As is usually the case when I travel, I ate some things in Jakarta.
I regret not taking photographs of the kamping satay and the utterly bizarre but curiously awesome garlic bread, chocolate, and cheese satay the friendly owner pushed on me later in the evening. Nor did I photograph the rather tasty sushi rolls I consumed at one of Jakarta’s multifarious Hip Little Japanese restaurants (blooming like mushrooms after a hard rain), or a Bento box, or even the aggressively cool coffee shop with tasty Sulawesi brews and a menu made out of a very well-chosen typeface.
Moving on. We all have our regrets in life.
This is a hefty portion of Mie Aceh, a spicy noodle dish hailing from the northernmost tip of Sumatra. My former colleague Christi suggested I check this Mee Aceh joint out in the Benhil district of Jakarta, and I’m glad I did.
One of the spiciest dishes I’ve tried in Indonesia, these beef noodles have a potent chili kick and are offset with pickled shallot, cucumber, and the omnipresent emping crackers — I would have liked some lime. It’s filling, oily, and unsubtle: I can see this being an excellent and odiferous hangover addiction.
There’s two kinds of Mie Aceh by the by: Mie Aceh Goreng (fried and dry, like the dish above) and Mie Aceh Kuah, which is a spicy curry soup. I want to try the second variety next time.
Try it here: Meutia Rumah Makan – Jl. Bendungan Hilir Raya No. 60, Jakarta.
The Natrabu chain of restaurants specializes in Minang style food, hailing from the highlands of western Sumatra and typically served in a curious sort of personal buffet: you sit down and waiters bring small plates of around 8 to 15 different specialities, all served in a dining room that’s an amusing hybrid of golden and red Minang finery and the latest in early 1970s decor.
You pay only for what you eat, which is eyeballed by waitstaff after you finish. It’s a cunning ploy, as it’s hard to resist nibbling at something tasty that’s been placed directly in front of your nose. Thankfully, the food is quite good and covers a wide gamut of the usual good, spicy, oily Minang eats: beef rendang, squid cooked in coconut milk, tiny fried fish with sambal, a surprisingly tasty slab of fried beef jerky with sambal, chicken with chili and soy sauce and water spinach cooked in coconut milk, among other stalwarts.
This spicy, gloriously unrefined joyride of a cuisine will never in any rational universe be mistaken for health food, but a meal at this chain — which has been plugging along since 1967 — is a rather amusing look at Jakarta Business Lunch Culture, as people hobnob and devour copious amounts of beef over warm glasses of tea, the local stand-in for a 12:00 noon martini.
The staff seemed rather excited to have an American in the house (at the branch nearish the National Museum), and as I ate, I was presented with a small American flag on a bamboo tray for my table. This was, I feel I don’t need to add, absolutely charming. They also were quite eager to pose for a mugshot or two.
Yes, this is real.
The food selection actually looks good — heavy on the burgers — and they have some sort of mysterious drinking game neither myself or my friend could figure out on the back on the menu.
Maybe they think this is still a thing in America, and cool people like Justin Bieber and Barack Obama are wandering about saying it all the time, sometimes quietly to themselves when no one is around them, even. Because YOLO is that cool.
Someone maybe should tell them.