November 19, 2015
Story & Photography by Gail G. Collins
Betawi cooking is widely available in restaurants and stalls around Jakarta. They are the indigenous people of Batavia. Soto Betawi (beef brisket in coconut broth), nasi uduk (fragrant coconut rice) or ketoprak (vermicelli noodle and tofu salad) are standard dishes and reflective of the warm, candid and humble people who enjoy a hearty, simple meal, usually eaten with the hand. Learning this skill and how to prepare a selection of native dishes from Jakarta or mystical Bali is a foodie adventure awaiting guests at Oasis cooking classes.
The restaurant is a historical landmark. In 1928, the setting was the grand home of Dutch millionaire F. Brandenburg van Oltsende, owner of estates growing tea, rubber and cinchona—a medicinal herb. The Dutch colonial architecture is well-preserved with the teak beams, a checkerboard tile floor and stained glass. Its contents are worthy of a museum from the entryway’s 18th century gong, Kalimantan Room’s masks and Sumatran Room’s gold-embroidered sarongs to Topeng Bar’s West Papuan and Indonesian art.
Our classes began with a Balinese welcoming dance, tea and locals snacks to rev up our interest. Master Chefs Landa and Risza staffed a garden kitchen, complete with prep area, sink and stove. Students could participate as they wished: forming minced mackerel skewers, standing in awe of the chefs’ chopping skills of vibrant veg or scribbling down notes. Complete recipes provide simple steps to replicate the dish later and questions were encouraged. Lemongrass, galangal and lime leaf released a perfume, while red snapper fritters floated upward in bubbling pots of soybean oil growing golden and tempting.
The highlight was the celebratory and anticipated meal. It was a chance to experience Balinese food and history simultaneously. Seated at heritage trestle tables, we shared our buffet bounty: Marinara goreng (seafood fritters), ayam pelalah (Balinese shredded chicken), sate lilit (minced fish skewers) and jaku a la Oasis (Oasis’ vegetables). The flavors were complex and fresh, tending toward subtle and soft. It was a delight. And we were in good company, as former President Clinton and late Prime Minister Thatcher, as well as celebrities like professional boxer Evander Holyfield, had discovered an oasis of Indonesian specialties over the years.
Learn more at oasisjakarta.com
Gail G. Collins writers internationally for magazines and has co-written two books on expatriate life. She feels writing is the perfect excuse to talk to strangers and know the world around her better.