Breaking my fast in Karama, Indonesian style.

My temples were pounding. And it wasn’t because of the heat. Or because I’d been fasting the whole day. Or because I’ve been shaving off hours of sleep from my nights faster than the guy slicing shawarmas at the corner shawarma stand. It was because I’m a spice wimp. My tongue had been painfully punctured with spicy spoonfuls of Nasi Uduk.

But we had been warned. We had been warned by the Indonesian couple who’d graciously offered to share their table with us at a four-table Indonesian outpost. They had gone so far as to translate the menu, even place our order for us, and left us with the famous last words: it’s very spicy, are you sure?

Yes, I was sure. I had been hell-bent on eating what the local Indonesians ate for Iftar. And this looked like exactly the kind of place to get a taste of authenticity: a name like Java Padang, walls plastered over with photo collages that spoke of Indonesian family and friends, a wooden divider separating the dining space from the kitchen, Indonesian diners, most likely regulars, animatedly talking with each other at their tables and across with the other tables, a short scarf-clad Indonesian hostess, a matronly mother-chef in the back, all squished together into this tiny closet of a restaurant in Karama. This isn’t the kind of place where I’d chicken out and order a ‘diet coke and noodles, no spice please.

Java Padang Café

I wanted the same assorted plate of fried chicken, sprouts, curried potatoes, bihun goreng (translucent vermicelli noodles), sambal-skinned egg and sambal kacang (peanut chutney), arranged in a crescent around an onion-garnished hump of rice simmered in fatty coconut milk. If Nasi Uduk was a traditional iftar meal, then bring it on baby, bring-it-ON.

Nasi Uduk, the dish that made me cry.

As if the friendly couple sitting across the table could look right through me into my spice-shy soul, they ordered us a mild-tempered starter bowl of kolek pisang. This caramel-coloured soup was a sweet refreshing start to the meal, with sliced bananas and tapioca balls submerged under an icy bath of brown sugar and coconut milk. The wife mentioned that this was a very traditional way to break the fast during Ramadan. A little bit of sweet before a mixture of salty. A little bit of calm before the storm.

Kolek Pisang, cool caramely soup of bananas and tapioca.

I wish I could say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Nasi Uduk, I really did want to love it. But my taste buds felt outnumbered in the face of whatever spicy ammunition the dish had been loaded up with.

Burn baby, B-U-U-U-U-R-N.

Chilly flames menacingly licked their way up from my navel to my chest. It would be moments before they would violently snare up into an unforgiving bout of heartburn. My impromptu eating strategy was to mellow out each fiery bite of Nasi Uduk with multiple swigs of es teler, a sweet milky aquarium housing mushy avocado, jackfruit cubes, tender coconut slivers and fire-extinguishing chunks of ice. The drink revealed a submerged bed of pink cincau (grass jelly) globules, cool jellies that were a cute nibbly distraction for a precious few seconds, before the spice would hit again.

My fire-hydrant, Es Teler.

We also ordered a plate of nasi goreng special JPC. Java Padang’s version was a mound of fried rice tossed with egg, sprouts, sliced meatballs, chicken and a hint of seafood that was tasted, but not seen. I don’t know what an ‘awesome fried rice’ dish is meant to taste like, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted one that’s made me go into raptures and splatter chilli sauce on the walls out of sheer uncontrollable joy. All I can say is that the plate of nasi goreng at Java Padang had hit the appropriate mark of oily, soy sauced comfort that I’ve known most fried rice dishes to have.

Greasy carb comfort for the starving soul, Nasi Goreng.

Spice wounds aside, I still actually have hope for Java Padang. Their meatball mee goreng sounded like it had potential, so I just might go back at some point and give it another shot. Maybe with two sides of es teler to arm me against the crazy chilli gunfire next time.

To the lovely FooDiva who accompanied me for iftar at the recently rebranded Java Padang (used to be City Moon) in Karama, thank you. You were there with me, giving me company, every spice-inflammed step of the way. Incidentally, a day after we were at Java Padang, I found this [funny? eccentric? downright disturbing.] video shot at the restaurant. Maybe we should have stuck around after dessert? ;)


Java Padang Café
Behind Pizza Hut opposite Bur Juman. Take a right after Pizza Hut, then another right, and then another right before the West Zone Supermarket. Drive down the road, Java Padang will be to your left.

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

18 thoughts on “Breaking my fast in Karama, Indonesian style.

  1. FooDiva says:

    Blimey yes I could have done with a bit of reflexology! Lovely to share iftar with you. I do think the food looks much more appealing in your photos than in real life. The hunt for the perfect Nasi Goreng continues. 

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @c6932a5d8328c7ca7e64eb9acb98d7c4:disqus – hahahaha! I was expecting a totally different reaction from you – aka “oh crap. remind me never to go hunting for food with you again!’

      That perfect Nasi Goreng awaits us in some corner of Dubai…we’ll hunt it down eventually…

  2. Ninu Hyder says:

    so ummm the chef moonlights as a foot masseuse ??? =O 
    a stone s throw away from me this place is, however i think i shall bide my time till you find ” one that’s made me go into raptures and splatter chilli sauce on the walls out of sheer uncontrollable joy….

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @facebook-507488423:disqus – no I get the feeling that wasn’t the chef, but then again, I don’t know…the mystery behind the masseuse dude at Java Padang! I will go back though, once I can get that disturbing ’hardcore foot massage in restaurant’ image out of my head! 

  3. IshitaUnblogged says:

    Ah if only I could accompany you for this Nasi Udul and the Es teher!

    But what was that video for? Does it come along with the menu as well? Very disturbing…

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @5e8c32b20f4724711dd3c80c2633f364:disqus – I know, you’re too far away, come back to Dubai! The video – no, doesn’t come with the menu ;) it was just shot at the restaurant…

  4. MyCustardPie says:

    I’m just picking myself up off the floor after crying with laughter …and not just for the video …although that finally finished me off. Bizarrely you’ve made this restaurant seem highly attractive. I think KP would love it. Top of my list to try on my return :)

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @writebyte:disqus – aww now now, I expected some sympathy for my poor heartburned soul. Why do I feel like the Homer Simpson of foodies? ;)

  5. Rads says:

    There is something about the way you write Arva, everytime I read a post I want to drop everything and head straight to the place you’ve mentioned and just devour things. Those are some pretty wonderful super powers you possess!

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @fd883b4c14da93e981870cc9c332b55f:disqus – awwww. *blush* thank you! Though I’m surprised that more people aren’t scared stiff about the level of spice. Am I the lone spice woos? (actually, don’t answer that.)

  6. Saleem says:

    Would loved to try the spics Indonesian food as you would love to get some sleep. Excellant discription and photos, keep them coming as you never take me to try them anytime.

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @9a1d510f1be63443c618f7d241d72ab2:disqus – Of course I take you dad! You barely ever come out with me :(

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @twitter-568422337:disqus – thanks! ;)

  7. Didi says:

    My indo boss gave it a go last night and LOVED IT :) Though she says it still doesn’t have the authentic Indo burn, hehehehe. I miss Karama and Deira and all my cheap eats places :(

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @didipaterno:disqus – Oh my scorched tongue…if it had any more burn to it, I would have been…ashes by the end of dinner!

  8. Preetham says:

    What an awesome post! Never knew karama held so many food treasures in its pockket eat outs! I’m gonna try this for sure!


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