Back to the Basics with Pokenbir
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)