Jakarta. Idul Fitri is tomorrow and what better way to celebrate it than by eating a big plate of ketupat, or rice cakes, with all the trimmings – opor (chicken curry), sambal goreng ati (spicy liver and gizzards stir fry) and the increasingly hard-to-find serundeng (fried coconut shavings)?
But where should you go to get ketupat opor if this year you choose to skip mudik – the annual exodus to celebrate Idul Fitri in your hometowns – and are stuck in Jakarta, where all the restaurants are closed?
We've checked out three places in Jakarta where you can get decent ketupat during Lebaran, two traditional fares and one a modern interpretation of this quintessential Lebaran dish. But first, why do we eat ketupat on Idul Fitri?
On its own, ketupat or kupat in Javanese, is boiled rice cake wrapped in palm leaves woven to create a diamond shape. Some say the shape resembles a compass and that it's a reminder for us to stick to our true north. Yes, the humble ketupat is actually our moral compass.
Its Javanese name kupat is also an abbreviation of "ngaku lepat" or to confess to one's wrongdoings. One of the traditions for Muslims in Java on Idul Fitri is to do the sungkem, crawling on all fours to ask for forgiveness from their elders.
Once they are forgiven, their sins from the past year are absolved and they are, so to speak, born again as good Muslims. This purity and innocence are symbolized by the gleaming white rice within the palm leaf wrappings.
1. Sate Khas Senayan
Sate Khas Senayan markets itself as your first stop for basic Indonesian food when you can't be bothered scouring Google Maps for a bonne addresse. It was founded in 1974 and has expanded to more than 50 locations in Indonesia. Until Lebaran ends, their special "Ketupat Campur" ("Mixed Rice Cakes") will stay on the menu.
The curry that the rice cakes are swimming in is more sweet than spicy, slightly creamy. Although the bowl has so many separate dishes in it, from chicken satay (skewers) to hard-boiled curried egg, empal (sweet and spicy fried beef), kentang ampela ati (sauteed potatoes with chicken livers and gizzards) and sayur lodeh (chayote cooked in coconut milk) – the taste is uniformly sweet.
At least the rice cakes are soft and melt in your mouth. This would classify as a beginner's ketupat dish, especially for those who cannot handle hot Indonesian spices.
Website: https://sarirasa.co.id/sks/ (please check which location is the most convenient for you)
2. Ketupat Ci Eng
This classic establishment, first opened in 1976, is still manned by its original owner Mr. Atong, a sprightly 65-year-old who constantly totters about his restaurant, taking orders from customers and picking up phone calls.
Atong and his wife Ci Eng opened the restaurant in Pancoran, near Jakarta's Chinatown, a year after they got married. They moved to their Kelapa Gading location in 2007.
Made to a secret recipe, the rice cakes here do not break as easily, as the rice grains have a bit of a chew on them. The ketupat is also quite flavorful even on its own.
The runny curry tastes strongly of coconut milk and perfectly complements the gurih (savory) side dishes – sayur lodeh, semur (soft braised beef, hard-boiled egg and tofu in a thick brown, sweet gravy) and plump pieces of chicken.
Each ketupat dish comes with garlic shrimp crackers that you can either dip into the coconut broth and eat like soggy cookies or submerge into the soup and eat in clumps with the rest of the dish.
On normal days, Atong and his staff make around 120 ketupat pieces. During Lebaran, they can make twice as much.
Ketupat Ci Eng is on Go-Food, so you can taste real homemade ketupat anytime you want.
Address: Jalan Boulevard Raya, Blok RA 1 No.32, Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta.
Contact: (021) 45840443 (available on Go-Food)
Elegant fusion Japanese restaurant Momozen in Central Jakarta manages to create the perfect harmony between Japanese and Indonesian cuisines with their Truffle Ketupat, only available for the month of June.
Shavings of summer truffle are added into a warm mushroom ragout, which is then stuffed into the center of the ketupat. The smell of the truffle gives the simple rice cake a touch of luxury.
You get to choose what kind of side dishes you want with your ketupat – an upmarket version of tucking into the opor buffet at your mum's house – braised chicken thighs with eggs and corns or an assortment of seafood (prawn, salted egg fish skin, imitation crab stick, fried halibut "tempura").
Executive chef Hiromi Mizushima has been in the food business for 27 years. He learned the arts of traditional Japanese cooking in his hometown of Gifu.
"Traditional Japanese food does not include ramen, gyudon or tonkotsu," he smirked.
Hiromi is only too happy to stick to traditions, and this shows clearly in his cooking.
His balado spice mixture, which can be found on the egg and shrimp, is not for the weak. For a fusion place, Momozen does not skimp on the spice.
"I actually can't eat spicy food, but I want to follow Indonesian culture and taste," Hiromi said.
The hard-boiled egg, though encrusted with familiar Padang-style spices, is cooked in the traditional Japanese low-temperature way that produces onsen tamago (hot spring eggs).
The highlight of the dish is when your server pours the warm sauces simultaneously, one side the Japanese curry and the other side the cream sauce. This curry is quite watery, as the chef wants to emulate the light curries that accompany traditional rice cake dishes.
The cream sauce is made with vegetable stock and konbu (kelp), which gives it a natural sweetness, almost like sweet corn soup.
Momozen is known as the "Truffle House," so the Japanese chef uses European mushrooms, especially truffles, liberally. Hiromi said truffles actually taste quite similar to mastake, a type of fragrant mushroom found in Japan.
Address: Altitude - The Plaza 46th floor. Jalan M.H. Thamrin, Central Jakarta.
Contact: (021) 29922246