An Introduction to Indonesian cuisine

I have tasted and even relished most Asian cuisines but the two that have eluded me for some reason have been Indonesian and Cambodian. That fact had not diminished my curiosity about the two cultures and their food however. So, when Taj Deccan’s pan-Asian restaurant– Syn — decided to hold an Indonesian food festival, I couldn’t resist. A bad head cold almost made me cancel but I braved the headache and attended the media lunch anyway. And I am glad I did.

Executive Chef Sajesh Nair, who has worked at the iconic Taj Palace in Mumbai, the group’s flagship hotel and one which holds many fond memories for me, is an expert in several Asian cuisines. No wonder then, that he was able to give us Indonesian food that was delicious. I enjoyed every dish he and his team served us and no, it was not only the novelty of the cuisine that made it all so delectable.

The starters included a spicy Ayam Goreng Bamboo — fried chicken with spices, Lumpia — the Indonesian version of spring rolls that were stuffed with bamboo shoots; and Bakwan Jagung — Corn Fritters. The inherent difference between Indonesian and other Asian cuisines in my not really qualified opinion is that the flavours were more full bodied. The generous use of spices such as nutmeg, galangal, pepper, cloves, turmeric, lemongrass etc., gave each dish an added dimension. This is not to say that Thai or Chinese or Vietnamese food lacks flavour but somehow, here, each item we ate left a lingering after-taste. Even the humble corn fritter had a burst of spices that one could not ignore.

The soups too were quite different. The Bakso — Indonesian chicken meat ball soup with vermicelli; the Sop Bayam — spinach and sweet potato soup — were unlike anything I have tried before. Given the generous quantities served, I was already full but General Manager Rishi Chopra and Chef’s watchful team made sure we kept eating.

The mains included Laksa Ayam – Rice Thread Noodles with Chicken in Coconut sauce — a delightful variation of one of my favourite dishes – the Laksa; the Pepes Ikan Belidas — Grilled fish in Banana leaf; the Nasi Goreng – Indonesia’s national dish and Kari Ayam – Chicken and Vegetable Curry in Coconut milk. The grilled fish — it is intriguing how the same concept — a grilled fish in a banana leaf — can have so man avatars — from Parsi to Kerala to Indonesian cuisines, it tastes different in every one of them. The fish was my pick for the best of the lot though every other dish we ate was equally tasty.

Now, stuffed to the gills I was but I am a late bloomer when it comes to desserts. That means I started enjoying everything sweet rather late in life — I spent my entire childhood disliking sweets of any kind other than the generic candies we all ate as kids. Now, I never pass up an opportunity to have dessert. Here too, Chef and his team had excelled. The Pudding Cocklat Kuah Vanilla – a Chilled Chocolate Pudding served with warm Vanilla sauce and the Dadar Gulung — Palm sugar and Coconut stuffed Pancakes with Ice cream — were nothing short of divine.

The Indonesian Food Festival’s only down side is that it is on till the 1st of February only. Which means, if any of you reading this lives in Hyderabad and likes new cuisines, you should make a beeline for Syn as fast as possible. Such full bodied cuisines with so many flavours to savour don’t come along every day.




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