Sky Cafe—Sumatran Food in Elmhurst

Nasi putih uduk empal

The smudged lime-green walls at Sky Cafe suggest a tropical languor, as if you had just stepped into a village where all the restaurants are family-owned and and decorated to evoke the cheerful palm fronds and bamboo groves outdoors. Sky Cafe is in fact a family run business, but there is nothing languorous about it (unless it is the rather thick syllables of Indonesian conversation going on at every table; Indonesian syllables, like those of Tagalog, strike me as resembling the sounds of big bubbles bursting). There are usually two people on hand (children and other relatives of the owner), and when business picks up, they keep food coming to tables with remarkable efficiency.

Tonight I ordered nasi putih uduk empal. This, the waitress said, was rice and beef wrapped in a banana leaf. It was brought to me neatly wrapped in paper tied with a rubber band. Inside the banana leaf were hunks of spicy redang beef, spicy hard-boiled egg, wedges of braised jackfruit, fried patties of mashed potatoes, cucumbers, boiled rice, and anchovies, all folded in a large banana leaf. The redang beef pulled apart along the muscle fibers, like boiled beef in a stew, and was slightly tough—very like the redang beef at Upi Jaya, but a bit softer. (I have seen reviews on Yelp criticizing Upi Jaya for its tough redang, but I believe this is considered desirable in Sumatra.) This is a wonderful dish, bringing together subtle and potent spices, as well as hints of sweetness.

Longtong sayur

This was my second trip to Sky Cafe; I went earlier this week, and ordered longtong sayur. The basic elements of lontong sayur, which is generally considered a breakfast dish, are Indonesian rice cakes (lontong), tofu or tempeh, and a hard-boiled egg in a soup of curried coconut milk with sambal (a seasoning made with chilies and shrimp paste). At Sky Cafe, lontong sayur is prepared with a juicy hunk of beef rendong and assorted nuts and vegetables. It is topped with what I believe are krupuk kemplang—fish crackers.

The lontong are soft and delicious. Traditionally they are made by boiling pre-cooked rice in a permeable container, often a banana leaf that has been rolled around the rice. The boiled rice forms a soft mass. To me, it is indistinguishable from the nasi impit (Malaysian rice cake) that Taste Good puts in rojak, though supposedly nasi impit is supposed to be compressed in some way. The lontong cylinder is cut into discs, and these are then quartered, yielding bite-size wedges.

Lontong are a very satisfying base for a meal, but the real excitement is in the spices. Just a sip of the coconut milk bursts with flavor from a wide range of spices, slightly hot and exceedingly savory. The beef redang is soft and burns with its own low fire of Arabic spices. The nuts and the egg mix wonderfully with these flavors.


Both nights I followed dinner with a shaved ice drink. The first night I had es teler. This is similar to Filipino halo-halo. It consists of sweetened coconut milk with shaved ice, with avocado and jackfruit, along with other fruits and beans and tapioca pearls.

Tonight I had es sekoteng medan. This is also a shaved ice drink, but it is a little sour, like a weaker version of lemonade. The sourness appears to come from boiled, fermented orange peels that sit, blood red, at the bottom of the drink. It also has green jello, lychees, and supposedly barley, although I could not find any barley in mine. This is a good drink for a hot day, although perhaps it is a mistake to call it a dessert.

Sky Cafe
8620 Whitney Ave
Elmhurst, NY 11373
Thurs-Tues, 11:00am-9:30PM
Closed Wednesdays

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