Indonesian Satés & Soul

Talk about melangés…talk about Indonesia and its delicious patchwork of influences from all over Asia – peanut sauces and hot chilies from Thailand, Vietnamese nam pla (fish sauce) and terasi (shrimp paste), Indian spices, Chinese stir-fries… a conglomerate of tastes and techniques all rolled up.

More often than not, a typical Indonesian meal combines sweet, sour, hot and spicy, even throwing in a bit of punch. Some may find it too sweet but if it’s served right then you just love it.

Anyway, this weekend past, I got invited to a Braderie (dutch for fair) to celebrate Indonesia’s independence from Dutch rule (August 17th, 1949), conveniently close to where we live. Or so I thought till we arrived. To police. To no parking slots. To masses of beings… from all corners of the dutch earth. My kleine dorp (little village) was overflowing.


The Dutch won’t trade the Indo-cuisine for anything else. I mean what would life in the Netherlands be without Rijstafel (Rice Table)? What would they do without this spread of bowls of steaming white rice and up to 20 sides – sauces, condiments and vegetables all served at once? The textures, the combinations, the flavours and fragrances – lemongrass to kaffir limes, peanut sauces and coconut milk, black bean jellies and mung bean ones, ketchap manis and palm sugar to sweeten.

And when my nostrils were welcomed with tantalizing smells and my eyes watered with desire for the food, I knew I had found peace, amidst the chaos.

Did you know that Indonesian is fondly called the Emerald belt (De gordel van smaragd), because of the country’s numerous green islands which cover about 57% of the country?

Saté signs

We started with the Saté stalls, which had massive queues and when I sank my teeth into some Saté ayam, I knew why. Tender, delicately-spiced chicken, skewered and served with a light, runny, spicy (sweet chili) peanut butter sauce, garnished with crispy onion bits. Believably good.

Satés are typically made from a variety of meat: Chicken – Saté ayam, Lamb – Saté kambing, Beef – Saté daging and Rabbit – Saté kelinci. The meat is chopped up and marinated for about 4 hours in a spice mix which typically contains – salt, pepper, fresh ginger, galangale (laos), fresh garlic, coriander seeds, kaffir lime (halved, juiced and the halves put in the marinade), palm sugar or honey, ketchap manis (sweet soy ketchup) all made into a paste . Sometimes,  people add more spices like star anise powder,  Kencur (Kaempferia galanga, Lesser galangale) and chilies!

Of course, I had to investigate the source and the perpetrator of this great goodness for mankind…. and there they were – the grill experts, braving smoke and heat in the blisteringly hot summer’s day, to serve up Indo delights. Commendable. And for the price of 6 euros, it had to be good. Each pack consisted of 3 Satés, Steamed rice cakes, crispy onions  and some sauces – peanut, a dip with kaffir limes and Ketchap Manis (Sweet Indonesian ketchup)

Saté chef at workSatés on the grill Satés, chili toppedAn assortment of sauces Satés in motion

There were other dishes to sample but the Satés trumped. As did noodles. or Bami. When you ordered a bowl of the noodles, you got them in a bowl, with some hot soup ladled over and topped with meatballs or tofu, followed by veggies and then crispy onions, chili or sambal (hot chili sauce/paste). If you wanted some Kroekpoek (Prawn crackers), you got them too – in a variety of colours and shapes. If you wanted freshly steamed rice, you were in luck, for in Indonesia, there is never a shortage of rice…or noodles. And even smiling faces.

Satés, and more for saleSteamed rice Food with gayily coloured shrimp crispsBami mix Food in banana leavesLovely ladies Shimay with peanut butter sauceFried greens Sweet and sour vegetables with peanutsRows of food hungry people

So that was the first stall only. I was full…with a little space for Tjendol which I didn’t understand at first. It sounded like it had a lot of savoury elements till I tasted it. And doffed my hat to the ingenuity displayed in this drink-dessert, which is made of fruit, caramel syrup and coconut milk,  assembled in a cup. The amazing thing apart from its heavenly nature is that the ingredients layer themselves to paint a very pretty picture and once I watched it being made, I vowed to myself that this would make a repeat appearance, in my kitchen someday soon.

Tjendol - drinking dessert

It is quite easy to assemble (if not make). First, you spoon in some green mung bean jelly into a cup, followed by a spoon of caramel or two. Then you top it up with some light coconut milk and finally add some jackfruit. And then it is ready. To rock and look pretty.

On the list Mung bean jelly CaramelCoconut milk JackfruitAll set

I did glimpse other varieties – made with black jelly; and with young coconut shavings and rose syrup, all topped with coconut milk. Can you imagine the taste of this cool, creamy drinks on a steaming hot summer’s day?

IMG_1822 Fresh shredded coconut with fruit syrup and coconut milk

By the time I was done with the drink, I was done. Finished. No space for anything else. It kind of reminded me of how my life began as a food-eater. This time though, I didn’t cry. I knew I wouldn’t be able to fit another thing in so I focussed on what else was going on around me.

Like how the peanut sauce for Gado-Gado is made…traditionally. Ground peanuts in a bowl-like mortar, crushed to bits with some dark shrimp paste mixed in, a sprinkling of tamarind water, some palm sugar and chilies and then it is ready to go on some rice, tofu and veggies, wrapped in a brown paper cone. I watched the ‘artist’  put it all into the paper bag and when she was done, she topped it with some pieces of young (green) mango and then with a scooped-out side of a Green mango, she ladled the sauce into a little bag and handed it over to the person buying….with my mouth watering!,

Crush the peanuts well then add some shrimp pasteand some fish sauce Then prepare to top with sauceAdd vegetables and greensscoop sauce using green mango spoon Add young/green mango bitsTissue stand made in Indonesian colours

There was no shortage of foods to be found wrapped in Banana leaves – steamed coconut milk puddings with ripe plantain cores, long strips of fish, ribbon-tied resembling weird treats for Palm Sunday…all reminded me of Nigerian foods. So far in distance and yet so close in palates.

Tree lanterns Fish wrapped in banana leavesCoconut and plantain steamed pudding in banana leaves Crowds through beads

Cakes – round and layered, green and brown. 

Steamed cake

Spring rolls (Loempia), Fried egg squares, Coconut balls, with sugar and syrup. Vegetable fritters and all for a little price.


Loempia - spring rolls Money to spendDesserts Coconut pastriesSpekkoek - layered cake CakesFried and battered vegetables Inside a coconut-plantain steamed pudding

And have I mentioned the decorated people?

Indonesian Singer Young boy TattooedGuy Nice shoesFood stallsHair piece

It was a terrific day out.

With loads to take away! And so dinner that evening consisted of  ehmmm…Satés and so did breakfast the next morning.     

Take-away... at home

If I’m not Pro-Indonesian, I don’t know what I am! My heart’s been captured…and my tummy too!


Sampai Jumpa Lagi (Till we meet again, in Indonesian)


  1. Jus moved to palm springs looking for sambal batjak man no where.. Miss makin dutch indo food. Love the pics.. Makes me think of my omas and dutch indo afios my aunt would throw in hunington. Man now I’m hungry

  2. I am so missing good nasi rames, and many other great Indo foods. Problem is, I live in Palm Springs. Any hope for me finding good Indo food near here ? Or anyone who cooks Indo food here at home for take out ?

  3. I would love to find out where the Indo-Dutch festivals take place in Southern California. My grandmother was the best Indonesion cook. I have many wonderful memories of her, and truly miss her wonderful cooking. For dessert she always made me Tjendol it was my favorite.

    I now struggle along trying to make Indo food. I’ve made Gado Gado, Rendang and Sate with Peanut Sauce.
    My husband (none Indo) loves the food. Lucky me.
    Thank you for bringing back happy memories.

  4. When I was in Holland we went to the pasar malam. It had the same stuff and it was so yummy. My mother in law is part dutch and part indonesian, so she has a lot of those recipes. She loves the green drink. And some stinky fruit thing. Thanks for helping me remember my trip.

  5. Oz, great pics… I wasnt drooling anyway as food is a waste on me this period. Cant wait to visit the blog in another 2 mths when I can appreciate food.

  6. Love your blog! Great pictures, almost make me homesick. Indonesian food is one of my favorite foods.

    How does a Nigerian like living in Holland?


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