.”

I decided to have a Manadonese meal of rice, fish, sauteed papaya flowers and sambal dabu-dabu. For Rp 18,000, it was really good.

“We cook the food every day,” Maisaroh said. “What we serve is always fresh.”

From the same food stall, I also tried Manadonese nasi kuning , or yellow rice, which gets its color from the turmeric used in the cooking process. The bright dish comes with dried shredded tuna, a boiled egg, spicy potatoes and chili paste, but the best part is the beautiful presentation: the meal is served not on a plate, but on a daun lontar , or palm leaf.

My friend had some bebek goreng sambal ijo , deep-fried duck with spicy green chili paste. Although it was not as good as she expected, she said it was “fine.”

On my next visit, I decided to taste nasi bakar pete peda , a set of seasoned rice with sliced stinky beans and salted fish wrapped in banana leaves and then grilled. It tasted and smelled excellent, as the rice soaked up the fragrance from the leaves. It came with sambal and shrimp crackers.

We also tried the soto mie , or noodle soup with meat, and the ketupat sapu jagad , or chicken curry with rice cakes and beef liver in chili and coconut milk.

For those who do not enjoy eating in crowded places, this may not be a good destination. Particularly during lunch hours, the area is packed with customers from the two shopping centers and office workers from around the neighborhood. Seating arrangements are not very comfortable, with little space between diners.

Dhani Linuwih, 31, said she only went there once and “was quite annoyed with the crowded situation.”

“I liked the food but I couldn’t stand the atmosphere,” she said. “It was too packed and noisy.”

But for the adventurous eater, the place is definitely worth a trip — and many more return visits. “I love the different foods here, and I’ve tried the ‘rare’ ones, too,” said Ratna, 26. “It just feels a little bit like traveling around Indonesia.”

Connecting bridge between ITC Kuningan and Ambassador Mall, 4th floor Jl. Prof. Dr. Satrio, Kuningan, South Jakarta (Jakarta Globe)

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