Indonesian Food is a fascinating autobiographical cookbook which starts in 1939 when Sri Owen was a small girl. She has memories of food at her sister’s birthday party: boiled soya beans in their shells, which Sri now muses are an expensive starter at smart London restaurants. That says so much about our society!
Gus Filgate is the photographer for this remarkable volume. Any collector of fine cookbooks will know that he is recognised as one of the best. Indonesian Food has a chunky, square format which is attractive enough to be a high-end travelogue. The saffron-coloured, embossed cover encourages you to expect something special… and that’s just what you’ll get.
Sri Owen is rightly considered the Grande Dame of Indonesian Cooking. Her career has been broad-based to say the least. In the mid-1980s, she even ran a delicatessen from the shop below the flat in Wimbledon, southwest London, which she shared with her husband Roger. “Besides preparing food for the shop, I also supplied Harrods with several Indonesian dishes – the spicy paste sambal goreng, mini spring rolls, and my marinade for satay and barbecues. I ran the deli for three years. It was really hard work. I didn’t even have time to read.” That was a tragedy for a self-confessed bookaholic.
I confess that I am something of an Indonesian food debutante. It’s not that this is a cuisine that I have avoided but more that it’s not celebrated in the same fashion as, say, Indian, Thai or even Japanese. Sri has chosen recipes with care and uses ingredients that you’ll find in most well-stocked supermarkets or your local Asian food store, so you don’t have to be an experienced cook to tackle these dishes.
There are so many “must try” recipes here and Gado-Gado is included in that list. Sri notes “The best Gado-Gado, and I still remember it well, used to be sold at a warung in Jogyakarta, in a small alley not far from the main street, Malioboro. This was in 1960. For my fellow students and me, it was the main meal of the day.” This is a delicious preparation of vegetables and spicy peanut sauce. Healthy and full of flavour.
But, ooohh, the chapter on ice cream! I hadn’t considered ice cream as being popular in the east. A ridiculous oversight when I know that Indian kulfi is a lovely end to a sub-continental meal. Sri has some wonderful examples. Kaffir Lime Ice Cream and Coconut Ice Cream can both be made without going to the expense of buying an ice cream maker.
Indonesian Food isn’t a book to rush. Settle into your favourite comfy chair and read of Sri’s life, travels, tastes and experiences. Her writing is rich, charming and evocative and this is one of the most absorbing food-related books around.
Indonesian Food is, quite frankly, marvellous. Every recipe has impact, every picture is vibrant. Sri Owen has a warm and accessible style that makes this reading experience a joy.
Author: Sri Owen
Published by: Anova Books
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018