The Indonesian food festival on at Trident is a sweet, sour and spicy medley

Think nasi goreng, think Indonesian cuisine. Right? “Wrong,” says Chef Sheandy Satria from Sumatra, hosting the Jalan Makanan food festival at The Trident in the city. He welcomes us with a gentle Namaste and begins by dispelling this prevalent fallacy about the cuisine of his land.

Indonesian cuisine is a sweet, sour and spicy medley of food from five islands. Bali with its Hindu population has food flavoured by small, aromatic ginger called Kencur, Java has three distinct types of foods and Sumatra shares its palate with South Indian flavours. The two smaller islands of Borneo and Sulawesi use rare herbs and spices that are hard to procure and hence their food is not represented at the fest. Ditto for Papua New Guinea, an island which is half Indonesian.

There are other interesting facts that Sheandy shares. Rawon soup from East Java is made from a poisonous fruit called Kluwek. The fruit is buried and left for days till its flesh turns dark. It is then used in soup and gives it an earthy flavour. Palm sugar, brown sugar and plain sugar make the food from Central Java overly sweet. Coconut milk is the base for most curries in Sumatra. Sheandy states a historical connect: British colonists brought Indian plantation workers from South India and hence the legacy of their food runs strong and deep there. He talks excitedly about the ‘roti canai’ pronounced roti Chennai, similar to the Malabar parotta. “It too is served with a spicy meat curry!” The desserts from Sumatra too share Indian flavours. The mung bean pudding is akin to payar payasam made there from mung beans, coconut milk and palm sugar. Pandan leaves are used to flavour the pudding.

So if not nasi Goreng, a stir-fried rice dish inspired by Chinese cuisine, then what is true-blue Indonesian?

“Rujak Buah,” says Sheandy and offers a delightful salad made of crisp slices of pineapple, unripe papaya, cucumber and honey melon tossed in spicy palm sugar sauce and garnished with coarsely broken peanuts. It’s indeed a refreshing start to a rich buffet. It is followed by a light, clear fishy soup garnished with fried curry leaves. The main course offers a range of fish, chicken and meat dishes. For the vegetarians too the chef has thoughtfully presented a scrumptious range. “Vegetarian dishes are rare in our cuisine. We use shrimp paste for most of our food,” says Sheandy adding that ‘Gado Gado’, a mixed vegetable salad with peanut dressing, is a popular starter.

As one relishes the spread Shenady talks about the nuances of a cuisine that has been influenced by Chinese and Indian food. The satay, commonly accepted as Malay food is from central Java, he says. The three pastes — bumbu putih, bumbu merah, bumbu kuning — used commonly in Indonesian cuisine are a mix of shallot, garlic, ginger and galangal as base. Red chilli or turmeric is added to give them the yellow or red colour and a different flavour. Tofu and Tampe made from Soya bean too are used extensively. Casava leaves, water spinach, long beans, and Kaffir lime leaves are some other common ingredients.

Durian, rambutan, salak, lychees and mangoes are the fruits used in dessert. Jackfruit is used both as vegetable and as a fruit, the ripe form served as batter fried crisps.

I spoon up a plate of dadar gulung — delicate rice flour crepes in coconut milk, sweetened with ginger palm sugar — for dessert and thank the chef for his efforts in laying out a delectable spread for his guests.

Terimakasih (Thank You), I say in sweet contentment.

Terimakasih, come again, replies Sheandy.

Jalan Makanan is on at restaurant Travancore till March 9 for lunch and dinner.

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