Saturday, June 4, 2016

Delicious Lesson Learned

I must declare I knew absolutely nothing about Indonesian cuisine. With such diversity because of race, religion and cultural backgrounds for this fourth most populated country in the world, there's simply way too much to learn, so I was particularly grateful for the opportunity to explore a bit more about Indonesian food (and in a sense, their culture) with a presentation by a culinary expert on this subject followed by dinner at Kaum, the restaurant at the newly-opened Potato Head Hong Kong in Sai Ying Pun.

Felt like attending a class on "Slow Food Indonesia 101" with journal article, presentation deck and all! 
Cinnamon, Keffir Lime Leaf, Shallots, Red Chilies, Cashew Nuts, Galangal, Tumeric Leaf and Tumeric... just some of the ingredients that went into Rendang cooking
"Do you know Rendang refers to the cooking method instead being a food category?" Ms Lisa Virgiano, an Indonesian culinary activist and Potato Head brand ambassador opened her talk by clarifying a major misconception about Rendang, perhaps one of the best-known Indonesian dishes. She went on spending the next 30 minutes describing Rendang cooking, particularly the traditional method passing from generation to generation among the Minangkabau ethnic group from West Sumatra Province. It was a good learning experience knowing more about the dish and the story behind, the many ingredients involved, the traditional cooking process (often taking more than 8 hours to make), the significance of the dish in the cultural context, and how the cooking method was connected to the landscape, habitat and heritage.

The open kitchen just behind us - where all the cooking actions took place, with the charcoal grill too!
Four types of Sambal
Of course, it’s not just the talk that we got to enjoy this evening. Soon the dishes of traditional Indonesian cuisine were brought to the long table of ours from the show kitchen right behind us, as a sneak preview of their dinner menu just launched. We began with a platter of sambal, traditional condiments great either with jasmine rice served in a fancy ceramic bowl for sharing, or with any savory dish to enhance the flavor. My favorite was the one called Sambal Kluwek, made with roasted "black nut" (a.k.a. kluwek) then mashed into paste-like texture. It tastes a bit similar to Chinese black bean but with a deeper earthy flavor - not the type you can eat on its own but works very well with a number of food.

Rendang Daging Sapi: Braised beef with red beans in mixed Sumatran rendang spices and coconut milk sauce served with sweet potato crisps
Sate Lidah Sapi Padang: Charcoal-grilled braised ox tongue in a spicy tumeric sauce, served with glazed eggplant crisp
Pa'Piong Ayam: Marinated free range chicken with spices of Sulawesi, grated coconut and sweet potato leaves
Batagor: Javanese fried prawn and mackerel dumplings, served with roasted cashew sauce, scallion and fresh coriander
There were obviously more in our meal than just sambal and rice. The Rendang Daging Sapi was made just as Ms Virgiano described, using the traditional slow cooked process with spices and coconut milk, giving the dish a complex flavor with tender and succulent braised meat. The ox-tongues were braised and charcoal grilled, cut into small cubes and served on a skewer with an enticing spicy turmeric sauce. The Batagor was a dumpling with fried prawn and mackerel mashed into paste and wrapped then deep-fried, and served with a roasted cashew nut sauce, scallions and coriander. The sauce was so good that I wish there was more so I could spoon and ate with my rice.

Burung Dara Goreng Rica Rica: Slow cooked & fried pigeon tossed in a northern Sulawesi sambal of red chili, herbs, spring onions & fresh lime juice
The pigeon was also excellent with the tender meat and crispy skin, tossed in red chili and herbs for added flavor and texture with lime juice for a tangy taste, although I must say I wasn't that big a fan of the Bubur Kampiun dessert served at the end, with coconut milk, sago and sweet potato dumpling - perhaps it’s a bit too sweet for me.

After dinner, we moved to the lounge area for more drinks and to hang out a bit more. I realized the place was much more spacious than I thought when I walked in, with separate lounge and dining areas completed with a coffee counter near the entrance. The well-stocked bar was in front and the open kitchen was at the back, next to the long dining area with the large windows facing the outside street on one side. But the entire place was packed with people eager to check out this new venue, either grabbing a drinks at the bar or waiting for a table to eat.

From left to right: Potato Head Mojito, Kookaburra and Barong Zombie
I already had a couple of drinks by then at the dinner table (both the mojito and kookaburra were excellent, by the way), but I was curious about the Barong Zombie on the drink menu, which was listed with a side-note "only 2 allowed per visit". Thinking it may knock me out for the night, I saved that for last, but turned out it’s surprisingly "timid" with scores of ingredients (Nusa Cana and Meyer’s rum, pineapple-infused arak, orange curacao, cherry liqueur, a splash of absinthe, pine grapefruit, cane and pineapple juice, passionfruit syrup and a dash of bitters) mixed and shaken and served in an exotic teak mug with a monkey face carved. It wasn’t as strong as I expected but very tasty nonetheless - I could definitely have more than two if I am allowed to.

Sai Ying Pun has quickly established itself as the next hip place to be in town with numerous restaurant and bar openings, and the addition of Potato Head definitely wouldn’t hurt this neighborhood to stake that claim, with a restaurant, bar, cafe and retail shop in this vast space under the same roof. From what we experienced on that evening it's definitely very promising - people should "Kaum" by for a visit some time and they would know what I meant.

(Event and Dinner by Invitation)

When? May 31 2016
Where? Kaum by Potato Head Hong Kong, Ground Floor, 100 Third Street, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Rendang Daging Sapi
Web: www.ptthead.com

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