“Where the heck am I going?” I think as I exit the 101 South freeway on Alvarado Street on Saturday evening. I squint at the directions I’ve printed from Google maps and shake my head. Google seems intent on making my drive to Pasadena as complicated as possible. It is now instructing me to find the 2 North that will connect with the 210 East.
After 8 miles.
I sigh and affix my eyes to the road. “This better be worth it.” I think.
When Cathy “the Gastronomer” invited me to join an Indonesian feast prepared by caterer Ira’s Gourmet at Ira’s home in Pasadena, I was excited at the prospect of stretching my taste buds beyond the usual “white girl” fare that I eat. Plus, I really wanted to prove to her that even though we are only a 25 (out of 100) on the Food Digger dining compatibility scale, there is hope for us to become more gastronomically aligned. (She claims I need to stop eating $17 salads if that’s every going to happen.)
Despite my warm and fuzzy feelings about the impending meal with food blogger friends Sook of Yutjangsah, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, H.C. of LA & OC Foodventures, Wes of Two Hungry Pandas, Kevin of KevinEats, Danny of Kung Food Panda, Pam of Rants & Craves, Marie of Starchy Marie, and Sharon of Weezer Monkey, as I zoom down the 210 toward my destination, I start to have my doubts about the evening. Yes, the pictures of Ira’s food looked super Rachael Ray “yummy” when Cathy posted about her Indonesian lunch a few weeks ago, but was it really good enough to justify the 45 minute drive from my West Hollywood bubble?
In a word, “yes.”
As soon as I sink my teeth into a lemper, a gelatinous ball of sticky rice, wrapped in a banana leaf and filled with tender shreds of white meat chicken that I suspect has been seasoned with kaffir lime and lemongrass, I know that everything is going to be just fine. The starter course to our feast reminds me of an exotic sushi roll – albeit one that has been wrapped in an inedible banana leaf as opposed to seaweed.
After we have all devoured our lempers, we load up our plates with the various dishes that Ira has prepared for us. I’m not sure what it is I am filling my plate with, but everything looks good, and I’m starving so I don’t much mind.
Cathy later informs me that our meal consisted of the following:
Fragrant tumeric rice
Nasi kuning means literally yellow rice
FRIED CHICKEN (ayam goreng): chicken cooked with onion, garlic, lemon grass, candle nuts, tumeric, then fried
TOFU (bafem tahu): tofu cooked in onion, garlic, coriander and sweet soy sauce, then fried
TEMPEH (bacem tempe): tempeh cooked in onion, garlic, coriander and sweet soy sauce, then fried
SHRIMP PASTE CHILI SAUCE (Sambel trasi): red/green chilli(, onion, garlic, tomatoes, tomatilos and shrimp paste and kaffir lime leaves
EGGPLANT IN CHILLI SAUCE (Sambel goreng terong ): Fried eggplant with paste of chilli, onion, garlic, tomato.
EGG IN BALADO SAUCE (Telor Baldo): fried boiled egg in balado sauce
FRIED NOODLE (Bakmi goreng): stir fry egg noodle with diced chicken, shrimp, meatballs, egg, and veggie
SWEET FRIED BEEF (Empal): beef cooked in onion, garlic, palm sugar, tamarind, coriander then fried
DESSERT: watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew in coconut/condensed milk and pandan leaves syrup
Though I enjoy almost everything I sample (with the exception of the eggplant that was a bit oily for me, and the shrimp paste chili sauce that set a fire alarm off in my mouth), I can’t get over the Indonesian fried chicken. Despite my allegiance to breast meat, I scrape off every succulent bite of leg meat on my drumstick and then go back for another small thigh when no one is watching. I also feel kindly toward the firm chunks of fried tofu, the slightly sweet rounds of sautéed tempeh and the fragrant yellow rice that everyone else warned me was “stomach filler” when I heaped a big portion on my plate.
They clearly underestimate the depths of my stomach that takes more than a spoonful of rice to reach optimal levels of American fullness.
Another dish that proves worthy of a place in my demanding gullet is the egg in balado sauce. The hard boiled egg that has been fried, sliced in half, and then covered with a salsa-esque topping, is a textural revelation. I love the crispy exterior juxtaposed against the silky interior.
By the time I’m noshing on the last few stray strands of my stir fried egg noodles and lapping up the final drops of my bottle of Tiger beer (yes, apparently I drink beer now?), I am feeling perfectly content with my unique dining experience. I don’t need a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or $17 salad to feel satisfied. Just give me a leg o’ chicken and some stomach filling rice, and I’m a happy girl.
Or at least until I go the wrong way twice on my trek back to West Hollywood.