July 10, 2008

A bit of Americana in Jakarta

After about six months of living in Jakarta, surrounded by (and eating) a lot of food we could only dream about in Los Angeles, we began to really miss American food. A great burger (In-n-Out!), bacon, steak, BBQ ribs, hot-off-the-grill bratwurst and good ol' American breakfast: pancakes, maple syrup, stuffed omelettes, crispy hash browns, sausage links, bacon (oh, did I mention that already?) ... American diner food, basically (we miss you, Denny's...).

Well, the good thing about living in Jakarta is you can have the best of both (culinary) worlds. You can't find genuine Indonesian 'street cuisine' in Los Angeles, but you can find (almost) everything in Jakarta. Of course, the 'imported' stuff costs a lot more and a little bit harder to find, which is pretty much true with any imported goods in any country.

So a couple of weeks ago my husband and I ended up in Hard Rock Cafe Jakarta for lunch, it was about 3 PM already and we were starving. After perusing the all-American menu, we both decided to satisfy our hankering for burgers. He ordered the Legendary Burger, which is basically a bacon cheeseburger. But this being Indonesia, most restaurants comply to the halal standards (the Muslim's definition of kosher), meaning the non-halal pork cannot be an ingredient... thus the beef 'bacon'.

Do you know what this beef 'bacon' taste like?

Pastrami. Thickly sliced dried pastrami. Uhuh.

That just intensified our longing for the real rasher made from a hog. Crispy, salty, smokey, streaky with fat... (aw, come on, don't act like a healthy food snob, you know you also love bacon... it's been said that bacon is what kept many people from becoming true vegetarians).

I ordered the enigmatically named S.O.B. Burger (below), enticed by toppings of chipotle sauce, guacamole and Monterey Jack cheese. Not bad. For both burgers the ground beef patties were thick and juicy (think Islands Burgers, not McDonald's). And they correctly cooked the meat per our requests: medium rare.

A few days later we set out to shop for more American food, this time at SOGO Food Hall, a high-end (read: pricey) supermarket specializing in imported goods. We justified this splurge by telling ourselves that we'd streeeeetch these ingredients to last for several months, cooking and eating them only once in a while.

Thankfully we did find two familiar faces at this supermarket (Aunt Betty! Aunt Jemima! So good to see you in Jakarta!). So with their help we can now have buttermilk pancakes and maple syrup at home (we tried a local pancake mix... uh, never mind. And yes, I do realize it's maple flavored corn syrup, but hey, Aunt Jemima is genuine Americana!).

As for the bacon, another very familiar American, Uncle Oscar of the wiener and bologna fame, came to our rescue with "America's Favorite Bacon - Naturally Hardwood Smoked"! The vacuum-packed red-white strips of pork belly looked gorgeous as we grabbed the one pound package and believe it or not, most of it is still in our freezer. We are using it judiciously, as we promised ourselves.

Other staples from the land of Uncle Sam in our fridge and pantry: a jar of Kraft's Real Mayonnaise, a tub of Kraft's Grated Parmesan Cheese, a jar of Ragu's Classic Alfredo Sauce, a box of Barilla pasta, a small bottle of EVOO, and a small jar of crushed oregano (yes, several of the ingredients are Italian, but we regularly cooked with them at home in LA. After all, pasta has become as American as apple pie pizza!).

Buttermilk pancakes or bubur ayam (chicken porridge) for breakfast? Homemade pasta alfredo one night, ketoprak from a street vendor the next. Variety is the spice of life!