Saturday, July 25, 2020


Like many dutch speakers I enjoy Indonesian food, and often cook in that style for my own consumption. Most of us accept Indonesian cuisine as part of our cultural inheritance or baggage, and think no more of it than that we're glad we have it, otherwise we would be eating nothing but bread, potatoes, speculaas, and herring.
Which, if you've seen Dutch still-lives from the golden age at the museum, is clearly what the Dutch diet centuries ago used to be.
Plus beer, pastries, and cheese.
More or less.

A few days ago I remarked to a retired Indies diplomat that one of the things I missed most about the Netherlands when I returned to the States was Indonesian food. No, not ryst tafel. Sambal and fish sauce.

Ryst tafel is one of those things we usually look at askance. It's just too much, like the American all-you-can-eat buffet. An embarrassment of riches, so to speak. A more modest version does not have thirty or forty dishes, just four or five, and makes a lot more sense. But if you're eating by yourself, just the basics: white rice, a sambal goreng (stirfried stuff with chilipaste and this and that), a slowly stewed or simmered dish, maybe soup and salad (green mango + trassi), and drinks.
Sambal on the side.
No beer.

The ryst tafel is colonialist excess.

Like much of the history of the Netherlands involvement with the rest of the world, it's a badly muddled mess (and it should be noted that the United States involvement with Indonesia is also crap).

It still all boils down to sambal and fish sauce, which, thanks to our Vietnamese American fellow citizens, are now widely available.

Along with other necessities.

Other important ingredients are coconut milk and flesh,coriander and turmeric, galangal, lemon grass, garlic, ginger, peanuts, basil leaf, and tamarind. Plus sugar. A purist would also include kemiri, kenari, and kluwak, but strictly speaking those aren't essential.

[Kemiri: Candlenuts (aleurites moluccana). Kenari: Pili nuts, Moluccan almond (canarium ovatum). Kluwak: Football fruit seeds (pangium edule).]

Now, an anally retentive and neurotic Dutchman, as we all are, would naturally consider nice crockery and porcelain as crucial, even more, than the flavouring ingredients and prepared dishes. Because how it looks as part of a cozy and inviting still-life-like table load is exceedingly important.

Which may explain my collection of ceramics. Somewhat.

My apartment mate, a Cantonese American person who tolerates many of my peculiarities, patiently endures my neuroses, and has forbidden me to smoke indoors because it might make her teddy bear smell like fire (ms. Bruin lives in her room), is not entirely on board with that. Chinese people are often more casual about these things than the Dutch, and consequently some of the kitchen bowls betray a less than pristine warehouse fresh condition. Which I do not think she sees. My collection of fine crockery is carefully stacked and stashed, and very rarely used.

Mostly, I simply gloat over having it.

A sixteenth century Amsterdam merchant would understand this. Though preferring austerely flamboyant Ming blue and white over California art pottery and earthenware (celadons, blues and greens, Hsin-chuen Lin, Spangler, Bauer, Pacific Clay, et mult altres).


It's a very simple process. Take cooked or raw ingredients cut to a suitable size, stir-fry them with chilipaste, then seethe them with tamarind, lime juice, fish sauce, and cooking stock or water. Cook further until glazed and no longer wet. Garlic and ginger can be used advantageously, as with Cantonese cooking, as well as soy sauce or oyster sauce. Sugar can be added too for a somewhat more Thai or Javanese approach. Often the main vegetable component is paired with onion or chopped meats in the pan. Sambal means hot chilipaste condiments. Here used as a slightly dominant component. If you like hot, simply add more sambal to your own plate.

A good Dutch Indonesian meal for one or two people is a mild chicken curry, a small serving of sambal goreng (chopped long beans or bitter melon, for instance), a saucer of plain sambal on the side, and, typically, serundeng to add textural excitement. Plus a simple broth soup without overmuch flotsam added, that includes tamarind or lime juice for sourness.
Everything to accompany a plate of plain rice.
Or maybe just a dish of bami goreng.
And chopped cucumbers.

Followed by a cup of coffee and a cigarillo.


Crispy coconut and onion garnish

One cup dry grated coconut.
One finely slivered shallot.
Two TBS. lime juice.
One TBS. amber fish sauce.
One Tsp. sugar.
A few drops Louisiana hotsauce.
Pinches ground coriander and turmeric.

Mix it all together well. Let stand an hour or two. Spread thinly on an oiled baking tray, and roast it for two hours at slightly below 300 degrees Fahrenheit. If necessary, decant it to a skillet and toast it golden brown afterwards by hand. Keeps for a few weeks.

NOTE: Sriracha hot sauce is an excellent sambal.

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