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An Indonesian adventure

Indonesian dishes are quite similar to ours, though less fiery. — Photo: Murali Kumar K.

OUT OF the blue, Asian flavours are top of the local menu — be they Vietnamese, Thai, Korean or a lesser-known cuisines. Such as the Indonesian specialities, with options from Malaysia, Thailand and China, served up since June at ASEAN, the Southeast Asian restaurant on Castle Street.

The brainchild of Julie and Jimmy Palkhivala, who ran an Indonesian catering service, it promises an exotic meal at prices that don't bite. We opted for their Indonesian menu, a first cousin to Malaysian cuisine, since Thai and Chinese dishes are more easily accessible in Bangalore.

The seating is comfortable, with vaguely oriental upholstery, while framed Indonesian visuals dominate the walls. Overhead wooden beams, such as those in traditional Southeast Asian homes, enhance the mood, as do the bamboo table mats and black crockery, which highlights the food dramatically.

We begin our palate tour of Indonesia with a Javanese chicken satay, its tender morsels mildly spiced, then impeccably charcoal-grilled, served with a thick peanut sauce that balances the satay's smoky essence. For a starter, we try delectable ayam asam. What does that translate to? Chunky chicken marinated in tamarind and red chilli, redolent of the fragrant kaffir lime, then deep fried into dark nuggets that you can never savour enough. A brilliant yoking of sour and spicy flavours.

Mee goreng and nasi goreng arrive as main courses, the latter a fragrant fried rice enhanced with chicken, prawn and vegetables, topped with a fried egg, from a nation of primarily rice-eaters. Mee Goreng is its noodle variant, as delicious with diced additions, but with less emphasis on soya sauce than its Chinese counterpart. The chef springs a surprise with nasi kuning, a yellow rice sprinkled with finely-chopped shallots, like a delicately-spiced vegetarian pulao.

With it, we try redang kambing, a Malay curried lamb. Though the gravy of galangal and Kaffir lime was delicious, the meat proved a trifle tough. A bad cut, perhaps. The nasi kuning was accompanied by opor sayur, a mild stew of vegetables, cooked in coconut milk with fresh herbs that linger on the tongue. A must try for vegetarian diners.

But the crowning glory of our Indonesian adventure, beyond doubt, proved to be Sambal Udang, prawns cooked to tender succulence in a fiery gravy that counterpointed their natural seafood flavours. Plain rice would be the perfect foil to it, rather than the spicy nasi goreng we teamed it with.

For dessert, we decided against the pisang goreng (friend bananas in coconut sauce) and coconut cream pumpkin with pandan leaves. Instead, we chose non-Asian options — gooey, rich sticky date and walnut pudding that was delicious, and a scrumptious, sinfully layered tiramisu.

Jimmy, who spent his childhood in Indonesia, explains their restaurant initiative thus: "I've always enjoyed cooking. Since Indonesian food is tough to get here, and our earlier Indonesian catering service was quite popular, we decided to give this a try."

While limiting their Thai main courses to basic red and green curries, buttressed by an extensive Chinese menu, Jimmy and Julie have ensured plentiful vegetarian options — such as sayur mekuah (spicy Balinese broth with spinach, spring onions, and tofu), gado gado (a steamed Indonesian vegetable salad, served with peanut sauce) and sayur lodeh (green beans, brinjal and other vegetables simmered in a rich coconut gravy).

Midway through the main course, we realise how similar Indonesian dishes are to ours, perhaps thanks to the spice route, through less dependent on chilli. Cuisine-wise, they have the appeal of home flavours away from home. That's a good reason to give ASEAN a try. And thank our stars the local ASEAN does not signify a grouping of Asian regional nations!

ASEAN is at 45, Castle Street, Ashoknagar. Phone: 51126381. It's closed on Mondays.


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