Alright welcome back ladies and gents, the next stop on our global food tour of Los Angeles takes us to the world’s largest island country. Located in the South China Sea between mainland Asia and Australia, we’re taking our taste buds to Indonesia, an island nation comprised of almost 17,000 islands and 273.5 million people!
For an island country, I was guessing the menu would be very seafood heavy. And I was right! But it’s also soooo much more. Indonesia, as vast as it is, is a land of many influences and that translates directly into the cuisine. Initially, there was a wave of Chinese immigrants who settled in Indonesia, so the base of a lot of Indonesian dishes is rice and chicken, but that’s only just where it starts. Indonesia at one point was colonized by the Dutch, so there are many Dutch influences, (like one of the desserts literally being a pancake). However, in addition to that, nearly 87% of Indonesians identify themselves as practicing Islam, so there is definitely a Muslim influence in the absence of pork items or alcohol, as well. But, these influences pale in comparison to the nearly 5,000 native and local differences. As CultureTrip tells us about Indonesia,
“In Indonesia, one dish can have dozens of versions across localities. The famed satay, for example, has at least 20 different recipes adopted in different regions, depending on the local taste and availability of ingredients. For example, the Balinese satay lilit uses coconut milk and lemongrass, ingredients that are readily available in the region. Satay from Padang on the other hand, is drenched in a curry-like sauce typical to Padang cuisine.”
Luckily, we had a friend who was born and raised two hours outside of Jakarta to guide us through the menu and give us an authentic look at such a unique cuisine. She told us a lot of the menu comprised of two main categories, street food, and then traditional family style meals that people eat when they get together. Sounds like a best of both worlds to me, right? Indonesian food is probably an Asian cuisine you’ve never thought to try, luckily Simpang Asia (two locations, one on National and one on Lincoln) has us covered. So let’s dive in!
To start, we went for a round robin of family style appetizers. First up was the Roti Paratha. It was a very, very flaky and light, rip-able puff pastry which was dipped in an incredibly subtle peanut curry sauce. If you’ve ever had any Thai or Indian roti, it was essentially the same thing, but even more delicate, and less flatbready, (because it was folded up into lots of layers). It was a great way to dip our toes into the meal.
Next, we went with the Lemper, which was a sweet rice roll stuffed with shredded coconut chicken. These were unreal, I could’ve probably, legitimately taken down eight of these bad boys myself. Alas, as it was family style, we disappointingly had to share. But c’mon, sweet rice and coconut chicken? I mean that’s all a man needs to live right there.
Up next, we opted for the Risoles, which were little fried pastries stuffed with chicken, carrots and a cream sauce, with a peanut sauce on the side. These were honestly pretty standard and it was just nice to have something crispy to balance out the apps. Imagine spring rolls, but instead of wrapped and fried, they’re just breadcrumbed and fried. Nothing too crazy.
Finally, the main appetizer of the night, Siomay Bandung. I had no clue what this would entail, but our Indonesian friend said she’d eat this growing up for breakfast and suggested we get it, and that’s usually a smart move in these situations. Out came a giant heaping plate featuring pieces of steamed shrimp, chicken, fishcakes, tofu, egg, potato and cabbage, all served mixed in a thick peanut and sweet soy sauce. I don’t know how well I’d feel about fish cakes being the first meal of the day, however at 8pm on a Saturday is was an awesome way to kick off the meal. The peanut sauce was so thick and rich and whichever dumpling you happened to bite into was just fantastic.
Now for the main entrees. No Indonesian meal could be complete without some bomb seafood. And that’s when we ordered an Ikan Bakar, for the table. This charcoal grilled whole tilapia was delicious. The outside skin was so perfectly charred, while the inside meat was incredibly fresh, flavorful and delicate. No icky seafood here, this fish is the real deal. And coupled with the soy garlic sauce, it was fantastic. If you’re a fish lover, don’t think twice about getting this bad boy.
For my main entree, I went with the traditional “festival rice” or Nasi Kuning, mainly because the plate consisted of a smorgas board of a million things on the menu I also wanted to try (plus the coned up rice looked pretty cool, anyway). The plate contained a heap of turmeric coconut rice, chicken sate with peanut sauce, coconut beef steak (rendang), sambal egg, fried noodle, shredded egg, caramelized potato, tempeh & peanuts. Just an unreal assortment and every flavor complimented the next. The coconut beef steak was out of this world and the noodle had an awesome sweet and savory flavor. I hate the be the glutton, but yes, I did finish every last bite.
Ahhhh and no meal is complete without dessert, luckily we were able to try both of Simpang’s traditional options. First was the Martabak Manis, which is like a pan-fried sweetbread (or essentially pancake) stuffed with an awesome layer of peanut, chocolate and cheese. These traditional, street desserts were definitely a dense, sweet treat after such a great meal.
Next was the Pisang Bakar, which is flash fried sweet banana topped with chocolate sprinkles, cheese and condensed milk. The condensed milk glaze coupled with the fried banana perfectly for that charred/sweet balance. The cheese on top of banana was definitely unexpected and a bit weird, nevertheless, our Indonesian friend couldn’t emphasize enough how authentic it was while also contemplating… why do Indonesians put cheese on everything?
Our foray into Indonesian cuisine was fantastic. Literally every dish had some form of peanut in it, (which as a peanut lover, I love) but you have a peanut allergy, you would not do well being raised in Indonesia. The flavors were so cool and unique and the quality of the food was so good, that despite going through heaping rounds of courses, I didn’t feel crappy or bloated one bit afterwards. Do yourself, and your tastebuds a flavor and jump out of your comfort zone and into
10433 National Blvd #2 Los Angeles, CA 90034