Where to Eat Indonesian Food Like a Dutch Colonist in L.A.
Rijsttafel dinner at Ramayani
If you want it, there are plenty of options to get Indonesian or Malaysian food in L.A. these days. Indo Café, which was widely regarded as the best place to get Indonesian on the Westside, closed a couple of years ago, but there’s still Simpang Asia across the street, which does passable versions of dishes that are downright hard to find not just in L.A. but pretty much anywhere else in the United States.
For Malaysian, the PappaRich Café chain recently opened in K-Town, and Penang in West Covina is still serving the best roti canai in greater Los Angeles. Hong Kong Plaza, also in West Covina, has more Indonesian food crammed into its food court than what’s available in most U.S. cities. There are more than a few Singaporean, Indonesian and Malaysian spots around San Gabriel – there’s even Borneo Kalimantan Cuisine for those who specifically crave the brand of laksa served in Sarawak.
But Ramayani, the longest-standing Indonesian restaurant in L.A., specializes not just in Indonesian food but also rijsttafel, one of the culinary remnants of the colonization of Indonesia. Rijsttafel is the Dutch translation for “rice table,” and it’s an accurate description: a true rijsttafel dinner is essentially a rice-centric feast with as many as 30 or 40 small Indonesian dishes, a sort of Indonesian dim sum.
If you were a 19th century Dutch colonialist who wanted to impress your European friends with the exotic flavors of Indonesia, you wouldn’t take them onto the streets in search of mee goreng; rather, you’d prefer to serve a gentrified meal in a familiar space. Thus rijsttafel was born: a wide array of Indonesian flavors, including noodles, satay and curries, delicately served in small portions, appropriately plated in the European fashion.
Unsurprisingly, Indonesians are not particularly fond of the idea of rijsttafel — it’s too blatant a reminder of the pretension of colonialism — so you won’t find it in Indonesia, and it’s not very common outside of Amsterdam. Even in Amsterdam, there’s not much pride in the concept, so there’s the feeling that most of the city’s rijsttafel restaurants tend to focus on tourists. But there are Dutch chefs who have been trained to cook rijsttafel in its entirety, and, politics aside, the meal is intriguing.
Ramayani, a small, homey restaurant in Westwood, has been operating since 1983. It’s the only place in town where you can eat Indonesian food on white tablecloths, and the menu is impressive — there are about 100 options, so, within reason, you can find almost any popular Indonesian dish (or colonial dinner set) you’re searching for.
The rijsttafel is exciting mostly as an eating experience, like being served omakase or grilling your own Korean galbi. The version here, while creditable, isn’t the world’s best. The dishes are served in succession rather than all at once, which ruins some of that feeling of being overwhelmed, and there are about a dozen dishes rather than forty. Among them is a light chicken soup called soto ayam, an excellent Indonesian satay, fried bakmi noodles, Indonesian curry chicken, and a particularly good beef rendang, one of the restaurant's specialties.
The rijsttafel is $35/set, minimum two sets. Two sets can feed three to four people.
Ramayani: 1777 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles; (310) 477-331.
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