Business breakfast: Indonesian congee

If you’ve ever backpacked, you’ve probably had occasion to turn up at some far flung destination with no accommodation booked, to then have to search for a bed in earnest.  Such was the situation that had befallen a Swiss couple that I’d met today.

Like me they had arrived in Bandung, some three hours east of Jakarta, the night before, but unlike me they had no accommodation booked.  They searched for some two hours, and on their twelfth attempt, finally settled on their first available option.  However all was not as it seemed.  For having been allocated a room on the karaoke floor, it became apparent that whilst I was staying at a business hotel for business travellers, they were also staying at a ‘business’ hotel of sorts. Throughout the night, they were kept up by the raucous singing of the drunken men and working girls.  To add insult to injury, the room was only barely clean; the shower water was a little bit brown and only lukewarm; and the spaghetti bolognaise churned out by the hotel restaurant consisted of noodles with sliced vegetables and sweet and sour sauce.
 
We had met as all three of us were headed on a day tour of one of the tea plantations in the Bandung vicinity, to be followed by a visit to Volcano Papandayan.  On the advice of the tour operator through whom I’d booked this tour, I indulged in a hearty breakfast to prepare for the day’s adventures.  As a hotel catering predominantly to Indonesian business travellers, the breakfast was Indonesian as expected.  On the serving table were mie goreng (fried noodles), nasi goreng (fried rice) and Indonesian congee.  Like Chinese congee, the Indonesian version was made from rice, but unlike Chinese congee, this was much thicker and laden with stock.  The stock tasted as if from packet mix, but with a good quality broth, no doubt would have been delicious.  You could also garnish it as you liked, with peanuts, fried spring onions, etc.  Perhaps the idea of noodles, rice and congee for breakfast doesn’t cater to every Western palate, but I guess it certainly caters to that of Indonesian business people.

Indonesian congee

Indonesian congee


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Nasi goreng and Indonesian pancakes in Jakarta

Colonial Jakarta

Colonial Jakarta

On account of the heat and jetlag yesterday, I had done little else but wander around the air-conditioned shopping malls.  So today was my first real sightseeing expedition of Jakarta. On the whole, it was a little lacklustre – a maze of traffic and chaos, a concrete jungle interspersed with shanty buildings. However, my visit to the Indonesian National Museum proved to be reasonably interesting.  There were cultural artefacts from around Indonesia on display and a collection of Chinese ceramics including some from the Han Dynasty.

Night traffic in Jakarta

Night traffic in Central Jakarta

This evening I decided to eat Indonesian street food, having started the day in such a fashion.  On all my travels throughout South East Asia, I generally haven’t been able to fault these vendors, in terms of flavour at least, although some were obviously better than others.  They were authentic, cheap and filling, and catered to local taste buds as well as wallets.  On occasions I found the food at these little one man mobile operations better than at some restaurants where you paid more, although you obviously compromised on service and ambience.  No doubt the key was to head for the busiest stall, the one with the most locals.

On a street around the corner from my hotel, there was an abundance of warungs (food vendors on mobile carts) dishing up an abundance of Indonesian specialties.  They offered a variety of local dishes including nasi goreng (fried rice), mie goreng (fried noodles), sates, curries and fried meats such as fish and chicken.  I headed for one of the busiest warungs I could find and ordered nasi goreng (about 60p).  It was mildly spicy and mixed with shredded chicken, finely diced beef, liver and spring onions and was suitably tasty, although it was missing a pan fried egg on top.  It also came with prawn crackers, which the Indonesians seemed to love as an accompaniment to their food, and of course the mandatory chillies. Also available on the table was sambal (a spicy Indonesian condiment) for those wanting that extra bit of kick.

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Indonesian breakfast

Realising I had missed breakfast this morning at the hotel, I suddenly developed a craving for pancakes. In a city such as Jakarta where pancakes are probably not the normal breakfast choice, I realised this was probably futile, and instead headed out to wander; ‘hunt and gather’ if you will. Stumbling upon a bakery, I proceeded to investigate. Not being sure whether the lady behind the counter could speak English or not, I tentatively made some inquiries about the items on display, whereupon her responses led me to make the following purchases:

My Indonesian breakfast

My Indonesian breakfast

“Its egg, beef and mayonnaise” she said, referring to the item on the left. It turned out to be egg and ham. “Its chicken and potato” she said, referring to the item on the top right, but was actually beef and potato. “Its shrimp and chicken” she said in reference to the bottom right. No second guesses, but it turned out to be tofu with some indiscernible matter pasted on top. But they were all tasty and filling enough, and interestingly boxed with chillies, a mandatory Indonesian accompaniment. All this cost only about 60p.


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Grand Café at the Grand Hyatt Hotel: Wagyu beef rendang

One of my most enjoyable experiences of eating wagyu beef was a few years ago at Per Se, the New York City outpost of the illustrious chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame. The experience left me gasping. Deliciously fatty and tender, it was the most gratifying of oral experiences. Growing up in Australia, I was particularly proud that the wagyu was of Australian origin, but thereafter it prompted my boyfriend at the time to affectionately bestow the nickname of wagyu (Australian cow) on me. Well we are no more, and I have had wagyu many times since, including notably at one of London’s best Japanese restaurants, Umu. However nothing had ever come close to being as divine as that time at Per Se which will forever be etched deep in my memory as one of the most memorable dining highlights of my life.

Wagyu beef rendang with rice

Wagyu beef rendang with rice

For tonight’s dinner I chose one of the restaurants in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Jakarta: the Grand Café. Essentially a buffet restaurant with a large capacity to feed the masses, the decor was designed for such a purpose in the style of unpretentious comfort. For about £12 it was also possible to have the buffet which appeared to be quite varied with seafood, Western and local dishes, and scrumptious looking desserts. Wines appeared to be available although these weren’t listed on a drink menu, which instead included soft drinks and cocktails.

However what had drawn me here was the wagyu beef rendang. Wagyu is such a fine piece of meat that to me it should be cooked medium rare. I was intrigued by how this dish would turn out as rendang involves the meat being slow cooked for several hours in coconut milk and spices till the spices are absorbed. However, with such a fine piece of meat, and rendang being an Indonesian specialty, I was hoping that the combination might unexpectedly work.

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