The colonial legacy rises. The Raj lives on. Its crossover flavours make for wonderful culinary journeys. At East Anglia in Eight Bastion, Fort Cochin, food and history meld delightfully in a menu crafted with care by Chef Saiju Thomas. The restaurant serves Dutch colonial fare but is currently hosting an Indonesian food festival.
If you thought satay and nasi goreng completed the food from the 5,000 or so islands of Indonesia, it is time to taste the rest. Satay is the most popular and common street food from there. Go for the platter which serves the variety. “Satay is mainly served on sugarcane sticks,” says the chef but he has used bamboo and sugarcane sticks to do so. Ground seafood, chicken mince, yellow fin tuna, tenderised beef, vegetable ribbons and corn patties are flavoured with galangal (big ginger), lemon grass, lime (kaffir) leaves and set on lilit or sticks. They are either charcoal grilled to give a smoky flavour or just plain grilled. But the catch, in the meats on stick, is in the marinade. Peanut sauce is the staple marinade and the meats are basted generously as they turn over smouldering coal. The result is succulent, juicy meat or vegetable off the stick.
Satays can be relished as hors d’oeuvres, as food on the run, as takeaways or just plain party fare for a kids do. Here the platter is satiating to say the least.
So with wholesome satays as starters is there room for more entrees? Salads and soups? Chef smiles and helps by saying “Split the portion but try everything.”
And everything is steeped in tropical flavours—tangy, spicy, salty, sweet. Palm sugar, a pinch of it sweetens all sauces, curries, dressings everything. The sourness is from the citric kaffir lime, strong and arousing. Sambal is comparable to the Indian chutney made from shallots and red chillies. There’s a variety in that too—Pineapple sambal, tomato sambal, a hardcore red chilli sambal or a plain shallot sambal. It is served as a dip or a chutney with almost everything, especially with satays. The mango avocado salad is tangy and colourful. Gado-Gado is a classic Indonesian salad with fresh crisp vegetables and peanut sauce. Chef informs that the soups are mainly clear with some exceptions like the green papaya seafood soup, which is on the menu. Sup Jamur is a fine blend of a variety of edible mushrooms. Its woody flavours stir the appetite further.
Get ready for the main course. Choose any meat—chicken, fish, pork or beef as your main course and it is accompanied with the renowned Indonesian fried rice or Nasi Goreng. Nasi Kuning is the veg version. A salad and the sambal too come as accompaniments. Each meat is done the Indonesian style—sweet, sour, hot, tangy and intense. It fires your taste buds and the chef takes delight in watching you savour. “I was a chef on a ship that sailed the East route. Among the cuisines that I catered, I love the Indonesian fare the most,” he says and then one can feel the passion behind the taste. Saiju says he arranged for all the authentic ingredients a month before and that everything is available in the supermarkets in the city.
The coconut-based chicken is similar to our coastal chicken curry except in sweetness. A must try is the treacle like pork dish with chillies and ginger, “served on festive occasions”. It is dark and menacing and lip-smacking.
Are we done? Not yet. The dessert platter is light and balances the big spread of food. Try all the sweets on offer.
The crepes filled with palm sugar and coconut is akin to our addas, jaja batun bedin is “like a payasam made from tapioca and rice,” informs Saiju. Klepon is rice dumplings filled with coconut and palm sugar. I settle for banana fritters with coconut ice cream and slowly savour all the flavours relishing each essence of the tropics that come alive so beautifully in a cuisine collated from the five thousand islands that make the beautiful country of Indonesia.
Well, Chef Saiju can definitely take a bow.
The Indonesian food fest is on at East Anglia, Eight Bastion, Fort Kochi, till May 12.