Easter time was Amsterdam time for us! I’d been looking forward to our first visit to the low country city and I’d been really looking forward to a rijsttafel meal. This Dutch-Indonesian meal is made up of lots of different dishes that fill up entire table and which are served with rice (the name itself translates to ‘rice table’ in Dutch). While there are similar rice and lots of dishes meals in Indonesia (see nasi padang or tumpeng), rijsttafel is truly Dutch-Indonesian.

While researching Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam, I eventually decided to skip the usual places and go somewhere a little more modern. Blauw seemed just what I was looking for and had great reviews too. On the evening we arrived in the city, we ended up hustling to make our reservation due to a tram jam but luckily they held our table for us. The restaurant is made up of many layers of levels; to reach our table upstairs, we first had to go down then up!

Our table was already set with a generously filled basket of prawn crackers and two chilli-based dips. The chilli sauce was fine but it was the sambal that triggered childhood memories, despite the ingredients needing a longer cooking down. As we were absolutely starving after our journey (we took the Eurostar and changed at Brussels for a Thalys train to Amsterdam), we made short work of these.

Prawn Crackers and Dips

Of course we ordered the rijsttafel (€31,25 per person) and after a while our table was set with a plethora of dishes (there were so many that our waiter had to come to our table twice to fill it up). (Do click through on the photo below to see all the dishes labelled in Flickr.)

Rijsttafel

It was made up of 18 different little dishes of a good variety of things. On the warming plate were pork, beef, and fish dishes – I loved the babi ketjap on the far left and the fish dishes on the right. The rendang served was also very good. And at the bottom right was the original Indonesian version of sayur lodeh and despite it looking all white and insipid, it was full of flavour – fantastic!

Meaty Curries

There were two types of satay – a chicken one with peanut sauce and a lamb one coated in a thick sweet kecap manis sauce (the latter is traditionally Indonesian and a variety I’d not come across before – I want to learn more).

Satays

Fried bananas, the famous Indonesian gado gado and sweet and spicy fried potato sticks (sambal goreng kentang) all made great accompaniments.

Rice and Accompaniments

There were a pair of bergedil (fried meat and potato patties), a refreshing pickled cucumber salad, a sugared toasted coconut accompaniment called seroendeng, eggs in a spiced nutty sauce and fried tofu in a kecap manis based sauce. Two kinds of rice  – putih (white) and goreng (fried) – to eat with everything completed the meal.

Bergedils and Cold Dishes

We doubted our abilities to finish it all but we shouldn’t have worried! That’s not to say there wasn’t enough food – we were utterly stuffed! If anything, it just shows what pigs we are. While we could tell that the flavours of the dishes were muted (under the assumption that Indonesian food can be as highly spiced as Malaysian food), this didn’t stop us from having a grand time at Blauw.

All Done

We even managed to fit in a dessert. Es ketan hitam is the traditional black rice cooked with coconut milk and here served with a pandan ice cream. The dessert portion was a little on the small side for €7,75 but it was just right for two who had stuffed themselves on rijsttafel.

Es Ketan Hitam

Service was excellent with everything explained to us, waiters happy to answer our questions, and our never feeling rushed. So, yes, I’d recommend Blauw for Indonesian food if you’re ever in Amsterdam. If you’re not up for all that food, you can order a la carte and each dish comes with the two types of rice, seroendeng, sayur lodeh, sweet and spicy fried potato sticks, and pickled cucumbers.

Blauw
(Restaurant Blauw Amsterdam)
Amstelveenseweg 158-160
1075 XN Amsterdam
Netherlands

For Indonesian food in London, I’ve only tried the Indonesia Mini Market. Does anyone else have any other recommendations please?

There’s a curious stretch of Charing Cross Road right by Chinatown – you may know the one I mean. It’s a row of shops filled with kitsch and restaurants serving all manner of Asian foods. At one end is a terrible Korean restaurant and at the other end is a bar. I never really paid much attention to this stretch with the exception of the Malaysian Kopi Tiam and it turns out that I possibly should have!

Take that complex of shops full of kitsch, for example. You may know the one – there are colourful plastic umbrellas and lots of Hello Kitty coin purses. It turns out there’s an Indonesian shop upstairs.

Indonesia Mini Market

And that shop sells ready made meals too with different things available each day. There are a few mismatched oversized tables to sit at and they were almost all full with Indonesian families and students tucking into some good looking dishes. Grab a seat wherever you can and wait for the one server to be free. Be patient!

We put in our order and waited. First to arrive at our table was their mie bakso (£4), a bowl of tender-crunchy beef balls and mung bean noodles in a light but flavourful broth. I believe it’s available every day.

Mie Bakso

Kicking about on one of the tables will probably be a jar of this sambal bakso. The label says Extremely Hot! (in red!) on the side and it certainly is – use with caution! It’s a great accompaniment to the bouncy beef balls.

Sambal Bakso

We also shared a plateful of pempek siomay (£5) (or empek-empek thank you, Ridha, for the identification!), fried fish and tapioca paste fritters – some plain and some first stuffed in tofu. These were quite heavy though tasty under the drizzle of sweet soy (maybe kecap manis?) and a creamy peanut sauce on the side.

Pempek

Help yourself to drinks out of the cooler – we had a can of Coke and a bottle of Mirinda (50p each). There’s an Indonesian bottled tea drink available too.

That day there was also one final dish available – nasi padang with beef rendang. This is a dish of rice served with the rich rendang and other sambals and pickles. It looked great and I hope to try that the next time I drop by. Oh, and of course there are Indonesian (and some Dutch) groceries available to purchase too.

Indonesia Mini Market
57 Charing Cross Road (1st floor)
London  WC2H 0NE

Also part of this complex of shops is a Brazil by Kilo, a Brazilian buffet where you pay for the weight of your food. Judging by the clientele (all Brazilian families), it can’t be too bad. Another one to try.

Also new along this stretch of Charing Cross Road is Roti King in a funny spot called Asian Twist Delicious. These are the guys who ran the Roti Stall at Oriental City and we came here for our first lunch that day (Indonesian Mini Market was our second lunch). Their roti canai is exactly as I remember it and we had it with a dal curry and we also split a delicious roti sardin (spiced mashed sardines wrapped in the thin bread). Excellent.

Sayur lodeh – think of it as a curry and you’ll be disappointed with its gentle flavours; think of it as a thick stew of vegetables in spiced coconut milk and you’ve then got the idea of this comforting Indonesian dish. It’s also been embraced by the Peranakans and Malaysians but strangely, I cannot recall my mother ever cooking it at home. I suspect that the inclusion of so much coconut milk was worrying to her! I love the stuff.

Sayur Lodeh

Do not be fooled – this is not a vegetarian dish. Belacan (fermented shrimp paste) and dried shrimps play a big part in the flavouring and it’s imperative that they’re not left out. If you’re having it as a main meal, shrimp or prawns can also be added. I also feel like this shouldn’t be a catch all for any vegetable you might have in your fridge – I’ve used vegetables that work well together; I’m not convinced by the use of peppers, for example. And like most stews, it’ll be good the first day but great on subsequent days. Serve it with plenty of white rice to soak up all that gravy.

Sayur Lodeh and Rice

Sayur Lodeh
serves 3-43 as a main meal with white rice or 6-8 as a side dish.

For the spice paste (rempah)
15-20 small shallots (purple) or 3-5 large ones (brown), peeled and coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 thick slice ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 thumb sized piece galangal, peeled and coarsely chopped
20 little dried shrimp
5-10 dried large red chillies
1 tbsp chilli paste
1 tsp belacan powder
2 tsps turmeric powder

3 tbsps oil
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
1/2 small cabbage, cut into chunks
2 Japanese aubergines, cut into chunks
1 large carrot, cut into batons
1 small onion, cut into slices
200g long beans or green beans or a mixture, cut into bite sized pieces
200g firm tofu, cubed/sliced
400ml coconut milk
salt and sugar to taste

First make your spice paste. Soak the dried shrimps and dried chillies in hot water for about 10-15 minutes. The chillies should be soft and the shrimps should have softened. Chop up the chillies (discarding the seeds) and then blend all the ingredients together, adding a bit of water if necessary. If you’re feeling nostalgic, pound them all together in a heavy duty mortar and pestle.

Heat a large pot/wok over medium-low heat and then add the oil to heat through. Add the spice paste and fry slowly until the oil separates again from the mixture. If there is quite a bit of water in the paste, this may not happen, in which case fry for at least 10 minutes.

Add the onion and carrot pieces and fry together for a few minutes. Add the aubergine, green beans, and cabbage and continue frying, stirring continuously. Pour in about 1-2 cups water and the coconut milk (this mixture should cover the vegetables – add more water if required). Toss in the lemongrass and bring the entire mixture to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are cooked through – you want them soft but not mushy. Add water to thin the sayur lodeh if desired – I like mine quite thick.

Finally, add the firm tofu and when that has cooked through, add salt and sugar to taste. Stir well and serve with white rice.

Well, I said I was going to make beef rendang and I did! This dish originated in Indonesia but spread to Malaysia and is considered a traditional dish in both countries – you can find it at the Malaysian restaurants in London. It’s like a very dry curry – there’s hardly any gravy to speak of but still it’s moist. The most common rendang in Malaysia is made with beef, though chicken versions are also popular. It’s utterly delicious with the richness of coconut milk and the complex layers of aromatics that have had time to blend over a cooking time of about 3 hours. Yes, you heard me right – 3 hours. Weekday food, this is not. At first when I’d finally got everything in the pan ready for its long simmer time, I thought the combination of ingredients seemed off: the galangal was coming through too strongly and the colour was just yellow. Oh, time was a very important ingredient in this recipe! After the alloted time, the mixture was thick, dark and very very rich. Rendang.

Beef Rendang and Rice

Thank goodness I now have a mini chopper – the amount of pounding with a mortar and pestle needed to produce the amount of paste required for the recipe would have had us thrown out from our flat, I reckon. While a chopper isn’t ideal (the pounding brings out the most from the ingredients), it’s good enough for me. Likewise, normally, toasted coconut is pounded to make a paste (at which point it is kerisek) but the rendang results were fine with just the toasted coconut. Call this a pounding-free rendang!

I actually didn’t have any kaffir lime leaves that day and so left them out. The rendang was still fine without it but I’ll add them next time! Oh, and one more thing, I read that the oil that’s skimmed off is delicious on rice and so we tried it a little… and oh my goodness, it’s amazingly good. However, don’t overdo it – you’ll regret it when you see the oil congeal the next day.

Beef Rendang and Rice

Beef Rendang

Beef Rendang
serves 6 as part of a meal with rice and a vegetable dish.

1 kg beef for stewing, cut in approximately 1.5″ cubes
3 tbsps peanut oil (or sunflower oil)
1.5 inch long cinnamon stick
4 cloves
4 cardamom pods
4 star anise
1 400mL tin coconut milk
1/2 tin of water
2 tsps tamarind pulp, soaked in about 1/2 cup warm water
1 tbsp sugar
7 kaffir lime leaves, very thinly sliced
7 tbsps dessicated coconut (not sweetened)
salt to taste

for the spice paste
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped roughly
6 small shallots (I used the Asian purple ones), peeled and chopped roughly
2 stalks lemongrass, tough layers removed and softer inner layers chopped roughly
1.5 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
1.5 inch piece of galangal, cleaned and chopped roughly
6 large dried chilies, soaked in warm water, seeded, and chopped roughly
0.5 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt

First toast the dessicated coconut to make kerisek. In a dry frying pan, add the dessicated coconut and then gently heat it over medium heat. Stir the coconut often until it is a uniform golden brown. Set the toasted coconut aside.

Now make the spice paste. Toss all the prepared spice paste ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until a paste is formed. Add a little water at a time if it’s not blending properly. It will never be perfectly smooth but you don’t want any large pieces. I used the mini chopper part of my hand blender, processing the paste in two batches.

In a large deep saute pan or a large wok or a large heavy casserole, heat the oil over medium heat and fry the spice paste. You’ll find the paste will “soak up” all the oil during frying and when it’s done frying and fully aromatic, the oil will be released again. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, and star anise and stir thoroughly. Add the beef and stir again – the beef should just be coated with the paste, not left to brown. Pour in the coconut milk and the tamarind water and enough of the plain water to cover the meat – you might need to add more. Add the sliced kaffir lime leaves too. Stir thoroughly and bring the liquid to a boil.

When the mixture is bubbling, turn down the heat to a simmer. Sprinkle over the sugar and toasted coconut, stir that through and leave the coconutty mixture to simmer slowly (use a diffuser if you need to) uncovered, stirring occasionally. After about 2 hours, the water should have all evaporated, leaving the beef in a thick paste and with lots of oil floating on top. Now you’ll have to stir much more often, allowing the beef mixture to fry in the oil. The rendang will darken and will be done when it’s a dark brown (as in the photo), which will occur in about 20-30 minutes. Turn the heat to the lowest temperature and proceed to spoon out the oil that’s been floating on top. Try to remove as much as possible; some will still be left but that will add to the overall flavour. Salt the rendang to taste, turn off the heat, and serve.

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