I picked up some long beans at H-Mart last weekend, and I knew that I needed to use them soon. They certainly aren’t in season, and can get slimy fast. So I trimmed the ends and cut them into 1.5 inches pieces, and pulled out my trusty “Cradle of Flavor” by James Oseland – a great cookbook and general information source about the cooking of the spice islands. I had some new lemongrass, too, so I made Mr. Lee’s longbeans. Like almost all Indonesian cooking, this recipe starts with a samble – a sauce made from shallots, chilis, sugar, and other ingredients based on the recipe. The samble is fried first, to release its flavor, and then the beans are added. I tend to make my sambals “rustic” and don’t worry too much about how smooth they are, which results in a “chunkier” appearance after cooking.
The tofu was a bit of a disaster, maybe because I picked up the firm tofu instead of the extra-firm, or because I initially had the heat too high, but I kind of destroyed it, visually. But fried with garlic, shallots, sweet soy sauce and a dash of salt, the flavor was just fine.
During my junior year of college, I lived in Yogyakarta, Indonesia (on the island of Java) and while there, fell in love with Indonesian food. Hardena, a small warung (or casual dining place) in South Philadelphia has been recieving great foodie press for years, but I’ve been putting off a visit until I could take along another person I spent time with in Indonesia. On a balmy weekday night, my friend Monica agreed to make the journey, and we couldn’t have been more pleased with the results.
While you can order dishes individually (don’t worry, the woman who works the hot food counter speaks English if you can’t read the Indonesian menu posted on the wall), it’s much more fun to just order a “plate” – 3 dishes of your choice for $6. On any given day, Hardena offers 3 or 4 vegetarian dishes, and 4 or 5 meat-based dishes (think spicy fried fish and goat curry). Pictured above is a boiled egg curry (one of my all-time favorites) a vegetable and tofu coconut milk curry, and a sweet fried tempeh with peppers over white rice. I just couldn’t resist the tempeh goreng cake (a large, thin slice of tempeh, dredge in egg and flour and deep fat-fried) so I added that to my platter for an extra dollar. I also added some sweet sambal (the orange color), but Hardena’s deep red sambal is one of the best I’ve ever tasted.
The set-up is just a step up from the traditional good carts with mini tables that are popular in Indonesia. A small store-front, little tables covered in plastic, styrofoam plates and plastic silverwear, and a cooler of cold water, but you won’t be dissapointed in the food, or the price. Memberi makan!
When I lived on the island of Java in Indonesia, I ate this basic fried rice for breakfast many mornings a week. My Ibu (or mother) would heat the wok on her on of the two burners powered by a large blue propane tank, swirl a glug of peanut oil into the pan, and toss in large spoonful of the sambal she had hand ground that morning from chillis, shallots, and garlic. The sambal fried in the oil, releasing a thick cloud of spice that wafted over to me, sitting at the table in our open courtyard. Once the sambal and fried, she toss on spoons of yesterdays rice – cold and perfect for frying. A swift toss of the wok, and rice was crisping. Meanwhile, on the other burner, a shallow wok of oil bubbled away. Ibu broke eggs directly into the oil, and pulled them out barely a minute later, fried crispy. A bowl of fried rice, topped with an egg, sprinkled with fried shallots, and some lightly salted cucumber on the side, and it was the perfect breakfast. Still is. After indulging in some Sunday evening take-out, I used the leftover white rice Tuesday morning and made myself a bowl of Indonesian fried rice breakfast. I didn’t grind my own sambal in a mortar and pestle, but a shopped shallot and a healthy tablespoon of sambal olek (gold label, with both crushed chillis and garlic) worked just fine. And I didn’t deep fry my egg, so the edges could never be as crispy and perfect, but I loved my little breakfast, and wasn’t hungry until lunch.
I love to go to movies at the Ritz Theaters, but there are not a lot of places that I love to grab a quick bite to eat when in Old City. Coming out of a movie at the Ritz 5 the other week, and straight into a cold, rainy night, I had a craving for soup. Senor Lanky and I finally decided to try the oddly located Pagoda Noodle Cafe, right next to the Ritz East Theater.
The hour was late and the place mostly empty, but I got my bowl of Indonesian Tofu soup (extra spicy please!) quickly and it was just what I wanted, hot, with a lot of egg, tofu and noodle and chili. Yum. Service is not the best (we had to ask to receive water and there don’t seem to be a lot of wait staff), but the Pagoda menu is expansive, has a lot of vegetarian options, and is nicely priced.