My friends and regular readers know that even though I’m Indian and I grew up in India and now I’m an American citizen and have lived in the US for close to three decades, if I had the choice, I’d like to live in Indonesia. I love everything about that place (except probably the traffic in Jakarta). I love how diverse the country is, I love its culture, I love their music, I love their textiles and handicrafts, I love the people and I love their warmth and generosity of spirit and of course I love the various cuisines of Indonesia.
Indonesia has a very developed tourist industry and so a lot of foreigners visit the country but usually people go to the usual places – Jakarta, Bali, Jogjakarta, Bandung, Lombok etc… I’ve been to Indonesia quite a few times and have had the opportunity to travel to some of its big cities and also of the most remote and smaller lesser known islands. Since it is a country that is comprised of thousands of islands, there is a huge variety in the dishes and kinds of foods preferred in each of these islands. I love exploring the local markets in these remote regions and try all the varieties of tropical fruits available here (although I do have to confess that despite many attempts, I’ve failed to understand why Durian is such a favorite here!).
It so happens that over the past couple of years, all the other members of my family have traveled to Indonesia. My husband goes there a few times each year for work, my daughter went for an internship two summers ago and last year even my son went for an internship in Jakarta. I’m the only one who’s been left out of these trips and I’ve begun to resent it a bit, especially since I’ve been craving Indonesian food.
A few weeks ago we discovered a little restaurant called Satay Sarinah (through an Indonesian visitor to our place) on Van Dorn Street in Alexandria (a suburb of Washington DC, in Virginia) that has the most authentic Indonesian cuisine (http://www.sataysarinah.com). Satay Sarinah is a small, family run place that has a little hole-in-the-wall feel to it but it sure has a huge fan following. In the two times that I’ve been there, I’ve met quite a few people who seem to be regulars to this place. A lot of them are people who’ve at some point or another lived in Indonesia and who speak Bahasa Indonesia fluently and who seem to feel the same kind of connection to Indonesia as I do!
The restaurant is run by a Javanese man and his Sundanese wife. They also run several food trucks in DC that can be tracked through their facebook page Sate Truck – https://www.facebook.com/SateTruck?fref=ts ). The menu is not very long but the food is delicious, fresh, authentic and reasonably priced. I haven’t tried the entire menu as yet but I absolutely love all that I have tried. Among the appetizers I highly recommend the Corn Fritters (Bakwan Jagung) and the Onion Crackers (Krupuk Bawang) and the traditional Indonesian salad called Gado gado. If you like spicy sauces, ask them for the Sambal Oelek (it’s a red chili and garlic sauce). There is a variety of satays and even though I usually like chicken satay the most, I was surprised by how good the beef satay was. The Mie Goreng (fried noodles) and the Ayam Bumbu Rujak (Spicy Grilled Chicken) were outstanding. One of my favorite Padang dishes is Beef Rendang. It is a boneless beef stew that is slow cooked in a thick sauce made of onions, galangal root, lemon grass and a variety of dry spices. I was happy to see that they serve it at Satay Sarinah. The Rendang was very good but I do want to add a word of caution that it is VERY spicy and if you can’t stand the heat, you might want to stay away from it.
Since, I’ve already raved so much about Indonesian food it is only appropriate to confess that I am not particularly fond of Indonesian desserts. I find their traditional desserts a little bland and somehow I’m not too fond of their texture. I do however love one dessert a lot – pisang goreng. It’s comprised of battered and fried ripe bananas (they use the little tropical bananas) that are served with some vanilla ice cream, topped with a sweet caramel sauce. If you have a sweet tooth, I highly recommend this dessert at Satay Sarinah. The crunch on the fried bananas is done to perfection and the caramel sauce is divine.