A Thought for LOCAL FOOD

The latest creation of chef-restaurateur Ragil Imam Wibowo, NUSA Indonesian Gastronomy in Jakarta, is a tribute to the vast array of Indonesian food. He is taking FoodieS for a taste.

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The latest creation of chef-restaurateur Ragil Imam Wibowo, NUSA Indonesian Gastronomy in Jakarta, is a tribute to the vast array of Indonesian food. He is taking FoodieS for a taste.

MORE THAN just promoting exquisite flavors of the archipelago, Nusa Indonesian Gastronomy  (Nusa) is committed to elevating authentic ingredients from different areas in Indonesia.

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As Chef Ragil takes us plate by plate, my taste buds and imagination are flown to the most exotic corners of Indonesia.

Chef Ragil and his team communicate directly with local farmers to obtain ingredients for a range of menu served in sets of three or five courses. In their first months of opening, high quality produces are sourced from Java, Sumatra, and a few areas in East Indonesia are cooked in Nusa.

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Jailolo, a town in Halmahera, the Moluccas islands, is one of Ragil’s fertile source for ingredients and inspiration. One of the Jailolo inspired dishes is the appetizer Ulak-ulak.

Ulak-ulak is a salad mixed with pili nut from the region. Pili nuts are still collected by hands because foraging is a common practice among the Jailolo natives. Despite this, according to Ragil, the farmers of Jailolo are very cooperative in supplying their land’s produces.

“I would place an order for the Jailolo produces and everything will arrive in a week,” he said. Mesmerized by Jailolo, the chef had also written a book about his expedition to this enchanting port town. The book featured the story of their journey, photos of the breathtaking scenery, local ingredients, and authentic recipes.

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“Jailolo is a territory that the Dutch colonialists after for its herbs and spices, particularly the cloves,” Ragil continued.

Bananas, nutmegs, sago, Tataleka shrimp paste, pili nuts, and garfish (ikan roa) are among many ingredients that Nusa had sourced from Jailolo. Combined with produces from other areas, they make delectable dishes.

A type of banana locally known as the duck’s beak banana, is used to make tiny  macarons with cheese from Enrekang in South Sulawesi, with unique fillings of spiced Bekasam (sambal made of fermented fish intestines). The amusing offer is part  of the  amuse bouche.

Excitement emboldened as one of the main course dish arrived, the Ayam Lempah Kulat Pelawan. It is a six-hour slow braised free range chicken with Pelawan mushroom. The mushroom grows on Pelawan, an endemic trees that only grow in Bangka and Belitung islands. According to locals, the mushrooms thrive on thunderstorm rain; that’s one dramatic mushroom.

For the dish, the mushrooms are boiled and seasoned with shallots, garlic, chili, turmeric, dried shrimp, and the authentic shrimp paste from Bangka or Belitung.

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Another main dish, no less captivating, was the Tuna Asap Sambal Tempoyak. The fish is caught from the waters off Pelabuhan Ratu in West Java.

Ragil specifically ordered the fish part that has less fiber, as it is served rather half cooked. This dish, however, is more exciting due to its Sambal Tempoyak sauce that is made of the one and only durian.

Needless to say, the chef opted to source the famous durian from Medan, but he had managed to find wonderful substitute from Parung, a Jakarta suburb. “We use durians from Parung when the ones from Medan are not in season,” revealed Ragil.

Turning durian into sambal tempoyak is a delicate matter. The chef admitted that his first encounter with the particular condiment is not a very pleasant one. He kept looking for the ultimate recipe and finally found it from a woman in Lampung.

Nusa’s sambal tempoyak is mild with only a hint of durian. “It is only the tart character of the fermented durian that we were after,” concluded Ragil. Undoubtedly, it’s a good balancing element to the juicy half-cooked tuna and edible blue pea vine that made the dish looked striking.

All main course dishes, of course, go well with rice; the way Indonesians love it. Rice in Nusa comes in black, red, or white version. The black and red rice are sourced from the remote Adan Krayan mountains in Borneo, the white rice comes from Solok in West Sumatera, whilst the red and white are grown in Bogor, West Java, with seeds from Central Java. What a journey a plate of rice is in Nusa!

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After the main dishes, came the dessert. But before that, a palate cleanser. With joy, I scooped the ginger flower sorbet to prepare for dessert.

The dessert turned out to be Klepon, an Indonesian sweet treat Ragil always proud of. Traditionally, the dish is to be served warm, otherwise the globular Klepon will be too rubbery and the palm sugar filling will solidify.

But, Ragil reversed this by serving it cold. Flavor-wise, it retains the a combination of aromatic pandan leaf and pleasantly sweet palm sugar. The stunning green color naturally came from sappanwood leaves (daun suji). This version of Klepon comes with coconut gelato, sago from Jailolo, and sponges made of sorghum flour, commonly found in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara.

The course is only a small example of how Indonesian food and produce have tremendous potential for larger stage. The sorghum, the indigenous rice, the pili nuts, the mushrooms and many other ingredients used in Nusa, may not be certified organic nor bio-dynamic, but they are all cultivated using natural approach that celebrates humanity and the unconditional love to our environment.

Turning these ingredients into world class Indonesian cuisine is not an easy task, but with our most sincere appreciation, it will not be an impossible task. Ragil has proved that.


Written by FoodieS Photographs by Dennie Ramon October 8, 2016.

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