FEEDING THE NATION
Middle Eastern Delights
As the holy month of Ramadan draws to a close, and we look forward to Eid al-Fitr commencing on July 6, we take a tasty tour of Jakarta’s most sought-after Middle Eastern cuisine hot spots.
Words Arya Arditya
In Indonesia – which has a larger Muslim population than any other country – iftar (the daily breaking of fast at sunset) is a warm social occasion where people seek to reunite, reconcile and gather with friends, family and colleagues. This is especially true in Jakarta, where bukber, short for buka puasa bersama (breaking fast together), has become a communal invitation to all.
Over time, iftar has grown into larger social events, often including banquet festivals taking place across many of the city’s best hotels and restaurants featuring special iftar menus and matching décor and entertainment. After the first round of light bites and drinks, usually sweet and refreshing, what follows is a hearty and lively menu of Ramadan specialities.
Among the best Middle Eastern restaurants in the capital is Aljazeerah, in Central Jakarta. Aljazeerah offers an extensive menu of Middle Eastern dishes, with authentic options or fusion menu items with Western influences. The onta mugalgal (grilled camel meat with black pepper sauce and bread) and ruz mandi lamb (fragrant rice with lamb and raisins) are both must-try dishes here. There are several choices of basmati rice on offer – kabsah, biryani, kabli or matbi – which you mix and match with your main course.
For a five-star experience, Al Nafoura Lebanese restaurant at Le Méridien Hotel is a great place to go. The fittingly decorated restaurant is situated in a spacious and warm area near the lobby, featuring textured sandstone walls and terracotta floors, complemented by vividly coloured Mediterranean and Middle Eastern ornaments. The restaurant is proud of its authentic Lebanese cuisine, particularly the signature haruf ouzi (braised lamb shank, ouzi style, served with oriental rice, assorted nuts and yoghurt) and its choices of hot and cold mezzeh appetisers such as hummus, tabouleh and samboussek.
In the culinary and lifestyle hub in Kemang, seek out the friendly Warung Turki Kemang by Turkuaz, where the Turkish food is authentic and freshly made using wood-fired ovens, traditional charcoal and wood-fire grills. The restaurant interior is equally authentic, beautifully styled with mosaic tiles and a plethora of colourful stained-glass lamps of different shapes and sizes. From their menu, spoil your taste buds with mouth-watering plates of kuzu siz kebab (Turkish lamb shish kebabs), bobrek sis (marinated kidneys), karides izgara (marinated prawns served with rice vermicelli), and kuzu eti gözleme (thin bread stuffed with home-cooked minced lamb).
Also in the area is the Abunawas Restaurant. The franchise first opened in East Jakarta and has even expanded into Kuala Lumpur. The mashawi mushakal (a combination of chopped and fried meat with Middle Eastern spice-infused kebab) and their version of mandhi lahm (basmati rice with oven-roast spiced lamb) are both highly recommended.
For locally influenced flavours, head to Nasi Kebuli Ibu Layla in the Tebet area of Jakarta. Nasi kebuli is Betawi-meets-Middle Eastern style, spicy steamed rice cooked in broth, milk and ghee, emanating heady aromas of cumin, cardamom and clove.
Steaming-hot nasi kebuli is best enjoyed with chunks of savoury goat, sambal goreng (Indonesia’s ubiquitous fried chilli sauce) and with pickled cucumber, tomato and pineapple on the side. This rumah makan (home restaurant) also offers nasi kebuli variations with chicken, fried rice and goat gulai (a thin Indonesian curry).
Even during the fasting month of Ramadan, there is no shortage of delicious, memorable meals to experience in Indonesia, especially in Jakarta, where iftar dishes from across the archipelago and beyond are served. So, join in the festivities, and get to know the convivial inhabitants of the capital as you enjoy some of the tastiest Middle Eastern food in the world.
Born in Jakarta to a Javanese family, Arya spent his college years in his mother’s home town Yogyakarta – the heart of classical Javanese culture – before returning to the Big Durian to pursue a career in journalism. He enjoys travelling around the archipelago, breathing in the cool climate of its sprawling highlands and basking under the sun on its coasts and islets, while coddling his taste buds with local delicacies