When Ferdinand Magellan set out on his voyage in search of the fabled Spice Islands, he should perhaps have landed in Indonesia. For in this archipelago of 17,508 islands, spices and herbs grow abundantly.
Cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, chilies, coriander, lemongrass and other exotic plants thrive in the islands’ warm tropical climate. No wonder Indonesian food is endowed with such vibrant flavors. Bland is a word that certainly doesn’t exist in their culinary dictionary.
So what dishes do they make out of these spices? Sambal goreng udang, for one, aka fried prawns with chilies and coconut. There’s also daging rendang, beef braised to tenderness in a rich stew of spices and coconut cream; sup buntut (Javanese oxtail soup); ikan pesmol (fish in turmeric sauce); and the more familiar gado gado (salad vegetables in peanut sauce dressing), among others.
At Café Jeepney in Hotel InterContinental, Indonesian cuisine in all its diversity is currently being served as part of the lunch and dinner buffets. Preparing the dishes are chefs Mamo Suparmo and Hinggil Duli of InterContinental Jakarta.
Both chefs highly recommend the food of their country not only for its lush, mystifying flavors, but also because they believe all these spices are good for the health.
Here’s a recipe for Indonesian skewered chicken in a sweet soya sauce. Unlike the usual satay, this doesn’t come with a peanut sauce. Rather the chicken has a sweet-chili flavor, so typical of the dishes in the land of spices that had eluded the voyagers of old. If Magellan were alive today, he would have liked this dish.
The Indonesian Food Festival is ongoing at Hotel InterContinental until Nov. 25. For reservations, call 7937000.
Chicken Satay with Sweet Soya Sauce
Remove the meat from the bones and cut the meat into bite-size cubes (discard the bones or reserve them for making broth). Combine butter, soy sauce, shallots and chilies. Marinate chicken meat in the mixture for two to three hours.
When ready to cook, brush a griller with oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Preheat the griller to medium heat. Thread the chicken into skewers and grill the chicken on both sides until fully cooked (around 5-6 minutes on each side). Serve warm with rice.
If desired, reserve the marinade. Add about ¼ cup water if it has become too thick. Heat the mixture to boiling. Let boil for one to two minutes. Serve as sauce for the chicken.
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Be careful when slicing the chilies as they could burn the skin. Definitely do not touch your face and your eyes or they will sting. Wash hands and dry them well after handling the chilies.
For less heat, use fewer chilies.
Soya sauce is equivalent to soy sauce. Sweet soy sauce is thicker and, as its name implies, is sweet, rather than salty. It’s available in the condiments section of large supermarkets.
A substitute for shallots is red onions.
If you don’t have a griller, you can also cook the chicken in a nonstick pan. Brush the pan lightly with oil or spray it with nonstick cooking spray before heating.