Back to the Ba­sics with Po­ken­bir

Indonesia Expat - - Contents - Dear Read­ers,

Lately, it seems like Jakarta’s restau­ran­teurs are at a loss for new ideas. The mar­ket is sat­u­rated with pseudo-mod­ern-French-Asian cui­sine, with menus and cock­tail lists seem­ingly more and more repet­i­tive as their neigh­bours and ri­vals. Word on the street that there is a “hold” on al­co­hol ship­ments com­ing into the coun­try also doesn’t help. Or­ders back­dated to ear­lier this year have been stopped, with even Bali feel­ing the heat as con­sumers steadily drink the cur­rent sup­ply dry. Many times, when you en­ter a high- end bar or restau­rant, you’ll find at least a quar­ter to half the wine and cock­tails list ei­ther un­avail­able or habis. That’s a cry­ing shame for an in­dus­try al­ready af­fected by in­cred­i­bly high tax rates and so­cial stigma. It makes one won­der whether din­ing out is worth much at all these days.

For the past cou­ple of months, there has been much soulsearch­ing in terms of how to do this col­umn jus­tice. On the one hand, we can keep re­port­ing on the ul­tra-hip open­ings with the celebrity chefs work­ing culi­nary magic in the gal­leys of their shiny, stain­less steel kitchens. On the other hand, there’s a wealth of lo­cal fare that may test an ex­pat’s for­ti­tude even if din­ing there would be eas­ier on the wal­let and in­voke proud as­sim­i­la­tion to cur­rent life cir­cum­stances. How­ever, the in­cli­na­tion is to search for some­thing dif­fer­ent, nei­ther to be mes­mer­ized by the new­est, shini­est restau­rant nor to cre­ate un­nec­es­sary trips to the med­i­cal clinic.

Mov­ing for­ward, there will be more range of restau­rants re­viewed with an em­pha­sis on those that cre­ate lo­cal fare safe and de­li­cious enough for even the newly ar­rived ex­pat fam­ily to en­joy. And if not lo­cal, then re­gional cui­sine with em­pha­sis on qual­ity of con­struct as well as those that bring tra­di­tional meth­ods of prepa­ra­tion. In­done­sia has an amaz­ing his­tory of in­clu­sion and di­ver­sity and it would be re­miss to ded­i­cate a col­umn solely on the latest restau­rant trends. We start here with an un­pre­ten­tious café aptly named Po­ken­bir.

Tucked away be­hind large sup­port­ing pil­lars in the lobby of the Lippo Build­ing, there is a bare­bones café serv­ing some of the most de­li­cious pork meals in all of Jakarta. Sur­pris­ingly scant of pre­tense or re­serve, Po­ken­bir is fun­da­men­tally a place for peo­ple to gorge on pork in all of its glory: roasted pork belly with crack­ling, caramelized ba­con, deep fried pork, crispy rinds and stewed pork. To con­sider or­der­ing any­thing else would be sac­ri­lege (and there is very lit­tle else that is not made from the pig on the menu). It’s safe to say: veg­e­tar­i­ans need not ap­ply.

The Roasted Pork Belly comes in two sizes, small or large, and ac­com­pa­nied by potato chips, rice or French fries, and a green salad. We ordered a small por­tion; which of­fers five large pieces of juicy, meaty pork belly. The crack­ling was su­perb, with a few lay­ers of fat still glis­ten­ing and unc­tu­ous hid­den be­tween the lean meat. For many who haven’t grown up with this type of dish, the fat may be off­putting as pork belly is usu­ally roasted un­til the fat melts away com­pletely in Western-style roasts. The dif­fer­ence is cul­tural, though, as most Asian cook­ing meth­ods al­low for a bit of re­ten­tion of the fatty good­ness to their pork – es­pe­cially when it comes to the belly. The dish ar­rived with a trio of sauces: sweet soy with fresh chill­ies, a generic from-the-bot­tle sam­bal, and a honey mus­tard sauce that was sur­pris­ingly good. Mus­tard and pork go hand-in-hand as the acid­ity cuts through the rich­ness. How­ever, the slight sweet­ness from the honey trans­forms the meat (and hides the mus­tard’s bit­ter­ness) into a sweet-sour de­light, a com­bi­na­tion that is uni­ver­sally en­joyed.

We also ordered the small Mixed Pork Plat­ter with pork saté, caramelized ba­con, but­ter miso grilled pork, even more roasted pork belly and French fries. The saté sticks were juicy and flavour­ful and the caramelized ba­con had a unique mo­lasses-y taste to it. The Fried Pork Bites were out­stand­ing, the kitchen hav­ing cre­ated the most de­li­cious crust cov­er­ing ev­ery sur­face of the pork bites and com­bin­ing it with a spicy, fresh cu­cum­ber and red chile sam­bal that was tor­tu­ously more-ish. The Nasi Cam­pur ala Bali was a dish that had two types of pork: the roasted belly and a few pieces of stewed hock in In­done­sian spices. It was ac­com­pa­nied by a lemon­grass-heavy lawar, a ro­bust red and green chilli sam­bal, and crispy rinds. For those who are not fa­mil­iar with lawar, it is a side dish most com­monly found by mix­ing minced meat or even pork blood with var­i­ous veg­eta­bles, spices and herbs. Do not fear,

Po­ken­bir’s lawar does not con­tain any blood, and is quite a pleas­ant ad­di­tion to the dish for those who en­joy medium-spicy heat.

On an­other oc­ca­sion, and with a big­ger party, we ordered the “In­done­sia Big Pork Rice,” which was big enough for four or five peo­ple, and served like a tra­di­tional rice plat­ter. They also serve pork bone soup Bak Kut, and var­i­ous fried rice and pork rice plates. Those who want to gnaw on some knuckle need to call in a day in ad­vance.

What does one drink with that much pork? I find my­self per­son­ally shocked to say that a large, ice cold Bin­tang or Erdinger is the per­fect foil to the pork-fest. Usu­ally, Bin­tang tastes rather in­sipid, but I guess one needs to read­just the palate with large gulps of re­fresh­ing, ice- cold beer to counter all of the fatty, glut­tonous de­lights at Po­ken­bir.

PO­KEN­BIR ROASTED PORK BELLY (COUR­TESY OF THE DEL­I­CA­CIES JOUR­NAL)

IN­DONE­SIA BIG PORK RICE (COUR­TESY OF ANAK JAJAN)

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