Java Nice Day! Inside Madrid’s best (and only) Indonesian restaurant

PHOTOS OF COOKING CLASS: Jane Mitchell (Foodografa)

A few years back – sometime between the abolition of the botellón and the arrival of Five Guys burgers in Madrid – I had wondered whether Madrid’s changing gastroscape had finally accommodated an Indonesian restaurant. To me, it was so bizarre that such a popular and iconic branch of Asian cuisine from this archipelago of over 18,000 islands was still visibly absent in Madrid, in spite of the city’s evolution over the past decade to offer more variety in terms of global cuisine. I thought Madrileños (and transplanted Madri-migrants like me) were truly missing out without Indonesian favourites like rendang (dry curry of beef and coconut milk), satay (grilled meat skewers) with peanut sauce, and nasi goreng (mixed fried rice) on their list of eating options. (In fact, in a CNN Travel survey conducted in 2017, rendang was voted by readers as the most delicious food in the world.) 

So I asked a good Indonesian friend where I could find the best Indonesian in Madrid. She replied, “the Indonesian Embassy.” She wasn’t kidding. Back then, the only place where you could get your hands on authentic, homemade Indonesian fare was at the Indonesian embassy’s annual benefit bazaar in June. Being a big fan of this cuisine, I’d tag along with my Jakarta-born friends/ co-Madri-migrants,  beaming with ASEAN archipelago neighbourly love, and thereafter attack the food like a starving T-Rex.

Though I’m Filipino, there’s something about Indonesian culture and food that feels both familiar and yet exotic – the flavour profiles, the spices, the use of coconut milk, and of course the RICE  – the mosaic of tastes just gives me some inexplicable comfort, conjuring memories of the laidback beaches of Bali from a lifetime ago.

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Just say satay! Grilled chicken skewers served with peanut sauce.
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Bintang beer takes me back to Bali, another lifetime ago.

Like Bali in the barrio

Recently, however, in what I’d personally consider the seismic shift of the year in Madrid’s culinary landscape, my prayers and virtual canang sari offerings  to the food gods were answered, for not only did the first and only Indonesian restaurant open in my barrio, it opened down my street literally a minute’s walk away! Sabor Nusantara (metro: Iglesia) is a heaven-sent temple of flavours and spices, it’s like a mini Indonesian oasis in the heart of Barrio Chamberi.

I can still remember passing Sabor Nusantara for the first time last summer, and turning to my boyfriend to tell him, “Our life in Madrid just  levelled up.”

 

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Wonderful Indonesian oasis in Barrio Chamberí

A little warning – from this point on I will now rave about this place like a hormonal teenage fangirl.

Sabor Nusantara has never disappointed…every. single. time I’d eaten there. And every guest I’d introduced it to had been impressed as well. This is easily among my favourite restaurants in Madrid, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I eat there so frequently that they should just give me a punch card. I cannot recommend this place enough, especially if you like truly spicy food that is not watered down to pander to the Spanish palate.

Eating here with Indonesian friends has also given me some invaluable intel on other memorable dishes that I’ve never tried before, such as tempeh (fermented soy cake), soto betawi (a beef tripe soup made from coconut milk and fresh milk, ginger, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and candlenut), bakso (meatballs and noodle soup), bingka (baked tapioca cake with coconut) and the deceivingly simple but very flavourful rujak mangga, a mixed mango salad with red chilies and chopped peanuts.

 

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Fried tempeh, a vegan favorite made from fermented soy beans
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Ayam what I am!
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Bingka, baked tapioca with coconut cream

Apart from the amazing flavours and surprisingly affordable price tag (for the quality of food), the super friendly staff and proprietors are another reason why I keep coming back to this restaurant – you simply must meet the wonderful Indonesian family that owns it – Ibu Ami, Nia, and Tomi, transplanted Indonesians from Surabaya and Jakarta,  and also longtime Madrid residents (they’re also fluent in English and Spanish).

Levelling up – cooking at the Indonesian Embassy

One night, on my Nth time of dining at Sabor Nusantara, I had casually mentioned to Ibu Ami that I wanted to learn how to make nasi goreng. Long story short, we cooked up the idea of organizing a prototype cooking class at the Indonesian embassy. A big terima kasih (thank you) goes out to the Indonesian ambassador’s wife, Ibu Kiki, who, along with Ibu Ami, made this class happen.

First on the menu:  tempeh. Soaked soy beans are first peeled and fermented (with a tiny sprinkle of rhizomes) for two days in an airtight Ziplock bag. Ibu Kiki punctured the bag with a toothpick. After two days, the packed soy beans expand into a white “cake”, which can be either fried, steamed or sliced, mixed with soup or rice.

We also learned how to make basic nasi goreng ayam, using cooked rice fried in garlic, onions, and nasi goreng spice mix, then later on combined with chicken (you can also use beef, shrimp and vegetables). A fried egg tops it beautifully.

 

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Nasi Goreng 101
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Ibu Kiki, the Indonesian ambassador’s wife, presents the final plate of nasi goreng

Wonderful Indonesia

After the class, the lovely embassy staff then surprised us with a stunning buffet featuring fried tempeh, nasi goreng, ayam (chicken) with spices, prawn crackers, sweet and chili sauce, and spicy sauce.

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T Rex time…

Is it any wonder why I love this wonderful country, culture and cuisine?

___

Got you hungry? Sabor Nusantara is located on Calle de Viriato, 39
Madrid, 28010.  For reservations, call +34 912 11 60 84 or (mobile) +34 657 92 99 11.

Say hi to Ibu Ami, Nia or Tomi and the rest of the staff for me.

 

 

 

 

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