Last year over 1.2 million Australians visited Indonesia for holiday, making it the second most popular tourist destination after New Zealand. An agreeable climate, exotic culture and rich cuisine are just a few reasons attracting us to this enchanting south-east Asian country.   This year the Taste of Indonesia festival returns to Shangri-la Sydney from August 16 to 26, offering Sydneysiders another opportunity to sample traditional Indonesian dishes without leaving home.

Having been to the Taste of Indonesia 2017 event last year, we were delighted to see many new dishes and the welcome return of the seafood station. With so many mouth-watering options to indulge in, our only word of advice is – pace yourself. You don’t want to miss out on any hot dishes, seafood or desserts, so go easy on the portions and save room for a bit of everything.

The best-known Indonesian dish is probably Rendang when meat is slowly cooked in spices and coconut milk. The dish can be tracked back to 16th century in the the area of West Sumatra and has spread to many corners of South East Asia. In 2011 Rendang was chosen as No. 1 dish of “World’s 50 Most Delicious” by CNN International online poll. In 2018 Rendang was officially recognised as one of the five national dishes of Indonesia. So it’s no surprise that guest chefs from Shangri-la Surabaya chose Rendang Sapi (Beef Rendang) as one of the signature main dishes for the buffet this year.

Staying true to the Indonesian spirit, other four national dishes make appearances at the buffet as well. Sate Ayam (Satay Chicken) had us back for seconds; surprisingly the skewers were not drenched in satay sauce as normally seen and the chicken was not the distinct yellow colour. Instead it was dark brown and the flavours came from a sweet and savoury marinade known as Kecap Manis with a hint of chilli. We didn’t miss the creamy peanut butter sauce at all, for us the sweet soy flavour was definitely a superior version of the charcoal grill.

We first experienced Soto when we stayed at Belmond Jimbaran Puri in Bali. Soto means ‘broth’ and is usually served with Ayam meaning chicken. At the buffet, guests can choose different vegetables and condiments to make the soup to their liking.   A huge pile of krupuk udang (prawn crackers) in different colours is placed next to the soup; it is a popular snack in Indonesia and we enjoyed it with our Soto Ayam.   Needless to say, Soto is also one of the five national dishes of Indonesia.

Despite our best effort to steer away from filling food such as rice and noodles, we made three trips back to load up on Nasi Goreng – fried rice with chicken, prawns, vegetables, shallots and red chilli in soy sauce. There is a distinct fragrant aroma when fried rice is prepared in a large wok over raging flame, something that very hard to recreate at home. This humble rice dish is one of the most consumed dishes in Indonesia and a good benchmark to test the quality of restaurants.

The last thing you would expect me to eat at a buffet is salad and, unprecedentedly, I returned to the table with a plate of salad. This was no ordinary salad though, but the national dish of Indonesia – Gado Gado. With the assistance from an Indonesian staff who corrected me when I poured wrong dressing to the salad, I assembled my own Gado Gado chosen from a variety of ingredients on display. Hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, fried tofu, green beans and lettuce leaves are all essential to make a classic Gado Gado, finishing with a generous drizzle of peanut butter sauce.

Indonesia is a country of spices as well as chilli, the latter is widely used in cooking from breakfast to dinner. Udang Balado is prawns in spicy red chilli sauce while Cumi Masak Cabe Hijau is squid in spicy green chilli sauce. We enjoyed the sweet prawns and managed the mild heat, but surrendered to the green chilli squid. It’s a good way to build up one’s heat tolerance level though.

Amongst the less known dishes, we tasted lamb curry, steamed fish, and Bebek Betutu, Balinese duck cooked with lemongrass dressing. The yellow colour suggests turmeric in the marinade sauce and the aromatic lemongrass brings all the spices together.

The festival is a celebration of Indonesian cuisine and any celebration requires champagne and sweets. Before we headed to the hot dishes, we lined our stomach with a couple of shots of oysters washed down with a glass of bubbles. Between each main dish, we also found room to devour a couple of sweet large cooked prawns while sipping on more champagne.

Anna Poyviou’s Fig and Strawberry cheesecake and petite desserts are another reason why we love the Taste series at the Shangri-La. We even contemplating starting the buffet with desserts so that we didn’t miss any of them!  

Taste of Indonesia takes place at Cafe Mix from 16th August until 26th August. Lunch is available from 12PM to 2.30PM and dinner from 6PM to 9.30PM. Priced at $65 per person and $32.50 per child Sunday – Thursday and $85 per person and $42.50 per child Friday – Saturday.

Taste of Indonesia
Cafe Mix, Shangri-La Hotel Sydney
176 Cumberland Street, Sydney NSW
Phone:(02) 9250 6000
Web: shangri-la.com/sydney/shangrila/offers/details/dining/taste-of-indonesia

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Sarah's weekdays are spent immersed in the hectic and ruthless corporate world but her weekends and evenings are dedicated to pursuing her true passion: food. Equally comfortable in a three-hat fine dining restaurant or a pop-up, hole-in-the-wall eatery, Sarah tries to satisfy her obsession for all things culinary with a never-ending quest to seek out the newest and most exciting dishes in Sydney. She has also travelled extensively across Europe and Asia and the first part of any trip-planning is, of course, in-depth research into the local food specialities. This globe-trotting has led to a fascination with a great variety of cuisines - from Shanghaiese dumplings to modern Australian seafood, from Turkish Gözleme to Yorkshire puddings. If there is a new restaurant or dish on the scene, Sarah won't be far away!