We met this delectable dish at Ibu Rai Restaurant in Ubud, and she came to our table tinted a gentle, golden-yellow hue, with a crispy rice cracker peeking coquettishly out from the edge of her bowl. The flavor was much subtler than your average curry in the U.S., and just below the surface of the sauce was a cornucopia of chicken breast, red peppers, zucchini and carrots. The top was dressed with a vinegary salad of bean sprouts, cilantro and lime. We literally licked the bowl clean, and then Frank Sinatra came on over the house sound system, so we stood up and danced with love and joy for our new-found friend.
After dinner, I thought about all the times I’d had Indonesian food before we’d come on our honeymoon, and I realized that the number of times was exactly zero. I’m hard-pressed to think of an Indonesian restaurant in Washington, DC, or even in the US, much less think of a good one, the kind of place that I could make my neighborhood curry house and befriend someone named Mustika (more on that later). The thought that I could have ignored the national cuisine of a country of more than 270 million people, almost the same number of people as in the US, was mind-boggling to me.
But no matter. Madame Kare Ayam introduced me to the wide world of her native food, and I am a convert. To Indonesia, all I say is this: pull up a chair, make yourself at home, and tell me all about what your gastronomy has to offer. I’m all ears.
And stomach, of course.