Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kelapa Gading: Glutton's Paradise

The area I live in IS food. Everything about Kelapa Gading is infused with culinary touches. The name itself means Ivory Coconut, which is a species of coconut known for its deliciousness. The area is home to Kelapa Gading Food City, which is a courtyard of decent restaurants conveniently located in the mall where I work. A note about malls, when I say "in" I don't mean indoors. In Indonesia, most malls have not only indoor shops, but also a courtyard area filled with food stands, and walled in on all sides by restaurants. At these food courtyards, you can find any kind of Indonesian food (more on that later) as well as Indian, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese food. The variety of food to be found here is not quite on par with Toronto in terms of geographical breadth, but, this place quite possibly gives Toronto a run for its money on number of dishes available. For example, under the umbrella of Indonesian food can be found literally a dozen different regional foods. There is Betawi food, which is the name of the ethnic group that traditionally inhabited the vicinity of modern day Jakarta and West Java. One Betawi specialty is sun dried beef, which is basically like thick beef jerky. The sound of it slightly turned me off when I heard about it (sun dried+beef=??? rotten beef?) but it is in fact amazing. Also hailing from Betawi comes the wonderful beverage known as Wadung Ronde (I think?). It is comprised of ginger juice, tapioca bubbles, grass jelly, roasted peanuts, mung beans and small pieces of sweet bread. Served warm, it is the perfect way to get cleanse your palet and help your digestive system (via the ginger, and trust me, your digestive system needs help in Indonesia). Then there is Acehnese food, Sunda food, Sumatran food, Padang food, Bandung food and the list goes on. Padang food is worth mentioning. It is spicy, greasy, salty and gets right down to the heart of what culinary indulgence really is. The Padang restaurant 'system' is also worth describing. You can spot a Padang restaurant easily by looking for the two hallmarks of this region. One is the sloped roof, usually just sticking out of the facade of the storefront over the door. Then, there is also the bowl pyramid. Padang restaurants store their food stacked up in brick-like layers formed into a pyramid. When you order, a number of these dishes are brought to your table, and any bowls from which you touch, you pay for. Fried chicken, grilled fish, dried fish quiche (better than it sounds), marijuana marinated beef and green chilli salad (incendiary) all sit before you, challenging you not to sample them. For example, for lunch today, I ordered what I thought was Padang beef jerky only to be informed by a 'helpful' co-worker that it was in fact dried cow lung. It was actually pretty decent, if a little bubbly and grisly. The only bad culinary experience I've had so far also involved offal. It was a pho-like soup laden with msg, and like pho, it contained slices of semi-cooked beef which cooked in your bowl. Also like pho, it had additional goodies like tripe, tendon, something unidentifiable and sprouts. UNLIKE pho, it had no noodles, and lots and lots of the tripe, tendon and 'other'. It was really a bowl of awful/offal.

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