Courtesy, Sky Cafe
Each fall in the City, a block party takes place to honor (which is actually August 17), filled with music, food and cultural performances. But you don’t have to wait until then to discover Indonesian culture in the five boroughs. A number of restaurants and shops, especially in Elmhurst, Queens, where a majority of the community resides, offer a taste of Asia’s most ethnically diverse country. Read on to learn more about how Indonesian culture shows up in New York City, particularly through food.
85-12 Queens Blvd. # 1, Elmhurst, Queens
The story of Indo Java began in the basement of a commercial apartment in Elmhurst. Owners Elvi Goliat, Ria Janti and Anastasia Dewi started small, with one mission in mind: to provide comfort for the homesick diasporans by creating a space where they could gather, grab familiar essentials and enjoy the flavors of home. Now Indo Java is a full-blown grocery store where you can pick up a variety of Indonesian pantry essentials, such as seasoning, and . Tip: grab the ready-to-eat food made each day by the Indonesian aunties and uncles.
Try to stop by on Tuesdays to catch Warung Selasa, the tiny kitchen pop-up experience chef Anastasia Dewi, familiarly referred to as just Dewi. Follow on social media for the pop-up menu. You can preorder ahead through DM or send a WhatsApp message to Dewi herself.
Courtesy, Jakarta Munch
135 W. 50th St., Midtown West, Manhattan
Ratih Wulandari Del Valle created Jakarta Munch in 2019 to introduce Indonesian cuisine to people with all kinds of flavor and dietary preferences. She pairs simplicity and variety through menu items such as a create-your-own rice bowl—choose your protein (vegan options are available) and complement it with staple Indonesian flavors such as the world-famous rendang, opor and semur. Don’t forget to add kerupuk (crackers), and definitely dare to ask for more sambal—in fact, the more the better.
Courtesy, Sky Cafe
8620 Whitney Ave., Elmhurst, Queens
This restaurant has roots in Medan, North Sumatra, where chef-owner Lily Tija and her family originated—and that’s a region that many consider the top culinary destination in Indonesia. Ms. Lily, as she’s known, opened the first Sky Café in South Philadelphia in 2010; in 2014, she teamed up with her daughter, Betty Yu, to expand to a second location in Elmhurst.
“We are Chinese-Medanese descendants. We eat many types of noodle-based dishes back home,” says Ms. Lily. “At Sky Café, we make homemade bakmie (noodles) in house.’’ Examples to try include lontong sayur, rice cakes in curry broth with anchovies; rendang; sambal goreng, which is the closest authentic Medan-style one can find in NYC; as well as emie noodles in a shrimp-based gravy sauce.
8405 Queens Blvd., Ste. 1C, Elmhurst, Queens
Awang Kitchen offers a comprehensive menu that gives diners a culinary tour of regional Indonesian styles. Peanuts are an essential ingredient in Indonesian salads and the base of many sauces. Case in point: Awang Kitchen’s creamy peanut dressing specialty dishes, which include ketoprak, batagor and gado-gado (so tasty you’ll be forgiven for licking your bowl clean). Kudos to this restaurant for sharing Jakarta favorites like bakso and nasi goreng tek-tek, the traditional meatball soup and fried rice. Ask your server for the daily specials.
Corn fritter. Courtesy, Wayan
20 Spring St., Nolita, Manhattan
Wayan is a tribute to Indonesia (with French flair), exemplified in stellar dishes such as lobster noodles, corn fritters, a satay sampler and nasi goreng – fried rice with egg. Wayan, the name given to a first-born child in Balinese culture, is the first independent restaurant by chef Cédric Vongerichten, after partnering with his father, Jean-Georges, on several spots in NYC and Jakarta.
Black Sugar Boba with Cendol. Courtesy, Teguk
246 Mott St., Nolita, Manhattan
The climate in Indonesia is mostly hot and humid all year long, making cold-beverage vendors there a must. Teguk takes it cue from such places, offering classic Indonesian dessert drinks and other Asian favorites. To wit: Black Sugar Boba with Cendol—a drink consisting of black sugar, coconut milk and a green-colored jelly made from rice flour—and Choco Malt Cheese, which features milk chocolate and cheese foam. Fond childhood memories will come flooding back for those who grew up in Indonesia.
86-10 Whitney Ave., Elmhurst, Queens
This eatery focuses on the flavors of Surabaya, where chef Chandra Lie grew up. Must-try dishes include ayam penyet, a classic Javanese-style dish of “smashed” fried chicken served with , and bakwan campur, a killer comforting street food made with beef bone soup, noodles, beef balls and fried wonton that’s perfect to savor on a cold winter day. The soto (traditional soup) is also a must-have.