German-born Detlef Skrobanek, executive chef at the Jakarta Hilton International, and his Indonesian assistant, Djohan Darusalam, have developed Indonesian nouvelle cuisine, using traditional ingredients in more sophisticated presentations. In the hotel's Taman Sari restaurant you'll find such dishes as bebek asap lalaban , duck breast marinated in Indonesian spices and served in a salad of bean sprouts, black mushrooms and long beans; roti jala dengan udang raja , lobster mousse seasoned with fresh ginger and served on a Sumatran pancake net, and iga kambing dimasak dengan daun bawang dan daun ketumbar , sauteed lamb on fresh leeks in a coriander cream sauce.
"My favorite Indonesian food is Padang-style," Suwanda told us. "It's from west Sumatra, and it's very spicy. When you go in to a Padang-style restaurant you take a seat, and they display a variety of dishes in front of you. You only pay for what you eat."
Served From Trolleys
This system may give Westerners pause, but at the Salero Badingo restaurant, Padang food is served from trolleys, a la dim sum , and is clean and safe. House specialties include beef rendang , oxtail soup and chicken curry, and prices are about $5 per person.
The traditional rejsttafel , that banquet-like array of multiple dishes carried in by myriad servants and displayed artistically around the table, is frowned on in modern-day Jakarta. "The Indonesians feel it's a remnant of the colonial past," Suwanda explained, "when the Dutch could afford lots of servants and wanted to show off their wealth." Although the Oasis restaurant here maintains the tradition, we found that the best rijsttafel is in the Indonesian restaurants of Amsterdam.
Prices at most restaurants in Indonesia run about $5 per person, and even in the large hotels you can eat lunch for $5-$7 per person and dinner for $7-$15. For a really elegant dinner with wine, figure about $20 per person.
No trip to Indonesia would be complete without sampling the dazzling array of exotic fruits available. Some are served as accompaniments with meals, or you may buy them at roadside stalls or in markets.
Mangosteens have a hard, dark purple rind and luscious white fruit inside that resembles a litchi. The rambutap is a bright red or yellow fruit about the size of a small plum, covered with a thick, hairy skin. The white meat is refreshing and not too sweet. The jambu air is a water guava with a pear shape and a yellow-green color. It's slightly tart.
The most famous of all Indonesian fruits is the durian . "They say it tastes like heaven and smells like hell," Suwanda said. Durian is the size of a small basketball and is covered with a spiky thick skin. Aficionados eagerly await the rainy season, when stands of durian line the roadsides, but most Westerners can't get past the garbage-scow smell of the fruit.
The odor is so strong that hotels and airlines have restrictions forbidding durian on the premises. If you're adventurous, try it. If not, stick with the mangosteens .
Reservations are a good idea at restaurants in the large hotels but not necessary in most restaurants.
Borobudur Inter-Continental (Indonesian specialties in all dining rooms), Jalan Lapangan Banteng Selatan.
Gudeg Bu Tjitro (food from Central Java), Jl. Cikajang 80, Blok Q2 Keb. Baru.
Handayani restaurant (East Javanese food), Jalan Abdul Muis.
Jakarta Hilton International (Indonesian nouvelle in Taman Sari restaurant), Jalan Jendral Gatot Subroto.
The Mandarin Jakarta (Friday afternoon street stalls), Jalan M.H. Thamrin.
Oasis restaurant (continental cuisine as well as traditional rijsttafel ), 47 Jln Raden Saleh.
Mira Sari (Indonesian food from all regions), Jalan Patiunus 15.
Satay House Senayan (Indonesian food from all regions), Jl. Kebon Sirih 31 A; Jl. Paku Buwono VI/6; Jl. Tanah Abang 11/76; Jl. H.O.S. Cokroaminoto.
Salero Bagindo restaurant (Padang-style food served from trolleys--very hot), Jalan Melawai 8, No. 1.
Sari Kuring (Minang food from West Sumatra--very hot), Jalan Melawai IV/2 Blok M.