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Feeding The Nation

“Bakmi Mania”

I’m crazy about mie. Not ‘mie’ as in ‘me’ but ‘mie’ as in ‘bakmi’. I confess I am not an expert and I only like bakmi ayam, but, hey, that’s ok. I can think of worse addictions.

The secret is in the unctuous, full-flavoured, sweetly meaty, slow-brewed chicken stock. Then there is the quality of the noodles. Home-made are best and they should be not too fat, not too slender, somewhere between Hong Kong and udon, and cooked al-soft-dente. From what I have seen, most mie sellers have the stock on a constant roll so the flavour intensifies into golden, brothy, velvety heaven.

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Bakmi Roxy, on Jl. Cikini Raya in Jakarta, is a favourite. I love the simple charm of this food-cart-meets-café noodle house, with its green-turquoise walls, soft orange pillars and plastic furniture. Established in 1991, they now have about five branches in Jakarta and serve my idea of chicken noodle perfection. But what I love most is the chunky, moist, coarsely chopped meat that sits on top of the noodles. It creates this thigh-rich journey that dark-meat chicken lovers like me adore. I notice that white pepper and a few drops of chilli oil are first poured into the bowl, followed by noodles, Chinese greens and the all-important chopped chicken. Served with bakso ayam, chicken broth with chicken meatballs, and pangsit rebus (boiled wontons) it is sheer perfection.

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Also in Jakarta, Bakmi Boy in Pasar Mayestik is legendary. This particular joint is popular among market shoppers and is comfortably squeezed between hundreds of fabric stores (good thinking, BB!). We arrive early to beat the mothers’ lunchtime frenzy. No painted walls, cute posters or fancy lights. Bakmi Boy is no-frills par excellence, or maybe it’s minimalist. The only careful branding is the sambal on every table that live in recycled Coca-Cola bottles, but my noodles are sublime and I am not surprised! I detect a hint of ginger, cinnamon and that dazzling show-stopping spice, star anise, in the prized stock. We opt for a plate of tostada-crisp pangsit goreng (fried wontons) to complete the dish. Grandpa Bakmi Boy, or Bakmi Grandpa, is in the kitchen, leaning over a huge pot of boiling stock and supervising service. No photos, I’m told. Grandma Bakmi Boy, or Bakmi Grandma, is the cashier. Maybe the secret of these long-running businesses is a lifelong commitment, and I lament the thought of no early retirement from Casa Luna.

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Warung Lele, or Wale, in Dago, Bandung, is another noodle nirvana and gets the coveted cute award. But then, this is Bandung, where art is a way of life. Located in a cosy joglo with a view of the rambling countryside, people come from near and far to sip and slurp on their specialities. I opt for the yamin baso, my regular of mie ayam with bakso ayam. Finely shredded chicken replaces the glossy chunks of meat with an elegant toss of sliced spring onion alongside the Chinese greens. I notice other dishes, such as ayam rica-rica with noodles or mushrooms, but I’m a noodle ‘purist’ and only like mine the old-fashioned way. I watch the staff swirling the chilli oil and white pepper through each bowl of noodles with chopsticks, before loading them up with Chinese greens, meat and spring onion. Fastidious attention obviously pays off, because the place is jam-packed. My noodles are glorious and the overall experience is one of the highlights of my recent trip to Bandung (but that’s another story).

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Bakmi, and bakso, is one of Indonesia’s all-time favourite comfort foods. Inspired by Chinese cuisine and transformed over generations, it has been embraced by the entire nation and can be found in every corner of the archipelago. But the name says it all. It is often branded with a youthful, playful spirit. So that’s it. I have decided to open my own bakmi noodle house in Bali and call it Bakmi Bowie. Let’s Dance!

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Janet DeNeefe

The founder and director of Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and Ubud Food Festival is a Melbourne-born author and restaurateur who has lived in Bali for three decades. Her memoir Fragrant Rice charts her love affair with Balinese food, culture and traditions. Bali: Food of My Island Home is her recently published cookbook. She is also the owner of Casa Luna restaurant and cooking school, Indus, Bar Luna and Honeymoon Guesthouse in Ubud.

www.casalunabali.com.