Friday, 27 April 2012

Rijst Tafel - or Indonesian Buffet - basic info.

A little history of Indonesian cooking in our house - Since Indonesia was a Dutch colony for hundreds of years, there were many Dutch people - or people of Dutch heritage - living in Indonesia, when it gained independence from Holland. The new government was not going to be as liberal as the colonial government, so many thousands of people moved from Indonesia to Holland, bring the unique flavours and cuisine with them. If you are ever in Holland, (or The Netherlands - it's proper name) and you go to a 'chinese' restaurant, chances are it will be Indonesian cooking. Since my husband grew up in The Netherlands, he had Indonesian cooking from a very young age, and that includes very hot spices. So as a good little wife, I learned to cook Dutch and Indonesian dishes.

Rijst tafel is a wonderful variety of traditional dishes, which gives guests the opportunuity to try small amounts of new foods. Some are very spicy, while others have new flavours which are mild. There are many familiar ingredients, meats, and vegetables, with a few spices not very common in Canada.
Once, early in our marriage, I remarked to Wil,"Did you ever notice that those who live far from the equator have food without hot spices, while the closer you get to the tropics, the hotter the food gets"? His reply- "They had no fridges or freezers, dear. They had to keep it safe to eat somehow!"  Well, DUH! Lots of items were dried, and some were preserved in HOT spices.

Wil loves heat in his food. In fact the hotter the better, as long as there are lots of layers of favours. Heat by itself is not very good. Many people are not familiar with the Schofield Scale, which measures the relative heat of capsicum, a chemical that makes hot peppers hot. The scale goes from 0 for bell peppers, up through 200 for anaheim,  400 for jalapeno, 700 for serrenos, 9000 for sambal peppers and 10,000 for habaneros and Scotch Bonnets. So, those jalapenos that burn your tongue are relatively mild for peppers.

CAUTION   ---- Those with peanut allergies should stay away from most Indonesian recipes, as they are made with lots of peanut sauces, and usually cooked in peanut oil.
When I plan a rijst tafel, I like to include a beef,  pork, chicken, fish, vegetables, rice, and noodles. I would probably have Beef Saté with peanut saté sauce, Babi Kekap, Ajam Pedis, Rendang, beans goreng, Nasi goreng, Bahmi groenten, Bali Ikan, Gado gado, atjar tjampoer, and lumpia. Spices used would be  onion, garlic, lemon grass, Javanese curry, galengal, corriander, cumin, ginger, turmeric, sambal oelek, sweet soy sauce (called kekap manis).  I can almost here you saying -"Wait a minute - What are all those things"? Or "where can you get all those spices"?

Beef satay - marinated cubes of meat on a skewer and grilled.
peanut satay sauce - as on a previous recipe.
Babi kekap - cubed meat (usually pork) cooked in a sweet soy sauce with onion and sweet peppers.
Ajam Pedis-(aka Indonesian chicken) - legs or wings marinated in sweet soy and spices then baked or grilled.
Rempah - meatballs made with spices and coconut
Beans Goreng - steamed green beans with peanut sauce poured over them.
Nasi Goreng - stir fried vegetables with rice - often served with a fried egg on top
Bahmi Groenten - stir fried vegetables with noodles also
Bali Ikan - white fish cooked in an onion and tomato sauce with lots of sambal oelek
Gado Gado - a mixture if steamed and raw vegetables covered in peanut sauce
Atjar Tjampoer - a bottled Indonesian pickle relish
lumpia - Indonesian style egg rolls

The spices are available at some grocery stores, delicatessens, or Dutch specialty stores. Conimex is the brand most available in Canada. I can get mixes for Nasi and Bahmi at the Dutch Cash and Carry store in Calgary. They may be available at other places, like the dollar store on Elizabeth St in Okotoks, or at Karl's Meat Market in Abbotsford.  Matthew says he found a place for Dutch stuff in Edmonton, but I don't know the name of it. I also buy spices at some of the large Asian food markets in Calagary. Individual recipes will follow on future posts.

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