I was pleasantly surprised to receive all the responses to my last post about being an authentic Christian. I wasn’t expecting many people to actually read that whole stump of text, but I’m very grateful for all those who spoke out and shared their own thoughts.
Regardless of how “Christian” I may be, my parents have always instilled in me the theology of Immanuel—being together with God in all moments of life. And that means enjoying every bit of daily life, from the mundane to the dramatics.
Unfortunately, I have to admit I’m not enjoying Immanuel these days. Physically, I’m not at my best, and I’m blaming everything on the dratted heat wave Los Angeles seems unable to shake off. It’s October and the temperature here still claws onto the high 90s!
First of all, my hair is SO not appreciating this dry heat. I’m feeling the need to buy those special shampoos for horses. Second, my sensitive skin is blistering and rashing up as it always does in extreme temperatures. That in turn is making me cringe whenever I look at the mirror, so I’m avoiding them at all costs.
Now that I got the whining out of the way, I’ve been keeping a special note on my Evernote. Every once in a while, I jot down the little moments that make me tremendously happy. In the interest of cooling down my much frizzled temper, let me share some of my happiest “little moments” with you:
My 7 Happiest Little Moments
- When I get sucked half-way into an amazing book and feel the delightful weight of 600 more pages to go. I LOVE big-ass books!
- When the Starbucks barista messes up my order, and has to hand me a certificate for an any-size, any-order free drink. I wish they would mess up more often. Also love it when they let me have somebody else’s mess-up.
- When an interviewee gives me a good quote—the kind that zings with human emotion and specific, juicy details. The kind with which I can start or end an article. Fellow journalists, you know what I’m talking about!
- That tingly sensation and light-hearted joy I feel after praying aloud with a good friend.
- Entering my favorite Latino supermarket just when the baker wheels out a full cart of fresh-baked, piping hot bolillos.
- Coffee in the morning after a night’s sleep of less than 4 hours—I’m kind of a masochist. I love the feeling of combining caffeine with lack of sleep. I don’t know. It makes me feel productive, which is seriously stupid but oh well.
- When I finally get a taste of good old Singaporean spice, starch and grease.
I recently enjoyed that last moment at a certain Indonesian restaurant that I’ve been eyeing for some time. It was a Sunday night, after a full day of church service and activities. My English Ministry church group and I planned a dinner out there, after I made them promise me that we can seriously pig out with no regret.
Turns out I never really need to worry about lack of appetite with my church friends. The venue, Ramayani, and its amazing food helped. Just look at the gallery above. We licked every plate clean.
Ramayani is kind of a mom-and-pop Indonesian eatery in Westwood, Los Angeles. I don’t even remember how I found it. It’s a tiny spot owned by three generations of one family.
They have the market out at the front where you can buy Southeast Asian products like Mee Goreng instant packets. Please excuse the rough shots. I wasn’t really in the mood for photography that day.
The back of the room looks like somebody’s kitchen. The wall is lined with cupboards and an elongated stand that holds an electric water boiler, a kettle, a cutting board and other homey stuff like cleaning supplies. Oh, and that adorable old man in the foreground?
Part of the Ramayani team. My friend Jordan shot the above picture. I think he was having his supper when we piled in. It’s all very chill here at Ramayani. After his dinner, he helped in serving dishes, his arm trembling from the weight of the food. It made my heart ache and sing.
So. Let me share with you some of my essential dishes to order at a Southeast Asian restaurant. I don’t know much about Indonesian cuisine—but I do recognize a lot of their similar flavors from the dishes I grew up eating in Singapore.
We got the combination, which came in chicken, lamb and beef skewers with chewy, fragrant rice cakes and peanut satay sauce.
These were amazing. The meat was tenderly grilled, so that you can easily tear them away from the stick with your teeth. The flesh had just a teeny feel of char, and dipped in that rich, peanutty gravy, the flavors brought me right back to the outdoor satay grills at Singapore’s East Coast Beach.
A doughy, crispy pancake stuffed with lovely savories. It’s a really popular street snack, the kind that you eat with your fingers, abandoning all thoughts of dietary restrictions.
Our murtabak came hot and crunchy, plumped up with beef, egg and stir-fried vegetables and conveniently chopped into bite-sized squares. Murtabak is typically served with pickled vegetables, and that’s what the little bowl of cucumbers, onions, and carrots are. SO yummy.
BUT!! Here’s the tragedy: Ramayani ran out of otah-otah!!! If I was forced to choose one single dish I miss the most, it’s otah-otah—banana leaf-wrapped, grilled fish cake tinged orange with punchy spices and coconut milk. If you find otah-otah in the menu, you must order it!
Ayam Kare is, literally, chicken curry. It’s a must-order at an Indonesian restaurant because it’s a national signature dish. It’s mellower than it looks, despite its virbant hue. The gravy is super rich from coconut milk, and pleasingly aromatic from lemongrass, ginger, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric.
It’s also the kind of dish that stains your spoon with oil, so say a little prayer for fast metabolism and slurp up. Sorry for the bad pictures. We were a table of eight hungry individuals, so we were passing dishes around the whole time.
And then, of course, the classic Rendang:
Rendang should always be with beef, just saying. Otherwise you just don’t get that meaty, rich smokiness of good rendang. It’s basically chunk of beef slow-cooked in coconut milk and spices until the flesh pulls apart in velvety strips. The thick, beef-soaked gravy, however, is the best part. When slathered on steamed rice, you just want to weep with pleasure.
I don’t usually eat lamb because I can’t stand the odor, but I ordered this for the group because the lady who served us said it’s a customer favorite. I actually liked this dish a lot; the pungent spices obliterate all yucky lamby gaminess.
This dish was spicier than rendang and ayam kare. Apparently it’s been stewed in 15 different spices. That’s a whole lotta flavor!
I think Southeast Asians love noodles a lot more than rice. There’s noodles made with all kinds of flours, in all kinds of shapes. You cannot skip out on the noodles when visiting a Southeast Asian restaurant. Forget the rice, it’s all about the slurpy strands.
I remember eating this once a week in my secondary school cafeteria. It was a full bowl of $2 deliciousness. WTH. That can’t even buy me a decent Subway sandwich or a muffin today! I balk whenever I have to fork up $2.50 for a dumb blueberry muffin, when 10 years ago I could eat so much better with less financial burden in Singapore.
Anyway. Soto ayam! When you say it out loud briskly, it sounds like a great swear word, doesn’t it? It’s yet another coconut-based noodle soup dish that smells amazing from lemongrass and coconut. My favorite part is the hard-boiled egg in there, especially the last bite of mushy yolk soaked in rich broth.
Char Kway Teow:
The only dish I was somewhat disappointed with at Ramayani. Not to say it wasn’t delicious—it was. But it lacked the briney, wok-fried taste of cockles and pork fat that I’m used to in Singapore. But I guess Indonesian char kway teow is different from Malaysian or Singaporean char kway teow.
Char Kway Teow—literally, stir-fried flat rice noodles—is another classic noodle dish. It’s also one of the unhealthiest dish you can order. It’s a steaming heap of carbs and fat, which is why it is just. so. GOOD. Must order. Just maybe not at Ramayani, because it doesn’t taste like the “real thing” to me.
Okay, some rice dishes are worth ordering. Unfortunately, the very rich dish that I’ve been anticipating…also ran out at Ramayani that day. We picked the wrong night, apparently. I wanted the nasi uduk—the supreme Indonesian rice platter—but had to settle for nasi rames instead.
Our nasi rames came with a mound of steamed rice, chicken curry, chili beef, deep-fried egg, string beans and tofu, spiced cabbage, and shrimp chips.
Not too impressive. It was good, but not eye-popping great. I wish the rice was steamed in coconut milk like Malaysia’s nasi lemak, but it was plain ol’ white rice. My favorite piece from this rice platter was the deep-fried egg:
I can’t believe I forgot all about the miracle of deep-fried egg, or sambal telur. It’s this oval sphere coated with crunchy, eggy crust, topped with an oily, coarse-chopped chili paste. The chili is sweet, fiery, and oh-so-lip-smackingly good.
Okay, you should really forget about vegetables at a restaurant like Ramayani. But if you must, just remember ONE vegetable dish that is worth the mention: Kangkung.
AAAAAAHHH!!! This vegetable is just SO good!!! But of course, it’s only good because it’s been prepared with tons of spices and grease, preferably peanut oil. This dish is called tumis kangkung here at Ramayani, but I know it better as kangkung belacan.
It’s…inexplicable. I hated vegetables as a kid, but this was the one dish I would devour with snot running down my nose. It’s spicy, salty, briney, and nutty, chockful of chili, garlic, shrimp paste and shallots. I can eat a whole plate of this by myself.
So there you go. 10 dishes you absolutely must try at an Indonesian restaurant. I wanted to order dessert afterward but my dining companions were stuffed to the max after this feast. So, alas, no dessert pictures, but I do recommend trying ice cendol, which is shaved ice topped with slivers of mung bean jelly, sticky brown sugar and coconut milk.
I also love pulot hitam, or black rice porridge, which is thick and sweet as pudding, creamy from a generous ladle of coconut milk. Get it if you see it in the menu!
And, of course, anything with durian—if you dare. I pity any unfortunate soul who is unable to enjoy the freakingtastic joy of caramel-sweet durian. Even if the supposed odor (it smells awesome to me!) turns you off, you must find a way to overcome it. It’s simply that good.
And now I must stop before I drool all over my keyboard.
Remember: Blessed are those who Google for a local Indonesian restaurant right now. Amen.
Question of the day: What is your happiest little moments?