Friday, 25 April 2008

Putting Indonesia's diverse cuisine on the map

Restaurant review of "Red Pepper", Jakarta. Written with Sascha Pries

Originally published in The Jakarta Post, 05/08/07

What kind of restaurants do you see when walking through a Jakarta shopping mall? There is a plethora of Western fast-food chains; northeast Asian cuisine is abundantly available, and even obscure world foods are easy to find.
The grand opening of Burger King in Senayan City, with masses queuing for a taste of flame-grilled burgers was one of the biggest culinary events in Jakarta this year.
Yet, Indonesia is renowned for its own rich and diverse cuisine, combining global influences from India, China, Arabia and Europe with unique local methods and ingredients.
So why is Indonesian food so poorly represented in the restaurants and food courts of Jakarta’s shopping centers?
Red Pepper Restaurant in Plaza Indonesia was until recently a typical representative of the international trend, with the usual array of Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Western food. All that has changed with its July reopening.
The restaurant, which is styled as an upmarket food court with counters serving different dishes, has relaunched with a new concept: Indonesian “hawker food”.
“We change our concept every five years,” said, Lily Setiadinata, who opened the restaurant with her partner Shinta Hidayat in 2001.
“There is international food everywhere and we wanted to bring Indonesian food onto the market,” she said, adding that the great diversity of the Indonesian cuisine deserves recognition, not least in its home country.
Red Pepper still offers some international food, but the new emphasis is on dishes from across the archipelago. There is satay (miniature chicken kebabs with peanut sauce) from Madura and Sumatra, different soups and noodle dishes, classic Yogyakarta gudeg (a spicy meat dish with rice), fried duck and all kinds of brightly colored desserts.
Usually sold from streetside warung and kaki lima (food stalls and mobile carts), the dishes are now available in a comfortable air-conditioned setting.
Soft lighting, a deep red color scheme and fancy installations plus comfy upholstered chairs make for a relaxing and loungy atmosphere.
To create an authentic concept, the experienced restaurateurs collaborated with famous Indonesian food outlets, like Bebek Yogi in West Jakarta, and now offer a culinary tour through the best regional cuisine.
“It’s a great concept to bring together all these different influences,” said Pak Yogi, from Bebek Yogi.
Lily and Shinta hope that this opening will be the start of bigger things. “We want to make Indonesian food famous worldwide,” said Lily.
“We hope eventually to have Red Pepper franchises throughout Indonesia and beyond; in Singapore, Malaysia and even America.”

No comments: