by Maria Cristina Obordo
A gracious chef, a beautiful home, and a cornucopia of tastes from nature’s garden started us off on a journey of discovery of Manadonese Cuisine. This immersion in new flavors heightened my appreciation of the Indonesian experience.
The first thing that I noticed about Petty Elliott was her immaculate attire and perfect presentation. She looked every inch a chef, donning a crisp white shirt and black pants, a light blue apron, and neatly tied hair. A gracious and well-spoken lady, she embodies the modern Indonesian – proud of her heritage and trailblazing the way towards modernizing Indonesian cuisine.
Author of two cookbooks “Papaya Flower” and “Contemporary Indonesian Food”, Petty is a busy chef and mother of two. She contributes to the Miele Guide, writes for the Now Jakarta magazine and the Jakarta Globe newspaper, and promotes modern Indonesian cuisine during her collaborations with chefs from topnotch restaurants and five star hotels. No wonder her cooking classes prove very popular, with her numerous achievements and celebrity chef status.
Her home serves as the gorgeous setting of her culinary creations. It seems to reflect her personality and passion. Infused with light and a sense of order and tranquility, her welcoming abode radiates from her open plan kitchen, which is located in the center and clearly the heart and starting point of many happy (and satisfying) days.
For our group, it commenced at 9:45am, when Petty led us on a journey of discovery by presenting and discussing the chillies, fresh herbs, roots, leaves, vegetables and spices that are used in Manado cuisine. Just one look at the basket and one gets the idea that Manado cooks make use of the freshest of ingredients.
Mention Manado food and Indonesians will immediately tell you it is the spiciest in Indonesia. I can attest to that perception after having endured and then liked the spice hit during a meal at Beautika, a favorite Manadonese restaurant. An example of an extremely spicy viand is Ayam Rica-Rica, a traditional chicken dish in which the weight of the chillies, shallots and ginger comprised half of the weight of the dish. It is thus befitting that Petty began by pointing out the chillies and stating their spiciness level.
Petty mentioned some of the commonly used fresh ingredients:
Chillies (Manadonese cabe);
Ginger (Jahe, Galangal, Kencur, Temu Kunci and Turmeric-Kunyit);
Limes (Jeruk Nipis, Jeruk Limo, Lemong Cui or Kalamansi in the Philippines);
Nuts (almonds-Kacang Kenari, candlenut-Kemiri, and black nut-Kalauwak);
Leaves and herbs (aromatic basil-Kemanggi, kaffir leaves-Daun Jeruk Limo; Mint-Daun Min, Turmeric Leaf-Daun Kunyit);
Dry Spices (cloves-Cengkeh; nutmeg-Pala, coriander-Ketumbar, cinnamon-Kayu Manis; black peper)
Stems (lemongrass-Sereh, spring onion-Bawang Mudah, and young bamboo shoots-Bamboo Muda)
Dried Beans (Mung-Kacang Hijau, and Kidney-Kacang Merah)
Fruits and flowers: (Papaya flower-Bunga Papaya, Tamarind-Asam Jawa)
Coconut-kelapa and coconut cream-Santan
Tomato, which is present in almost every dish
Shallots (Bawang Merah) and Garlic (Bawang Putih)
Palm sugar (Gula Aren)
Food from Manado differs from regional fare because of the use of pork (majority of its people are Christians) and enduring Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch influences. Bountiful fresh produce in its gardens created a fresh and flavorful cuisine that continues to evolve with the times. Petty promotes the use of healthier and simpler cooking techniques in her classes and recipes. She taught us three distinctive dishes that represented the region’s cooking: Corn Cakes with Dabu-Dabu, Manado Tomato Salsa (starter), Ayam Wokublanga or Spicy Chicken Stew (main) and Hot Almond Bananas (dessert).
The Corn Cakes are patties of corn kernels, minced garlic and shallots, shredded lime leaves and finely chopped spring onions that are dipped in a batter of egg, salt, pepper, corn flour and fresh flour and then deep fried until golden brown. Served with tomato salsa, a concoction of minced shallots, red chillies, lime juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and torn mint leaves, the crunchy texture of the cakes and the citrusy and slightly spicy taste of the salsa delivers an unforgettably refreshing punch.
I think the Spicy Chicken Stew, cooked with 15 different ingredients defined the Manadonese experience. Chicken portions were stewed in infused broth with a sautéed paste made of ginger, galangal, turmeric,turmeric leaves, red chillies, shallots, garlic, candlenuts, lemon grass stalks, spring onions, pandan leaves, tomatoes, lime leaves, basil leaves, lime juice, salt and pepper. Rich in flavor yet simplistic in taste because the ingredients are not competing in the palate, this colorful, light, fresh and spicy dish is best enjoyed with Nasi Kuning or Yellow Rice, which is rice cooked in coconut cream, turmeric, ginger and lemongrass.
If there is an Indonesian dessert that exemplifies “simple is beautiful”, it is the Hot Almond Bananas. Ripe bananas fried in butter; topped with roasted almonds, coconut cream and palm sugar that is boiled with water until the liquid changes into the consistency of honey, could not be topped. It is a divine dish that is so easy to make.
These three dishes plus the yellow rice and vegetable dish (Long Beans and Sweetcorn with chillies and garlic) served during our lunch left an indelible impression that Manadonese cuisine tastes superbly fresh and delectable, like a cornucopia of nature’s fresh produce.
A week later I cooked the three dishes and served them to my family who can’t eat spicy food. They enjoyed the meal tremendously, proving that Manadonese food doesn’t have to be punishingly spicy to be enjoyed. It’s naturally rich yet simple flavors evoke the refreshing feel of nature’s playgrounds: verdant hills, rice paddies, shimmery seas, and beautiful gardens.