Ahead of the Indonesian Weekend in London which takes place between the 8-9th of September at Potters Field Park, I was invited to attend an exclusive Indonesian cooking demonstration at Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School. Chef Degan Septoadji, one of the judges of MasterChef Indonesia has cooked three of the five national dishes that have been declared as representative for the country by the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy: nasi goreng, gado gado, beef rendang, chicken satay and soto.
Chef Degan Septoadji not only that showed us step by step how to make the dishes, but he also explained what makes Indonesian cuisine so special.
Indonesian cuisine is full of flavour and differs from region to region. Same dishes have thousands of different recipes, and every family makes them differently. However, there are two ingredients that are present in all Indonesian recipes, and these are garlic and shallots. Without garlic and shallots, you don’t have Indonesian food.
At the base of each Indonesian dish there is a spice paste: red, yellow, green, white and black. Quoting chef Degan, the spice pastes are something magical because they are not just mixes of ingredients but are part of the national heritage of Indonesia. The food is seen as part as one’s soul and this is why each paste has a significance.
The red spice paste represents blood – the symbol of birth and new life. It has as the main ingredient the red chilly.
The yellow spice paste represents wealth – as gold is yellow. The main ingredient in the paste is the turmeric.
The green spice paste represents hope, a very important feeling in the Indonesian day to day life. The main ingredients in the paste are pandan leaf and the green chilly.
The white spice paste represents purity and it’s made entirely out of light coloured ingredients: garlic, shallots, ginger and lemongrass.
The black spice paste, contrary of what you would imagine, has a positive meaning – it represents wisdom. The main ingredient in the paste is the kluwak, which is actually toxic before cooking.
Many Indonesians live in remote areas and don’t have access to the latest technology. And this means that the spice blends are usually made using a volcanic rock mortar and pestle. Some dishes, such as gado-gado, are entirely made inside a mortar, using only a pestle.
As I mentioned before, the Indonesian cuisine is based on fresh ingredients and spices that are easy to find in South East Asia. Among these, the aromatic ginger, the Indonesian palm sugar, the galangal, the lemongrass, the turmeric and the tamarind, shrimp paste and Kecap mani – a sweet soy sauce that tastes like burned caramel. This is another key ingredient of the Indonesian cuisine, and it can’t really be replaced with anything else. But don’t worry, if you are keen on cooking gado-gado or nasi goreng, you can always buy it from Amazon, as I did after I had a small taste and decided I can’t live without it in my kitchen. ?
Chef Degan Septoadji demonstrated how easy it is to make gado-gado and nasi goreng. The beef rendang however, he explained that it takes 4 to 5 hours to simmer, so he showed it to us in three different stages of the cooking process, that he made earlier.
At the end of the evening we got a chance to taste all five representative Indonesian dishes and they were all full of flavour and rich in taste. The beef rendang was simply melting in my mouth and the nasi goreng complimented it perfectly as a side dish. I was very impressed with the soto, a spicy broth topped with beansprouts and eggs, that warmed me up straight away. I am a fan of the chicken satay and it did not disappoint! I had gado-gado before but cooked in a different way. I do love peanut sauces and I was happy to learn that I could cheap and replace the grinding and frying with…. peanut butter!
If you want to have a taste of the Indonesian cuisine, don’t miss the Indonesian celebrations this weekend, next to Tower Bridge. There will be traditional dances, costume displays, and chef Degan Septoadji will do cooking demonstrations of the five national dishes of Indonesia! See you there!
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