A nine-course dinner at Nusa Gastronomy has cemented my belief that this is the momentum for Indonesian cuisine. It manages to multitask and play different roles in presenting Indonesian cuisine to the mass with finesse. Let’s dive into how I arrived at that conclusion.
Nusa Gastronomy goes to great lengths to create its recipes,
Nusa Gastronomy has been in Chef Ragil’s mind since many years ago, albeit in a different form. It began as a collective pop-up focusing in Indonesian cuisine called Maharasa Indonesia. The pop-up was supported by a number of other chefs, including Lisa Virgiano who later decided to venture out and created Kaum.
They have three approaches in creating their food and recipes. First, it can be a local favorite, but only available at a certain time of the year, making it virtually unknown for other Indonesians not living in the area. For example, there are dishes in Padang that are available only before the fasting month. Second, it may also be a popular local dish, replicated by Nusa using its original recipe, but presented in a modern way. Last but not least, they can freestyle a bit, bringing specific elements from certain dishes and combine them in one plate.
On the quest of creating recipes fitting for those criteria above, the team traveled all across Indonesia to discover native ingredients and local recipes. They visited places with strong food culture, went to remote areas, and chatted with ladies who still use words like sejumput (loosely translated to “a pinch”) in their cooking. Chef Ragil went as far as measuring sejumput in grams to ensure he could preserve authenticity as much as possible.
Despite the seasonally-changing menu, during one year the restaurant has opened since Indonesia’s Independence Day celebration last year, Nusa thinks it has touched only about 20% of all the food in Indonesia. That reflects the richness and diversity that Indonesian cuisine has.
And Nusa Gastronomy’s nine-course dinner will take you on a journey across Indonesia through taste.
Out of the six main course offered, I have two stand-outs. Nusa’s version of Selat Solo replaces the typical beef meat with beef tongue. The tongue, which comes from Balinese beef, has been cooked for four hours. It is soft, tender, and fragrant. The overall sweet nuance of the dish matches my palate well. Bebek Timbungan Sayur Megono is another highlight. The dish is an organic duck is cooked in Bali’s Tabanan spices for six hours using sekam method, served on top of Pekalongan-style Sayur Megono—steamed jackfruit seasoned with kecombrang (ginger flower) and coconut. Regard it as a mix of Indonesian flavors that never meet each other, but once they do, it gives you a comforting taste. New, but familiar.
Dessert also speaks to me very much. Lapis Legit is very similar to mille-crêpe, but with “raisins” made of belimbing wuluh in between the layers. It is paired with walnuts and pandan gelato. Everything is Indonesia, but you don’t see this kind of pairing anywhere else. The ingredients come in many parts of the country: Sumatra, Ternate, and Manado, among others. Through one plate, you get to travel to a few different places in Indonesia through taste.
Another interesting feature of dining at Nusa Gastronomy is the food and beverage pairing. Historically speaking, people in the old days like to complement their food with drinks that contain alcohol, particularly wine. In this case, Nusa encourages diners to pair the food with non-alcoholic concoctions. Aside from mocktails containing funky ingredients like tamarillo and cucumber, Nusa also offers some home-made fermented drinks, which alcohol content has been taken out. The one-week fermented jambu air (rose apple) mixed with coconut water, for instance, go with Bebek Timbungan Sayur Megono or Ayam Tangkap Sambal Udang, as the drink can help to tone down spiciness.
Perhaps the more important thing is how Nusa Gastronomy plays a role in promoting Indonesian cuisine,
As we have talked previously on Episode IV: A New Hope for Indonesian Cuisine, we’re happy that there is an increase in number of Indonesian restaurants that are serious in presenting Indonesian food, including Nusa.
The presence of Nusa serves as an influence for young Indonesians to realize how diverse Indonesian cuisine is and push them to play a part in spreading the word. It can be as simple as this: There’s this ingredient unofficially called jamur petir, a pink mushroom that only grows in Bangka during the storm. Who knows, maybe this fascinating plant can lead you to visit the island, which in turn will make you want to know more about the place. As for me, I didn’t know anything about kecombrang before Chris Salans’ sorbet. But that dish made such an impression on me that I decided to go to Chris’ restaurant, where I ended up learning more about Indonesian cuisine. This is the kind of role that Nusa can fill.
And acts as the best kind of Indonesian culinary school and museum.
Besides that, the way Nusa presents their food triggers your curiosity to learn more. When a plate of food arrives on your table, the staff explains to you where the food comes from, what ingredients are being used, and how it is cooked. During my two hours at Nusa, I gained new food vocabularies. I acquired knowledge of spices I’ve never heard before or ingredients I previously associated only with Western cooking, but apparently are used everyday in Indonesian cuisine. Think of Nusa as a crash course to Indonesian cuisine. It’s like enrolling at a school where every class is captivating. Once you get home, you feel energized to do your homework, google more about a specific subject, and even tell your friends about it.
On top of it all, Nusa reminds me of one of my long term dreams to make an Indonesian Culinary Museum. Nusa Gastronomy is, in a way, a glimpse of the kind of museum I want to make someday. At the end of my journey in the food industry, I want to create a museum that tells the story of Indonesian cuisine, where everyone can eat and learn at the same time. Imagine a place where you get to sit down and enjoy a meal, then while waiting for the next course, you can watch a 10-15 minute video explaining the food you just ate. Nusa is halfway there. Instead of a video, Nusa has staffs who narrate the backstory. The seasonally-changing menu also ensures there are lots of stories to tell, and customers can keep coming back for more.
Nusa Gastronomy, thank you for awakening my dream to create Indonesian Culinary Museum someday. Thank you for doing so much for Indonesian cuisine. There are a lot more to be done, but we’re all going to the right direction. Let’s keep on playing our roles, and hopefully one day we can see Indonesian food all around the world.
P.S. If a nine-course dinner sounds too heavy for you, Nusa Gastronomy also offers a five-course dinner and casual lunch menus (a la carte, starting from IDR 80K)
P.P.S. I’m dead serious about the Indonesian Culinary Museum. Anyone interested in talking and crowdfund me to go to remote areas in Indonesia, perhaps? Who knows my dream can come true sooner than I think. A guy can dream, right? 😉
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