Monday, December 3, 2007

Ikan Bakar Cianjur - Cipete, Jakarta

Dinner today!
This small (yet famous) restaurant chain first opened its doors in the small town of Cianjur in West Java. After enjoying much success and a cult status over there, it expanded to Jakarta, opening its 'flagship' restaurant a couple of years ago. Ever since then, customers flocked the place from as far as the East Nusa Tenggara province.

The restaurant serves Sundanese (West Javanese) food. The main characteristic of Sundanese food is a good balance between sweet and savory, and also, plenty of grilled and deep-fried stuff. The spices are subtle and not as complex as, say, Javanese food, so, for lovers of simple and less-spicy food, I'd recommend this one.

And oh, the restaurant is the reigning champion of West Javanese cuisine competition in Indonesia. Quite deservedly so, I'd say. Their food is top-notch.

Sayur Kangkung

A simple and hearty dish. the kangkung (water convulvulus, or kong xin cai, as the Chinese call it) is lightly sauteed in peanut oil with whole garlic cloves and just a dash of salt. Sounds simple, but actually very tricky to get the texture just right.)

Rating: 8.5/10
Verdict: It's delightfully light and tasty. Simplicity is the key. Many restaurants add extra ingredients to complement the kangkung, such as quail eggs, prawns, etc, but I think kangkung is best cooked without anything else.

Ikan Gurame Goreng (deep-fried gourami fish)

-> The restaurant's specialty. Ikan Gurame (Gourami fish) is considered the staple fish in Sundanese cuisine. Many inferior Sundanese restaurants serve fried Gourami fish that was frozen, but excellent ones like this restaurant have their own live fish tanks somewhere in the restaurant. Gourami fish is very tricky to breed, because if the water condition is wrong, the meat (when cooked) will have a rather unpleasant odor known locally as "bau tanah" (literally means, "smells like soil"). This restaurant is so committed to serve the highest grade of Gourami fish available, that if there's something off about the fish, they will replace it with another one immediately.

Rating: 9.5/10
Verdict: This gourami dish is deep fried until crispy on the outside, yet moist and soft on the inside. This is very, very hard to acheive. One cannot simply season the fish and deep fried it to get this perfection. The fish is incredibly tasty, with a bit of saltiness and just a tiniest hint of worchestershire sauce. Perfect when eaten with kecap manis (Javanese thick & sweet soy sauce).

Tahu Goreng Cianjur (Fried Cianjur-style tofu), served with Kecap Cabe Bawang (relish made of sweet soy sauce, bird's eye chili and red shallots) and Sambal Bajak (Bajak chilli relish)

A variation of the famous Tahu Goreng Sumedang (Sumedang-style fried tofu). Sumedang is a town in West Java famous for its crispy and chewy deep-fried puffy tofu that is incredibly, hollow on the inside.

Rating: 8.5/10
Verdict: This Cianjur version is not hollow on the inside, but fleshy and moist instead. Tastes incredible.


Not to be confused with the omnipresent Gado-Gado (Indonesian salad with peanut dressing), Karedok is the Sundanese take on the salad with peanut dressing. The main difference is, the vegetables in Gado-Gado is cooked, but in Karedok, it's raw. Moreover, Karedok has more bite to it and definitely more spicy.

Rating: 6/10
Verdict: The dressing is not thick enough, so the dish becomes a tad soggy. The vegetables are not chopped fine enough. And also, they don't add enough basil leaves.

Nasi Putih (steamed rice)

The Sundanese take pride on their rice production, which amounts to almost 50% of the national rice output. There are hundreds of types of rice varieties in West Java alone, yet the Kepala Pandan Wangi variety is one of the most loved in the nation, which is served in this restaurant. The rice has a hint of Pandan (Pandanus leaves) fragrance to it, and served in the famous Sundanese-style bakul (rattan bowl)

Rating: 10/10
Verdict: Sundanese restaurants should be experts on cooking perfect steamed rice. Otherwise, they shouldn't bother to run a business at all.

Es Shanghai

Desert made of various sweets and fruits, topped with shaved ice and sweet rose syrup. Does NOT originate from Shanghai, China.

Rating: 5.5/10
Verdict: I don't like it because it's sour-ish. And the raisins is an odd addition.

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