Where Can I Find an Indonesian Rijsttafel in NYC?
Robbie C. asks: Do you know of any good Indonesian restaurants in Manhattan or any of the other boroughs? I'm particularly interested to know if there are any that serve a rijsttafel. I really don't understand why the cuisine has never caught on here.
Dear Robbie C.: Rijsttafel ("rice table" in Dutch) is kind of a tough one.
This meal of as many as 40 lively small dishes served with several types of rice and relishes called sambals was created to please the colonial overlords, and is considered by most Indonesians as a vestige of the old colonial system. Which is why the meal flourishes mainly in Amsterdam, where the Dutch still have an avid taste for it -- it reminds them of the good old days when they were a colonial power in Southeast Asia.
Most Indonesian restaurants won't serve it, though you can often put together a similar Southeast Asian smorgasbord yourself by ordering à la carte.
That said, there's a place in Park Slope called Java Indonesian Rijsttafel (455 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-832-4583), where the family who runs the place is welcoming. I found the food a little pallid when I ate there eight or nine years ago, but it's a nice, friendly place.
Much better are the Indonesian noodle shops that have sprung up in Elmhurst over the last few years emulating hawker stalls back in Indonesia. The best is Minang Asli. You won't be able to get anything like a rijsttafel, but the food is filling and authentic.
The Queens and Brooklyn places aren't hard to get to, but back in Manhattan Bali Nusah Indah is not too bad, and would probably put a rijsttafel together for you if you asked nicely. Ask for a specially constructed nasi padang.