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What Foodies Eat: Ratna Somantri

What Foodies Eat: Ratna Somantri

Auli Cinantya
23 September 2022


Ever since her childhood, Ratna Somantri has always loved tea. With FoodieS, Ratna shares her love and passion as a tea specialist, her most memorable food memories, and her favorite tea pairings.


Ratna Somantri’s love for tea started in childhood. Ratna’s first introduction to tea took place in Cirebon, her hometown. Her mother often makes tea with a simple technique. In 2006, Ratna began to study tea seriously; she flew to Malaysia especially to take tea lessons.

Until now, Ratna has tasted dozens of teas from hundreds of types of tea worldwide. In her own home, Ratna collects a wide variety of tea leaves.

In early 2014, Ratna, the founder of the Tea Lovers Community, was appointed by the Indonesian Tea Council as a representative who would promote and socialize tea more broadly. Apart from seminars and talk shows, Ratna shares her tea knowledge through her books.

Hi! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your day-to-day activities?
Hi, my name is Ratna Somantri; I am a tea specialist, tea book writer, and founder of the Indonesia Tea Institute. I do tea daily; I teach tea online and offline every week, develop new tea recipes, review my students’ tea and home assignments, create a new tea class module, and I’m currently writing my sixth tea book.

What do you like the most about your job?
Having students from all over Indonesia with different backgrounds, ages and occupations are what I enjoy most about my job. I am happy if they become a successful tea entrepreneur.

What valuable lessons have you learned from your job?
A valuable lesson from my job is that being consistent and believing in your cause is critical. Fifteen years ago, even my family questioned my career when I started teaching people about tea. Can you earn a living by teaching tea? Back then, few people appreciated good quality tea; it was seen as a drink for the elderly. There is a growing pass on for tea among young generations today. Over the years, I have taught hundreds of students, primarily Millenials and gen Z. Many are talented teapreneurs. So, being consistent and believing in your cause is vital.

What is the most unforgettable food experience you have ever had? 

My most memorable food experience occurred when I visited tea plantations.

The first one was in Kerinci, Jambi, when I visited the Kayu Aro tea plantation. it was Dendeng Batokok. It was so delicious, unlike the Dendeng batokok I had in Jakarta. I loved the tender meat, perfectly grilled with cinnamon wood. The sambal was so yummy too. Having it in a warung on the slopes of Kerinci mountain makes it unforgettable. 

The second one was Yudofu. I had it at an onsen village in Ureshino, Japan, during my visit to the nearby tea plantation. The Yudofu was delicious, especially for someone like me who loves tofu. The most unforgettable experience was when we got lost there, and a lovely tea farmer offered to take us to the nearby station in his car. He invited us to his house, showed us some tea from his farm, and then drove us to a nearby train station. He could not speak English, and we could not speak Japanese. I thought that the tea farm life, drinking good tea with fresh water, and eating healthy and tasty food like Yudofu could help us become happy and good people.

What usually attracts you to visit a place to eat?
The food. Not the hype of the place but the food. 

What is your most recent dining destination that left a good impression?
Sensorium Bali and August Jakarta.

Do you have any go-to venues for hanging out with friends or maybe for special occasions with family? If yes, can you tell us where and what you like about them? 
My family loves Chinese food! So our go-to venue when my parents visit me in Jakarta is Angke restaurant. Most of my friends are foodies, so we like to try new restaurants in Jakarta. 

What are your favorite local dishes, and where do you go to eat them?
I was born in Cirebon and went to high school in Bandung. So most of my favorite local dishes are not from Jakarta.I love Yamien from Mie Murni in Cirebon, Ayam Goreng Bahagia in Cirebon, Tahu Gejrot Cirebon, Batagor Kingsley Bandung, Kupat Tahu Gempol Bandung, Tahu Slawi from Slawi and Lumpia Semarang Gang Lombok.

Is there any food you can eat every day without getting bored?
Tofu! Fried Tofu, Tofu Salad, Yudofu. I can eat fried tofu with sambal kecap daily without getting bored. 

Where are your top three dining places that you will always be on your favorite list?
Sensorium Bali, Tori Sei Melawai, and Sushi Masa. 

What type of food have you enjoyed recently? 
Healthier food. I am trying to avoid fried food (except fried tofu). I love Japanese food, salad, and fusion food. Last month I ordered the Rangga sandwich from Lunch for my husband; it was so good. That’s the kind of food that I enjoyed recently; healthy, yummy, and has lots of exotic flavors. 

What kind of drinks do you usually have after a long day? 
Of course, tea! When I am super tired, I usually like to drink a good cup of tea, green or oolong tea. The polyphenols in tea refresh me, and the L-theanine helps me relax. There is no other drink that is so refreshing and relaxing than a cup of good tea.

Are there any specific tea pairings you like? 
I have a sweet tooth, so I like desserts. For me, desserts will taste better with a cup of black tea. It will cut the sweetness of the desserts. For not-so-healthy food like gorengan, a cup of oolong will help cleanse your palate. And after having too much salty food like a bowl of ramen, a cup of green tea is perfect.

As we are nearing the rainy season, in your opinion, what is the perfect tea for this season? 
Chai, a tea blend with lots of spices (green cardamon, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper). And tea with ginger, lemongrass, and a splash of lemon juice and honey. 

What is your top three favorite tea? 
I love green tea, oolong, and Darjeeling’s first flush.

In the past few years, we have seen a lot of unique food trends; which food trends do you like the most, and where do you usually get them?
I get food recommendations from social media and my friend. But I am not a person who follows food trends because I am more of a conventional type when it comes to food. 

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