Tucked in next to a FedEx in a corporate-looking, granite-fronted building on Queens Boulevard, Awang Kitchen does not look promising from the outside. I have walked by it without noticing it more than once. The staff seem aware of this. One of the waiters asked me how I found out about it. Awang doesn’t lack customers. It was quite busy when I went, and I had to wait for a table. But all of the customers seemed to be Indonesian, and I would guess they all learned about Awang Kitchen from friends.
Those sincerely interested in Indonesian food might also be wary of Awang Kitchen’s description of its food as “Indonesian Asian Fusion Japanese.” Indeed, the space inside is dominated by a sushi bar. But the television above the sushi bar is tuned to BeritaSatu, an Indonesian station dedicated to news analysis, and most of the conversation around me sounded Indonesian. In fact, I suspect this kind of Asian Fusion is common in Indonesia’s bigger cities, and the restaurant would not look out of place in Jakarta.
The menu is lengthy and byzantine. When the waiter handed me a copy, he asked if I had ever eaten Indonesian before, ready to offer instruction. (He beamed and thanked me for the compliment when I told him I had enjoyed the food at his competitor, Upi Jaya—apparently national pride outweighs professional rivalry here.) I had come specifically for Javanese food, since the cook is from Jakarta, so I looked for a few Javanese dishes I had read about. For a first taste of Indonesian food, though, it might be better to pick spicier Sumatran food, which is probably the most popular and accessible food of Indonesia. Reviewers on Yelp consistently praise Awang Kitchen’s beef rendang (a Sumatran dish).
My meal began with tempeh mendoan. Tempeh is probably familiar to most readers. When I was in college, it seemed that everyone with hair of a certain length ate tempeh. I was not aware, however, that it originated in Indonesia. Like bagoong, tempeh is the result of fermentation (fermented soybeans). But unlike bagoong, tempeh is fermented by fungi, not bacteria.
Tempeh mendoan is a dish from Java. It is tempeh sliced thin, battered in dough, and partially fried. It is raw in the middle. Awang Kitchen serves it with thick soy sauce with sliced chili peppers. It was absolutely delicious.
Next was ayam goring kalasan. This is another dish from Java—fried chicken marinated in coconut water. That is what was listed on the menu, at least—but chicken was only one of several items on the plate. In the center was a great globe of basmati rice, around which were arranged: an egg marinated in spices and apparently boiled and fried; a mixture of vegetables boiled in turmeric and other mellow spices; and the chicken. On the side, my waiter placed a chili pepper paste that was extremely hot.
The chicken was actually a little disappointing. It tasted much like fried chicken at any American restaurant, though the meat was not as ridiculously plump as the chicken meat at, say, Popeye’s. But the egg and the vegetables were quite good.
Finally, jus alpukat: “Blended avocado, sugar, condensed milk, and ice.” It was just as good as it sounds! Too late, I noticed that they also have jus durian—a durian milkshake! The dessert list also includes es teler (avocado, coconut, basil seeds, jackfruit, sugar palm fruit, grass jelly, milk, and ice), es cincau kelapa (cocopandan syrup, grass jelly, coconut meat, and milk), and es the lychee (black tea with lychee, sugar syrup, and ice)—among quite a few others.
8405 Queens Boulevard
Elmhurst, New York