By Chona S. Trinidad, Contributor

Do you have adventurous tastebuds inclined to spicy flavors? Then, the place for you is the Heritage Hotel Manila’s Café Riviera. From May 25 to June 7, they are featuring an exotic food promo titled “Indonesian Spice and Everything Nice.”


The Heritage Hotel Manila

It is the third year in a row that the hotel teams up with Cebu Pacific Airlines and Millennium Hotel Sirih Jakarta. Guest chefs flown in are Augustinus Alfredo Sega and Primadi Herwantoro, who cast their magic spells in the kitchen turning out traditional delights still unfamiliar to most epicures. But first a few interesting facts about this vast continent, which has a total of 17,508 islands and a population of 237 million inhabitants.

The shifting forces to trade, religion and conquest that swept over the East Indies for two millennia resulted in numerous cuisines and distinct style of cooking. The West Javanese prefer their vegetables raw, meat and fish lightly and simply cooked, oftentimes using banana leaves. They only add spices after cooking. In central Java, on the other hand, chili and a medley of spices in addition to sugar, result in a mix of sweet, sour and hot flavors.

Like Filipinos, Indonesians like to mix rice with their food when they eat. Sambal is a fiery chili and spicy sauce, with a number of different variations that accompany many of their dishes, much like the way Filipinos relish sawsawan to enhance the flavors of some dishes.

Sate, said to have originated in Java, is indispensable in any gathering, eaten either as part of a meal, or as a snack consisting of tasty bits of skewered meat, lamb, goat, fish or fowl dipped in tasty marinades that may combine peanut and hot chillies. At sundown, sate stalls abound along busy thoroughfares, their flickering candles or gas lanterns attracting passersby. Or else, there are itinerant hawkers carrying a portable pikulan with all the ingredients and sauces, a charcoal brazier slung from the ends of a pole across his shoulder. The clanging of bells attached announce their presence.

A prasmanan is their version of a buffet, which offers an endless array of dishes. Trassi is a brick-red fermented shrimp paste used in most kinds of sambal. Their version of our local patis is called petis, a strong, salty fish sauce. Krupuk are crispy shrimp crackers, indispensable at food gatherings.

Gado-gado is their salad, combining steamed and raw vegetables such as egg, bean curd, kang kung or fresh spinach, cucumber, bean sprouts and potatoes accompanied by a complex spicy sauce.

Nasi tumpeng is ceremonial food, consisting of rice colored with tumeric formed like a cone, approximately a foot high. It symbolizes a mountain said to be the home of deities that ancestors once worshipped. A tumpeng is artistically designed with red chili peppers, long green beans, salted fish, cooked eggs, peanuts, laid majestically on banana leaves.

The psychedelic sounds of gamelan music usually resound in Indonesian gatherings. So do dances, which were also performed during the festival.

Guests at the opening of this food promo included visiting dignitaries from Indonesia who were accorded special honor by being asked to slice into this beautiful tumpeng as requested by the Indonesian envoy to the Philippines, His Excellency, Prof. Irzan Tandjung, assisted by the hotel’s dynamic general manager, Eddie Yeo.

Following a few speeches, guests were ushered into the Café Riviera to partake of the buffet that included a Hot Sambal Dipping Bar and Traditional Indonesian crackers station. Among the main dishes served were Itiak Sambal Hijau or Green Chili Duck, Candlenut Roast Chicken, Salada Tondano (young mango and papaya salad which was refreshing), Prak Arik (traditional scrambled vegetables), which was so good I had two servings of it, Rajungan bangka (stewed crab in hot tomato ginger sauce), Nasi Mie goring jawa (Javanese fried noodle) and Martabak telur (egg in hand-folded dough). A filo-like dough enveloped a filling that many of us agreed tasted much like the local torta, but had a more sophisticated appearance.

I missed out on a selection of noodle soups prepared at the kitchen theater as there was so much more to taste, and I was also intrigued by some desserts so Western in appearance like the Kue Lapis and Tape Cake. But there were also glutinous rice cakes resembling and tasting so much such as the local biko, palitaw and other pandan-flavored varieties, which goes to show how many similarities we have with our Indonesian neighbors.

Treat yourself to lunch or dinner and get a chance to win the grand prize of a Jakarta vacation package that includes airfare. For inquiries, call up 854-8888 or e-mail foodbeve@heritagehotelmanila.com

Pic from The Heritage Hotel Manila.

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