For forty years, I’ve harboured an unfulfilled desire to visit Amsterdam and more importantly, to try an Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table) meal. Time and time again, my attempts failed to materialised as the best laid plans of mice and men were thwarted.
Until last month, when I made it.
I was born in Malaysia and Indonesian food has many similarities with a common heritage of Malay cooking with Chinese and Indian influences. I was fascinated by the changes that transplantation to the Nederlands could impart so I searched for an Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam.
Foregoing the ones advertising ‘home cooking’, I tried an upmarket establishment.
Blue Pepper Restaurant is located at Nassaukade 366, Amsterdam 1054 AB
Telephone: +31.(0)6 41852294
From Centraal Station, take the tram (#13 or #17) and alight at Elandsgracht about 13 minutes later. The restaurant is 300m (4 mins walk) from tha tram stop and across the canal bridge onto the south side quay or ‘kade’ on Nassaukade.
Chef Sonja Pereira grew up in an enchanted circle of royal weddings and hunting lodge parties in Bandung, Indonesia, even as the curtain was falling on the colonial era. She emigrated to the Netherlands in 1985. She set up a boutique restaurant called ‘Blue Pepper’ to revive the splendour of festive Indonesian cooking.
Blue Pepper brings back to life what a royal Indonesian feast tasted like. Avoiding an extensive menu as well as “simple” home cooking, Sonja focuses on a small selection of obsessively prepared dishes that change seasonally.
With alternative ingredients available in the Nederlands, it also serves “evolved” dishes like coconut-marinated bison and cinnamon-flavoured goose as well as Indonesian fare.
The décor is simple but elegant, with artwork that definitely posed as talking points.
Georg Breuer GB Sauvage Riesling 2016
The distinctive aromatic profile of Riesling grape is evident as the bright pale yellow wine is poured. With tints of green reflections, the dry wine exudes primary aromas of apricot and lime. Fresh and with young acidity, it was refreshing and easy-to-drink with East Asian cuisine.
Chateau Maris La Touge 2014
Medium bodied red wine made with Syrah and Grenache grapes as Cru La Liviniere. Blackcurrant on the nose was evident with slight smokiness. In the glass, it was deep purple with a full body and ripe tannin without being ascerbic. Some acidity was balanced out by the lengthy finish. This wine was robust enough to combat the strong taste profile of Indonesian cuisine. Our eco-warriors can also take comfort that it is a ‘biodynamic’ or organic wine.
Keropok Udang or prawn crackers are de rigueur for an Indonesian restaurant and made for good nibbles with the riesling wine.
Deep-fried Won Ton reflects the Chinese influences in Indonesian cuisine.
We followed with the Degustation Menu of course.
The Sultan and I (classic rijsttafel with modern touches)
€59 in Winter and €69 in Summer; wine extra
Soft shell crab
We were eased into the meal with a simple deep-fried soft-shell crab, a bed of mango and pineapple salad with Asian vinaigrette.
Fish and Seafood Soup
The soup spiced with turmeric, lemon grass and lime flavours was a welcomed warming broth on a cold rainy evening. It also tickled the tastebuds and got the gastric juices running.
We were ready for more.
Saté or Satay
Chicken satay Menado-style served with spicy peanut and chili sauce.
Spring Lamb satay with achar pickles and Indonesian soy-lime sauce.
Of course, no Indonesian rice table would be contemplated without ‘satay’ and ‘rendang’.
I was pleased to see the skewers actually composed of three pieces of meat each; “sa-tay” being the original Chinese words for “three pieces”.
Suitably “started” by the starters, we eagerly awaited the main courses that arrived as a medley of tasting dishes with little cones of fluffy rice.
Mains with Rice
Classic rendang (top left)
Spicy Padang-style slow-cooked beef using Aunt Sonja’s spice mix was as rendang should be. I wish there was more.
Fermented tofu, quail eggs and mange-tout (top centre)
The gravy contained laos, kentjur carrots and ginger. ‘Laos” is the Indonesian word for galangal, that we are more familiar with. It has nothing to do with Laos the country although they use galangal there too.
Udang balado (top right)
Padang-style spicy prawns in a fiery red chili-ginger-ground pepper sauce was redolent with the ‘four tastes’ of sweet, sour, salty and umami.
Balinese-style fish (bottom right)
The reduced sauce of nuts and mild spices enhanced the fresh fish but did not overpower it.
Jackfruit in sweet curry (bottom centre)
Jackfruit is a tropical fruit and an unusual curry ingredient outside Indonesai and Malaysis. Apart from being vegetarian friendly, it provided light relief and sweetness to counteract the savoury dishes.
Urapan: wok-fried vegetables with roasted coconut (bottom left)
Another vegetarian friendly dish, this ensured the daily recommended vegetable intake was fulfilled according to EU regulations!
Usually, meal time in Indonesia is about a large plate of rice with two or three tasty side dishes. I had my reservations about the tiny cone of rice that arrived but by the end of the meal, I have to admit that it was enough. We were at risk of not making it to the dessert!
Blue Sensation: “palate freshener with an electric twist”
Those are the intriguing words directly from the menu. It involved a culinary magic trick. The fruit sorbet and pistachio powder were unremarkable but the secret blue sauce is the magic. It contained a herb or spice that mildly tingled and numbed the tongue and palate hence the “electric twist”!
After we had recovered, the real dessert arrived.
Mango panna cotta with grilled pineapple, fresh berries and Dragon fruit finished the meal in a sweet way.
Bearing in mind that this was not your average rijsttafel menu with the stock standards of Nasi Padang or Indonesian fare, I have to judge it without ethnic bias.
To this end, it deserves the AlphaLuxe Three Tongues Award.
During the Summer months, Blue Ginger runs luxury candlelight dinner cruises too.
Other Amsterdam Reports
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).