>> Wong Java House | Eat the World Los Angeles

Friday, 12 February 2021

Wong Java House

INDONESIA 🇮🇩

COVID-19 UPDATE: The dining room is blocked so that patrons stay in front to order. One menu is offered after sanitizing, and provided gloves are required to handle it.

The biggest difference you will notice about Wong Java House and most other Indonesian restaurants in Greater Los Angeles is that it is strictly halal. As many of the others, especially in the San Gabriel Valley are owned and operated by Chinese-Indonesians, this is a selling point for not only Muslim Indonesians living here, but also others that must adhere to a halal diet but would like to try the cuisine of this island nation.

On that note, if given the choice it may not be the best place to come for your first foray into Indonesian food. The menu is many pages, plus a hand-written board with rotating specials. This "Javanese house" is far from limited to the foods of its namesake island.

Do not let this deter you though. Despite a palpable caution around interactions during the pandemic, the friendly proprietor will take great pains to make sure he can answer your questions and lead you in the right direction of his wife's incredible cooking. On this takeout order, under the call to prayer and associated music that was coming from the audio system, a comprehensive selection of foods was attempted.

If you are taking more home with you than you can eat in one sitting, make sure to finish the gado gado ($12, above) first, a fresh mixture of vegetables, potatoes, fried tofu, and tempeh all covered with a thick layer of peanut dressing. The hard-boiled egg did not survive transportation so well, but is an essential ingredient. Originally thought to be from the west part of Java, gado gado is eaten everywhere throughout Indonesia now and is considered one of six officially recognized national dishes.

With an even wider reach, mie goreng ($13 with beef, above), is a stir-fried noodle dish that is also eaten in Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore. The thin tubular egg noodles are tossed with vegetables, garlic, onions, and shallots. This is warung food at its best, cooked by street-side vendors over high heat and ready fast. Request it spicy, as without a conversation about it, it had no heat.

In better days you will see the the chef, or possibly another employee sitting at a nearby table cutting vegetables in preparation for the night's meals. For now, the very brief takeout interactions with the friendly pair will have to do. They do pride themselves in the family-run aspect of their business and even go to pains on their website and in person to project "not a fast-paced setting."

This of course can be a welcome relief if you let it be, and future meals here are looked forward to with groups of friends and plenty of time. When you do eat with friends or family, the East Javanese fried chicken is usually a group favorite, prepared by mashing the bird first in a mortar to soften it up.

Before frying there is no batter applied to ayam penyet ($17.50 served as "complete" set, above), while a crumbly, crunchy mixture of fried rice flour and lemongrass is sprinkled on before the oil dries. Served in its home, the word "complete" would be redundant as the addition of sliced cucumbers, fried blocks of tofu, and tempeh would be considered standard. No matter how you enjoy it, use the spicy sambal of red chilies and dried shrimp generously.

Indonesian soups are often times the best part of the meal, and the lovely sayur asem ($12, above) does not disappoint. Approved by vegetarians, this soup is sour with tamarind and fortified by an array of cut vegetables, sections of corn still on the cob, and plenty of peanuts. Best served piping hot.

Even better is the soto betawi ($16, below), a beef soup with roots in Jakarta and another of Indonesia's six proclaimed national dishes. It will cause great pain to try and figure out where all these different flavors on your tongue are coming from, successfully teasing each other to create a unique joy.


Make sure to top the soup with the provided crispy prawn crackers, which can even be used to scoop up bits of beef and peanuts with broth if that is your thing. The cuts of meat here are silky smooth and top end, there is no weak link.
 
If you happen to come across a menu from the restaurant taken just three years ago, it will be quite eye-opening to see how much the prices have gone up. But given the care and high-quality ingredients they put into everything, even 2021's prices seem very fair.

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