With the recent wave of Filipino influence washing over the culinary world, it's time to start exploring other Southeast Asian cuisines. Living in San Francisco, it's nearly impossible to not be familiar with Vietnamese and Thai dishes, but how about Indonesian food?
For a country that is well known for its spices—nutmeg, clove, and galangal are native to Indonesia—it's no surprise that Indonesian cuisine is so wonderfully rich. While dishes vary across the 17,000 islands that make up this country, many are cooked in spices for hours on end to create bold, stand-on-their-own flavors. Take rendang, an Indonesian beef stew—it's braised in coconut milk and spices for three hours. It's no surprise then, that rendang topped CNN's list of 50 World's Best Foods a few years ago.
Hungry yet? Here are six spots where you can grab some Indonesian grub around the Bay and widen your palate's horizons.
When you're talking about Indonesian restaurants around NorCal, Borobudur—the oldest Indonesian establishment in SF—is usually the first one that pops up in people's mind. Borobudur serves traditional Javanese cuisine, fitting for its namesake (the world's largest Buddhist temples are situated in Central Java). The menu features Javanese dishes like soto ayam, Indonesia's take on chicken noodle soup with its rich lemongrass broth, chicken and rice noodles; and siomay Bandung, steamed dumplings topped with a signature Indonesian peanut sauce. Borobudur also showcases Indonesia's Dutch influences, with rijsttafel as one of its offerings. Rijsttafel, a Dutch word literally translating to rice table, is an Indonesian meal in which a plethora of mini dishes are served. You can sample all of Borobudur's finest with this option, from its ayam panggang bumbu rujak (spicy, barbeque marinated chicken) to the classic rendang. // 700 Post St. (Union Square); borobudursf.com
With the large Indonesian student population at UC Berkeley, it's no surprise that Jayakarta has become a local favorite. Jayakarta, another name for Jakarta, Indonesia's capital city, aptly features typical Betawi (what you'd call a native Jakartan) cuisine on their menu. You can't miss the gado-gado, a classic Betawi dish of freshly cut fruits and vegetables topped with a peanut sauce dressing. For chow mein fans, order the mie tek-tek, the Indonesian street-hawker's fried egg noodles with vegetables and a fried egg with runny yolk. And for the adventurous eater, it's time to flex your spicy-eating abilities. Jayakarta offers varying spiciness levels, ranging from "Normal American Spice Level" like "eating spicy Popeye's Chicken," to "Hella Spicy Indonesian Level," roughly the equivalent to getting pepper sprayed in the mouth. // 2026 University Ave. (Berkeley); tel. 510/841-0884
Indo Restaurant and Lounge
Unlike Borobudur and Jayakarta that serve exclusively traditional Indonesian dishes, Indo Restaurant and Lounge offers dishes that are both influenced by western and eastern culinary traditions. As the two head chefs of Indo Restaurant and Lounge are from Thailand and Indonesia—Thomas Charoen and Diana Anwar—the menu is also a fusion of both cuisines. The menu includes typical Thai and Indonesian offerings like pad thai and nasi goreng, Indonesian fried rice, but also has dishes with a twist. The Norwegian Salmon Panggang, translating to grilled in English, is topped with a fresh, kaffir lime sauce. The restaurant's take on short ribs is also a highlight, using the hot and tasty Balado sauce. // 3295 El Camino Real (Palo Alto); indorestaurant.com
Saratoga is definitely the last place you'd think to find a mom-and-pop Indonesian spot. But Indo Cafe is just that—a humble catering kitchen that us Indonesians would liken to a warung, a small street food stall. But don't let that discourage you - us Indonesians would also say some of the tastiest food we've had is at a warung, which is certainly true of the quality of the dishes served at Indo Cafe. This cafe is truly a hidden gem; you won't even find it strolling down on Big Basin Way, as it is tucked behind a UPS store. Indo Cafe's strongest offerings are their rice combos. If you want to try everything, get the Padang Rice Combo - you'll get rendang, telor balado or boiled egg with chili sauce, chicken satay, and jackfruit curry. The Yogyakarta Rice Combo is a delicious option too, featuring dishes native to the city: gudeg, jackfruit stewed in coconut milk, fried tofu, hard-boiled egg, and chicken curry. Don't forget to say hi to the chef, Maria Handayani - she'll even let you watch her cook if you ask nicely. // 14443-C Big Basin Way (Saratoga); tel. 408/741-1514
Would this be a true San Francisco list without a Kickstarter-funded food startup? ChiliCali is the project of Siska Marcus, an Indonesian chef who hosts pop-up Indonesian dinners across the city through Feastly. Marcus certainly takes advantage of the pop-up structure to experiment with different Indonesian dishes, like transforming the sop buntut, a signature clear Indonesian oxtail soup, into a hot pot experience instead. Marcus has also showcased other Indonesian cuisines that are practically unknown in the States, specifically Batak—a tribe that originates from North Sumatera. In addition to the dinners, Marcus also produces her own line of bumbu, cooking sauces Indonesians would use in their everyday cooking. She prides herself on the sauces' fresh and organic ingredients. // chilicali.com, eatfeastly.com
If you've tried all these and decided that you just can't get enough of chicken satays, prepare to be Sataysfied! Here's another classic SF story for you: Feldo Nartapura started selling grilled chicken satays based of a favorite Indonesian family recipe in the Mission a couple years ago—a means to make rent after getting fired from his start-up. A few food truck festivals later and an opportune meeting with Ruvi Dayao, the woman who would later become his wife and his business partner, Nartapura eventually launched Sataysfied into his own food company. With Dayao's Filipino heritage and Nartapura's Indonesian background, the menu has expanded to include Filipino egg rolls and Indonesian grilled chicken satays, a fusion of both cultures. You can now get a taste of Nartapura's tasty grilled chicken satays at big festivals like Outside Lands, or get it catered to your office—Sataylicious has catered for the likes of big tech companies like IndieGoGo and Quora. // sataysfied.com