Hello everyone!!! On Sunday, I made a short trip to Jakarta to attend an old friend’s wedding. Although I was there for only less than two days, I experienced so much! For my first meal in the sprawling city, my local family friends brought me to Sate Khas Senayan. A popular chain specializing in Indonesian food from many regions, it was a cosy joint filled with wood accents. We sat on teak benches. When I saw the list of branches, initially I was disheartened. But it turned out to be unnecessary for the food was wonderful and at lunchtime filled with locals – a good sign of authenticity. From my one meal at Sate Khas Senayan I was introduced to Indonesian food from at least three regions. The differences and variety were so exciting! After my meal, my curiosity for Indonesia heightened. Sate Khas Senayan also proved to be extremely convenient for a tourist short of time.
One the biggest surprise during lunch was the variety of peanut sauces. Although the menu stated “peanut sauce” for almost every Gado Gado-type dishes, the sauces could not be more different. Also, thank goodness I am an adventurous eater for the Indos really know how to eat a cow as efficiently as possible. Let me show you…
We began lunch with some chips: Kerupuk Kulit (thinly sliced beef skin crackers). Vaguely resembling a Louis Vuitton leather bag, this was more novelty than rewarding in taste. I much preferred pork crackling as this beef version was not as fragrant. But hey, at least now I can say I HAD BEEF SKIN CRACKERS!
Then for “drinks”, Es Cendol Durian. I was surprised when this was one of the first dishes to arrive. At other tables, the Indonesians were happily eating their iced desserts before their savouries. My family friend was drinking this throughout the meal so I followed suit. This was DELICIOUS! The green chendol noodles were significantly plumper than those in Singapore with great bouncy texture! The Gula Melaka or Gula Jawa (as it is known in Jakarta) was a deeper and less cloyingly-sweet version than those in Singapore. Plus the durian pulp hit the spot.
Next arrived two types of vegetables: (L-R) Gado Gado (Vegetables with peanut sauce and crackers) and Pecel Madiun (Vegetables with peanut sauce).
Both mega salads were filled with blanched vegetables (spinach, cabbage and bean sprouts) and topped with peanut sauces. In the picture below, top is Pecal Madiun, bottom is Gado Gado.
Gado Gado (Vegetables with peanut sauce and crackers) is from the region of Jakarta and West Java (thanks Wikipedia!) unlike Pecel Madiun, this salad version contained hard-boiled eggs and lontong (rice wrapped in a banana leaf).This is more commonly found in Singapore.
On the other hand, Pecel Madiun (Vegetables with peanut sauce) is from the region of Java. The biggest differentiating factor is the peanut sauce or peanut sambal. Spicier than its Gado Gado cousin, the sauce contains no coconut milk hence the more fiery colour. This peanut sauce also contains Kencur or galangal ginger. I found this sauce to be more appetizing than Gado Gado for I thoroughly enjoyed the bolder flavours.
Also from the same region as Pecal Madium is the sate version called Sate Ayam Campur Bumbu Blora (chicken and chicken skin satay in peanut fondue). Of all the food, the Indonesian version of satay was high on my bucket list. And this dish definitely exceeded my expectations. The peanut fondue was a silky smooth and rich peanut sauce with some kechap manis (sweet soy sauce) added for good measure. A dollop of sambal chilli on the side for the fiery aspect. Each chicken skewer consisted of a chunk of sliced marinated chicken meat. As opposed to the several small slices on a skewer that we have in Singapore, this single piece of chicken thigh per skewer was juicy and grilled to perfect smokiness. I expected to be squeamish about the chicken skin but it was so crispy yet surprisingly silky. My favourite dish of the afternoon!
You know what else was spectacular? This Nasi Goreng (traditional indonesian fried rice served with minched chicken satay). Get your luggage ready to hit Jakarta just for this dish. My crappy photographer skills did no justice to this dish. The mildly sweet but heavy smokiness went straight to my heart on first bite. The plump crunchy rice grains were loose and felt fluffy. A triumph, I fell madly in love with Indonesian cuisine after this.
Another mega salad we shared was from Surabaya, Rujak Cingur (assorted steamed vegetables but this time with green beans, tofu and rice cake served with cingur and peanut sauce.) My photo is crap but I took a picture of the menu where the cingur can be seen more clearly. Guess what part of the buffalo cingur is?
The lips! What the hell, right?! Chewy but more gelatinous than the tongue, this dish was downright bizarre! However, I could not appreciate this “peanut sauce” version. The blacker-than-usual peanut sauce differentiates from the other two due to the addition of petis (black fermented shrimp paste). It may be unique but I found the sauce most jarring. But the noodle-shaped kerupuk (Indonesian shrimp crackers) was quite a sight. And surprisingly the tempeh was not deep-fried bone-dry but still retained its tender nature.
I asked for this dish, Perkedel Jagung (Crispy sweet corn fritters), as almost every table had a plate. Each pancake-like fritter was packed with crunchy corn. A deep-fried goodness but the sambal chilli accompanying it made this dish memorable. So spicy, thick and fragrant, I “spread” a generous teaspoon on each fritter before eating it. That was some seriously addictive chilli.
Another unique dish we shared: Tahu Pong Komplit (Prawn fritters, fried beancurd and fried hard-boiled egg with prawn paste). Accompanied with a sweet and savoury soy sauce with green sambal. This dish may have been totally deep-fried but it was surprisingly light thanks to the airiness.
When cut into half, an extremely airy fried tofu.
Then there were two soup ordered that afternoon: (L-R) Sayur Asem (Crunchy vegetables boiled in tamarind broth) and Soto Betawi Isi Daging (Betawi beef curry). Soto Betawi Isi Daging (Betawi beef curry) originates from Jakarta and consists of a thin coconut milk beef broth filled with thinly cut soft beef brisket, fried potatoes and tomato. The “curry” was a little thin for my liking or maybe because I was on the verge of bursting from all the preceding food.
Sundanese-cuisine, Sayur Asem (Crunchy vegetables boiled in tamarind broth) was a vegetable-packed soup with a crazy amount of peanuts. Seriously stuffed at this point… But then dessert was ordered.. Good god.
But I learnt dessert was the special and extremely unique Kolak! I’m mighty pleased to have tried this dish as my friend explained it is only available for a month each year. That’s because this is the much-preferred dish to Iftar (break a fast) during the holy month of Ramadan. A sweet gula jawa-based soup. I was told if I came any other month, I would have been unable to try this dish. Lucky me for it was gorgeous! Consisting of the common ingredients such as Banana Rajah (unripe bananas – sturdy and delicious!), sweet potato, plantains and atapchee. The Sate Khas Senayan version included large cubes of a white tofu-like pudding. The cubes of pudding were coconut-flavoured and sturdier than tofu. It was so appetizing, I threw all fears of calories out the window and effortlessly lapped up this bowl.
I ate like no tomorrow at Sate Khas Senayan. Hearty food, wonderful service and damn cold air-conditioning; I can not think of a better welcome to the city of Jakarta. If you are pressed for time, lack local guide, not into wandering around for food (sorry we can’t be friends) or want clean food, you have to hit up Sate Khas Senayan. Free wifi and clean toilets provided, you will leave the restaurant happily stuffed.