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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.