On the rice ta­ble

Is ri­jstaffel the key to cat­a­pult­ing In­done­sian cui­sine to the in­ter­na­tional stage? Eve Tedja trav­elled to Am­s­ter­dam and dis­cov­ered that the tra­di­tional Dutch-indo rit­ual is alive and thriv­ing.

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“Just give me fried rice and egg, with sam­bal and krupuk and a glass of beer! There’s no rice cake, pork sa­tay, no spici­ness any­where. No shrimp paste, fried grated co­conut, milk­fish, and tofu with petis sauce. Lapis cake, on­deonde, no cas­sava or bak­pao, no sticky rice, no Ja­vanese palm sugar…,” lamented Wi­eteke van Dort in a song that she wrote in 1977 af­ter she had to leave In­done­sia with her fam­ily due to the anti-dutch sen­ti­ment. At first, the Surabaya-born singer and ac­tress found her new home, Nether­lands cold and its food un­ap­peal­ing. To her In­done­sian palate, rice was still the best. The song, ti­tled Geef Mij Maar Nasi Goreng, went to be­come a clas­sic hit in Nether­lands, tug­ging at the heart­strings of its in­hab­i­tants whose an­ces­tries and roots are deeply in­ter­twined with

In­done­sia through the bit­ter sweet his­tory of Dutch coloni­sa­tion.

There are ap­prox­i­mately more than 2,000 In­done­sian eater­ies in Nether­lands. From a sim­ple eatery that the Dutch fondly call toko to a fine din­ing es­tab­lish­ment with an elab­o­rate ri­jstaffel or rice ta­ble setup, In­done­sian cui­sine has been an in­sep­a­ra­ble part of Nether­land’s mul­ti­cul­tural food lex­i­con. On the other hand, if you visit any city in In­done­sia to­day and ask a lo­cal where to eat ri­jstaffel, you will most likely get a blank look. A ri­jstaffel,

a Dutch-indo culi­nary fu­sion, was cre­ated dur­ing the colo­nial pe­riod in 1870s. It was an ex­trav­a­gant din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence where one could en­joy a wide va­ri­ety of Dutch and In­done­sian dishes in one sit­ting. At its most grandiose, a ri­jstaffel din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence could fea­ture 40 dif­fer­ent dishes dur­ing a sin­gle meal. Each dish was car­ried by wait­resses lin­ing up to serve the mi­jn­heer and mevrouws. Af­ter In­done­sia pro­claimed its in­de­pen­dence in 1945, this Dutch colo­nial rit­ual grad­u­ally dis­ap­peared. In­stead, a more egal­i­tar­ian ap­proach in the form of nasi rames eater­ies took its place.

The pre­cise num­bers of In­done­sian di­as­pora and their de­scen­dants are hard to tally due to dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods of im­mi­gra­tion and in­ter­mar­riage. Ac­cord­ing to Ebed Li­taay, pres­i­dent of In­done­sian Di­as­pora Net­work – Nether­land Chap­ter (2015-2017) in an in­ter­view with SWA, an on­line mag­a­zine, there are roughly 1.8 mil­lion In­done­sian di­as­po­ras liv­ing in the coun­try. The first gen­er­a­tion em­i­grated from 1946 to 1968. The sec­ond- and third-gen­er­a­tion grew up eat­ing savoury nasi uduk

for break­fast. There is also a large com­mu­nity of Mol­lu­cans who im­mi­grated to the Nether­lands in the 1950s and a siz­able Ja­vanese Suri­name com­mu­nity.

Tau­fik Rach­man was one of the first waves of In­done­sian im­mi­grants who left his home­town of Surabaya and moved to Am­s­ter­dam in 1970. “Back then, there were prob­a­bly less than 10 In­done­sian eater­ies in Am­s­ter­dam and in­gre­di­ents were quite hard to find and ex­pen­sive,” says the soft-spo­ken 69-yearold restau­ra­teur. In 1992, he opened Terang Boe­lan, a take­out In­done­sian eatery in the quiet dis­trict of Jor­daan. A large clear glass cov­ered counter full of In­done­sian del­i­ca­cies such as urap sayur, sayur lodeh, beef ren­dang, lamb curry, and sate ayam

stands in the mid­dle of the joint. Cus­tomers can choose be­tween white rice and fried noo­dles and com­bine their carbs with few kinds of meat and veg­etable dishes, cus­tomis­ing a plate of hearty

nasi rames based on their per­sonal pref­er­ence. Ev­ery­thing is cooked from scratch daily by Rach­man and his team of helpers. “I think the artistry of In­done­sian cui­sine is that you don’t have to use ex­pen­sive in­gre­di­ents to cre­ate flavour­ful dishes. It just takes time to pre­pare, that’s all,” ex­plains Rach­man while warmly greet­ing one of his loyal cus­tomers.

Terang Boe­lan is one of many toko in Am­s­ter­dam that caters to the Dutch’s grow­ing ap­petite and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for In­done­sian food, ac­cord­ing to Asri Anisa Prasadani. A sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion In­done­sian who was born and raised in Am­s­ter­dam, Prasadani’s par­ents moved to the city more than 40 years ago and she grew up eat­ing her mother’s home-cooked In­done­sian dishes, such as soto ayam, and cel­e­brated her fam­ily’s mile­stones with nasi

tumpeng, the cone-shaped yel­low rice which she jok­ingly calls the real In­done­sian ri­jstaffel. She ad­mits that there has been a resur­gence of In­done­sian cui­sine as pop-ups and fine din­ing restau­rants are open­ing up in Am­s­ter­dam’s trendy ar­eas. “It is heart­en­ing to see a grow­ing in­ter­est in In­done­sian cui­sine

al­though I think there are still so many of our re­gional dishes which are still un­known here. We have all the in­gre­di­ents avail­able. What we need are more In­done­sian chefs and restau­rants who dare to go be­yond serv­ing gado-gado and prove that there is so much more to In­done­sian food than just peanut sauce,” en­thuses Prasadani.

Am­s­ter­dam re­ceives roughly 5.7 mil­lion visi­tors per year. To many pleas­antly sur­prised tourists, Am­s­ter­dam is where they ex­pe­ri­ence In­done­sian cui­sine for the first time, mak­ing the city the per­fect get­away to in­tro­duce the flavour­some cui­sine from the ar­chi­pel­ago to a wider au­di­ence out­side its coun­try of ori­gin. “We have been serv­ing the rice ta­ble con­cept to in­ter­na­tional guests and they were al­ways blown away,” shares Meta van den Boomen, man­ager of Restau­rant Blauw.

First opened in Utrecht, Restau­rant Blauw quickly gained recog­ni­tion for serv­ing au­then­tic In­done­sian cui­sine in a con­tem­po­rary set­ting. It opened its Am­s­ter­dam branch 10 years ago, pow­ered by a team of tal­ented In­done­sian chefs with their own heir­loom fam­ily recipes, from Ikan Asam Padeh to the crowd-pleas­ing Sate Kamb­ing Restau­rant Blauw of­fers à la carte dishes as well as three dif­fer­ent ri­jstaffel set menus; th­ese gas­tro­nomic treats are served in ex­quis­ite small bowls.

Nearby, a new In­done­sian restau­rant has been mak­ing a splash in the leafy his­tor­i­cal neigh­bour­hood called the Plan­tage. Mama Makan In­done­sian Kitchen, lo­cated ad­ja­cent to Hy­att Re­gency Am­s­ter­dam, has been re­ceiv­ing rave re­views for its swanky de­sign and flavour­ful In­done­sian de­lights. Its as­so­ci­a­tion with a five-star ho­tel has also el­e­vated the im­age of In­done­sian cui­sine and ce­mented its in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion. At the heart of Mama Makan In­done­sian Restau­rant, is Ros­mina Na­pitupulu, an Aceh-born and Jakarta-raised chef. To­gether with her In­done­sian kitchen team, the culi­nary vet­eran is up­ping the ante on Ja­vanese and Ba­li­nese re­gional cui­sine.

“There’s no doubt that in­tro­duc­ing In­done­sian cui­sine to other coun­tries would be a great suc­cess” - Meta van den Boomen, man­ager of Restau­rant Blauw

“In­done­sian food is all about shar­ing. That is why Mama Makan’s sig­na­ture ri­jstaffel re­mains ev­ery­one’s favourite,” says Na­pitupulu as she works be­hind her open kitchen and grinds pastes and spices in a mor­tar and pes­tle, the fa­mil­iar fra­grant aroma waft­ing de­light­fully in the air. Ac­com­pa­nied by crafted botan­i­cal cock­tails, which are in­spired by herbs and spices from the ar­chi­pel­ago, the restau­rant show­cases the best of In­done­sia to cos­mopoli­tan guests and Am­s­ter­dammers alike. Nut­meg, a con­coc­tion made of cel­ery gin, ver­mouth, cherry liquor, tonic wa­ter and nut­meg, is the per­fect com­pan­ion to a ri­jstaffel feast that in­cludes a heart­warm­ing bowl of Soto Madura.

Tiny gems ar­rive on the ta­ble in the form of grilled ba­nana leave wrapped fish­cake and spicy shred­ded chicken and chicken sa­tay bathed in peanut sauce. As the din­ner progress, so does the level of heat. It is a sign that the au­then­tic In­done­sian ex­pe­ri­ence is alive and hap­pen­ing as Fried Fish with Sam­bal Matah, Sam­bal Bal­ado Eg­g­plant, and Woku Shrimp Sam­bal next ap­pear. Opor Ayam, Gu­lai Kamb­ing and Beef Ren­dang com­ple­ment the meal per­fectly. Each and ev­ery dish is lov­ingly made from scratch, a time-con­sum­ing feat that quite of­ten makes In­done­sian cui­sine chal­leng­ing to repli­cate. By way of pre­sen­ta­tion, ri­jstaffel cer­tainly stands out. Who wouldn’t feel spe­cial when they are pre­sented with lav­ishly pre­pared del­i­ca­cies in one go?

“I have found out since I was young that I love to make peo­ple happy through food. That’s why the dishes that we have here are the ones that are close to my heart. Food that I have cooked, shared, and en­joyed with my loved ones. Hope­fully, our guests will en­joy it too and it will be­come part of their mem­ory and ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Na­pitupulu. In­deed, there is noth­ing to stop In­done­sian cui­sine from shin­ing on the global stage when pas­sion meets ri­jstaffel in a de­light­ful burst of au­then­tic flavours.

The In­done­sian tal­ents be­hind Restau­rant Blauw: Isti, Asep Kuswandi and Fe­lix Pon­toh.

Restau­rant Blauw’s tasty ri­jstaffel also caters for pesca­te­rian and veg­e­tar­ian di­ets.

Terang Boe­lan’s In­done­sian fare. Tau­fik Rach­man of Terang Boe­lan

Chef Ros­mina Na­pitupulu and her col­league, head chef Martin Robl.

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