Field work food: Sundanese cuisine in Jakarta

During my field research in Jakarta last year, I became a fan of bakso urat (large meatballs made with bits of offal packed with collagen goodness), buntut sapi belado (oxtail cooked with chillies), road side nasi uduk (fragrant rice and uncooked herbs typically served with fried catfish or chicken), Sate Khas Senayan restaurant (best chicken meat and chicken skin satay in Jakarta), rasi rawon (black tendon and brisket broth served with steamed rice and bitter belinjau crisps) and drinking teh poci (Javanese style rock sugar-sweetened tea served in clay teapots). Yes, I eat very well and sometimes rather extravagantly in Jakarta.

I would eat and buy food from road side mobile stalls called gerobok (or kitchen cupboards) and eat in some of the swankier Javanese restaurants. When I felt like spending some cash, I sometimes go to Pondok Sunda at the Senayan City shopping complex in Senayan. A nice meal followed by dessert at Pondok Sunda can set you back over a million rupiah (~RM60/£10) which is expensive for one person. It’s probably one of the most expensive meals for one I’ve ever had in Jakarta or in Kuala Lumpur.

Sundanese food at Pondok Sunda, Senayan in Jakarta.

Now, if one is used to eating a Malay or Padang style meal, the above doesn’t look particularly remarkable. Javanese food available in up-market Jakarta restaurants tend to be served as single dishes, like nasi rawon for example. But if one has a hankering for a sumptuous Malay buffet-style choose-your-toppings to go with your plain steamed rice, Pondok Sunda can fulfill the urges of a very Malay stomach. For those who are happy with the less sumptuous, there is the humble warteg (warong tegar) or small eating shops scattered around the less glamorous corners of the city.

What is in the image above? These are my favourite ‘toppings’ or lauk to be eaten with my rice: from top, clockwise: some steamed long beans and raw herbs, sambal toraja (a kind of sambal or chilli paste), nasi timbel (rice steamed packed in a banana leaf scroll), caramelised grilled prawns, a piece of ox tongue (left) and a block of fried tempe (right). The rice may be too much, it is just blissful nonetheless.

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