Indonesian cuisine was influenced by traders from India, the Middle East, China, and, later, Spain and Portugal. The Dutch, who colonized many of the 6,000 islands that make up Indonesia, adapted the buffet eating style of the native peoples, into the famous rijstaffel (or rice table). Sambals and tempeh, an adaptation of tofu, also originated in Indonesia.
The best gado-gado, and I still remember it well, used to be sold at a warung in Yogyakarta, in a small alley not far from the main street, Malioboro. This was in 1960. For my fellow-students and me, it was the main meal of the day. At 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon, after attending lectures in the decayed nobleman's house that in those days was the Faculty of Arts and Letters, we would set off on our bicycles to return to our lodgings on the other side of town. The late lunch break at the warung gado-gado was the turning-point of the day, when we could gossip, relax, enjoy the passing street scene, and eat fresh crisp vegetables with a stinging hot peanut sauce, a gourmet dish for a few rupiah. This bumbu, or sauce, was made to our individual orders while we watched. We each chose our vegetables, and the whole gado-gado was served with lontong, hard-boiled eggs, fried tempeh and tofu, and krupuk or emping. We were not hungry again until 9 o'clock in the evening.
In 1993, in Jakarta, I found the gado-gado in many small restaurants very disappointing. It was, alas, the same in many hotel restaurants, which were supposed to be promoting this as one of our national dishes. The reason is simple: everything now is mass-produced. The vegetables are cooked, and usually overcooked, early in the morning. The sauce is made from something in a packet, the krupuk is already stale, there is no yolk in the sliced egg (and where could it have gone?). In short, a classic dish, well worth any chef's attention, has been spoiled because it takes a little extra time and money to make it really well.
At home, you can make it as it deserves to be made. Gado-gado is excellent for lunch or supper, or as one of the dishes in a buffet party. It will be highly appreciated by your vegetarian guests, but not only by them.
112 g / 4 oz / l cup cabbage or spring greens, shredded
225 g / 8 oz / 2 cups French beans, cut into 1-cm / 1/2-inch lengths
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
112 g / 4 oz /1 cup cauliflower florets
112 g / 4 oz / 1 cup beansprouts, washed
For the garnish:
Some lettuce leaves and watercress
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
1 medium-size potato, boiled in its skin, then peeled and sliced;
or 225 g / 8 oz of slices of lontong (optional)
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
1 tbsp crisp-fried onions
2 large krupuk, or a handful of fried emping, broken up into small pieces (optional)
Boil the vegetables separately in slightly salted water, for 3-4 minutes, except the beansprouts which only need 2 minutes. Drain each vegetable separately in a colander.
To serve, arrange the lettuce and watercress around the edge of a serving dish. Then pile the vegetables in the middle of the dish. Arrange the eggs, sliced potatoes or lontong, and sliced cucumber on top.
Heat the peanut sauce in a small saucepan until hot; add more water if it is too thick. Adjust the seasoning, and pour the sauce over the vegetables. Sprinkle the fried onions on top. Serve warm or cold. If you want to serve hot gado-gado, it can be reheated in a microwave oven. When reheating, however, do not include the lettuce and watercress, cucumber slices, fried onions, krupuk or emping. Add these garnishes immediately before serving.
Indonesian Regional Cooking
By Sri Owen
St. Martin's Press, 1995
288 Pages, with 50 line illustrations
Reprinted with permission
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