I’m back in the small town of Cipanas, perched high in the mountains of West Java, a long way from the tourist trail. I’m in the kitchen often, but it’s not my kitchen and I’m not doing the cooking. I’m watching, learning and asking questions as chef Banardi glides barefoot around his kitchen. It is a culinary ballet and a delight to watch. Years of Chinese and Indonesian traditions, the food of old Jakarta, is conjured and recalled, sometimes retaining it’s authenticity, at other times drawing on modern influences from Melbourne, Australia or Bath, United Kingdom. Like all great cooking, there are no recipes, no choreographer of the dance; the ingredients provide the inspiration.
Banardi, mentioned in a previous post, was chef and owner of the famous restaurant, Djakarta, in Richmond, Melbourne from 1995 to 2001. Growing up in Angke, a poor suburb in north Jakarta, he learnt to cook by shopping for his mother and observing her techniques. His mother was Javanese, his father Chinese: his cooking reflects these influences. In his twenties, he moved to Melbourne to study hospitality then opened the restaurant. It was deservedly popular, based as it was, on Ibu Bakhar’s authentic recipes as well as Jakartan street food.
In his kitchen, the equipment is minimal: a huge wok and rice cooker, a two burner gas stove with amazing power, a few pots for soup, metal spatulas and bamboo strainer spiders. As this is a holiday house, the kitchen is simple and austere but the food certainly isn’t.
My contribution to the kitchen is to go shopping at the local market or at Ibu Atit’s wonderful little store down a dark alley behind a mosque. Although we have a fridge, shopping for ingredients is a daily adventure. In Barny’s kitchen the following edible jewels are always present.
Tempe and tofu are added to most dishes and are never boring. We buy freshly made spring roll wrappers, so easy to use with no wetting required, and fill them with leftover noodle stir fry, tofu or tempe, and bean shoots. Tofu also lands in curries or is coated with tapioca flour and fried as a side dish or snack.
Every meal is a feast. The herbs, spices and alum and rhizome members form the base of each dish, taking simple dishes to another level. Sometimes we grind these in the Uleg, sometimes they are torn or roughly chopped. Along with these and fresh vegetables, rice or noodles add the basic carbohydrates and salty fish, coconut and eggs add more protein.
On Tuesday night, Barny decided to make Pepes Tahu. (spicy tofu stuffing wrapped in banana leaves). I have often eaten Pepes Ikan in Bali, a mixture of fish mashed into a paste, spiced and then rolled in banana leaf and barbecued on hot coals. This tofu version was heavenly. The filling made from tofu, tiny salty fish, fresh coconut flesh, chilli, shallot and other spices, is mashed, placed into the centre of a large banana leaf and then rolled into a neat package, and secured with toothpicks. Coconut shells provided the charcoal for the barbecue: I love the way every part of the coconut is used. The little metal BBQ cost around $4.00 AU. I know what’s going back in my hand luggage.
I think the Pepes Tahu stole the show, but then the Lumpia Manis, sweet spring rolls based on an old Balinese recipe, Dadar, pancakes stuffed with coconut and palm sugar, were ambrosial. As you can see, Barny turned very Melbournian with the presentation of this sweet. The Lumpia Manis deserve a separate post.
Thanks Celia, for hosting all of us again. Why not check out other kitchen inspirations at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial?