Culinary Explorations at JFFF 2015

Last Sunday, Jakarta Fashion & Food Festival 2015 (JFFF 2015) hosted by Mall Kelapa Gading and the Tourism Department of Jakarta finally came to a close – which is quite a good thing because if it were still open, I think I would end up with little to no money thanks to it.

JFFF had always been one of my quests for years, but thanks to one reason and another, I had never had the chance to explore and be a part of the festival. Fortunately, this year, I managed to venture the festival not just once, but twice. And as you may or may not have read from my Indonesia Fashion Week post, I am not keen about fashion so yes, this exploration will only tell you about my experience with the “Food” part of Jakarta Fashion & Food Festival.

This year’s theme for the food festival was Pelabuhan Sunda Kelapa (or Sunda Kelapa Harbor), which is taken from the name of the oldest harbor in Jakarta. Naturally, the decor of the festival would be somewhat vintage with designs inspired by the facade of buildings from the era when the harbor was still the main port of the city. However, I didn’t expect so many vibrant colors to be incorporated into the decor scheme which made the atmosphere very bright yet keeping that vintage element in it.

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Those hanging vintage plates!

I feel like the tone that the committee has set for the festival couldn’t have been more fitting to welcome summer into Jakarta. By day, all the booth’s colors were bright against the sunlight and exuded this “it’s-going-to-be-summer” soon vibe. During the evening, the lights came on and gave a calmer feel to the place, without losing its vibrancy and set this “summer nights” kind of mood.

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One thing I was really thankful for was the size of the area. In previous years, the festival was only centralized at one spot which turned trying to find an empty table to be a nightmare. However, the committee expanded the festival area this year until they had to relocate the parking lot for the sake of the festival which made it such a better experience.

The committee did great with the music choices as well, picking out old Betawi songs with a lot of tanjidor and keroncong sounds in them that couldn’t have been more fitting for the festival. One thing that did ruin this festival was the live music played at night. You see, just on the outside of the festival area, there’s a bar that has this stage where a band plays. Unfortunately, just because there was a vintage-themed festival going on, the bar won’t stop their band from playing Billboard hits. And so the old Betawi songs kept playing along with those Billboard hits – and they definitely clashed. It was just awful, that much going on for the ears. If the band hadn’t played or chose a set list from another time, it would have been better for the ears.

Anyway, let’s talk about the food now.

During the course of the festival, anyone who wished to dine in the area would have to get themselves a card which served as their “credit card” for the festival. It’s incredibly easy to get it: all we had to do was deposit some money at the counter for the card and that’s it. If there were still some balance in the card but we had decided to end our festival experience, we just had to go to any of the dozen counters around the festival area and get a refund.

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The aforementioned card

And so after we got the card, we just went in and started devouring our way through the festival, one meal at a time. Here are the things I ate throughout my experience at the festival:

1. Sup Kambing GNTM

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Tania got the Rice + Lamb Soup package for IDR32.000 – not a bad price considering the generous portion of the dish. The dish itself basically consisted of braised lamb, tomatoes, potatoes, cilantro, fried shallots all submerged in some broth.

Appearance-wise, the dish didn’t look too appetizing. I was reluctant to give it a try at first because I’d never had lamb prior to this experience. I’d heard that if not cooked properly, the meat of lamb can smell horrible and taste just as bad as it smells. But there weren’t any funny smells coming from the soup so I thought it had to be cooked well. Needless to say, I had a great experience eating lamb for the first time. The meat was savory and tender whereas the soup itself was a tad bit too salty but still quite enjoyable.

2. Bebek Kaleyo

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A fair warning before this part of the post: I’ve always hated duck. I don’t know about you but I hate how its texture is always a bit tough compared to other kinds of meat and I find the taste unappealing.

So when Gladys got a Crispy Duck Package for IDR30.000 and said “you have to try this!” to me, I wasn’t too keen about it. But then again, people have always said that Bebek Kaleyo cooks some of the best ducks in Jakarta so I thought that they could change my mind about duck. And for the first time in forever, I actually liked their duck.

They deep fried the duck in such a way that the texture was a bit like chicken meat which was tolerable for me. Their spices were not half bad either and I actually quite enjoyed my duck-eating experience.

3. Nasi Ungu & Sate Lilit

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I wanted to try this dish because I saw a lot of its pictures in Path and Instagram and thought that it looked quite unique. I mean purple rice, how the hell can that happen? So I decided to give it a try by getting this Purple Rice Package for IDR39.000. The price was a bit pricey considering the rice portion wasn’t exactly generous.

It turned out that the dish was basically regular rice cooked with sweet potato to turn it purple. The taste was a bit bland at first but as I went through more bites of the dish wasn’t half bad – though plain white rice still tasted better for me.

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There were two varieties of satay that came with the rice: wrap satay and your average chicken satay. The chicken satay was great because the spice mix that they coated it in had a bit of a sweet edge, like it was glazed in some sort of honey barbecue condiment or a mixture of peanut and brown sugar. The wrap satay, however, turned out to be quite a letdown because it was a bit bland and way under-seasoned compared the regular satay.

4. Es Cendol Elizabeth

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We got this drink for IDR10.000 and shared it and my, my was it a good drink to share.

Es Cendol Elizabeth is actually quite well-known here and their fame is well-deserved. It was a really great drink – a great mix of brown sugar and pops of coconut flavor here and there. Sometimes es cendol sellers can be quite annoying and add a bit more sugar than we would want them to, but this one had no such added stuff and tasted marvelous.

5. Es Khayangan

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Okay, you’re probably looking at the picture and are thinking “what’s that?”

I said the exact same thing to the seller when I got to his stall. It turned out that it was basically cantaloupes, kiwis, strawberries, apples, dragon fruits, mangoes doused in some milk and soursop mixture topped with some pink coconut syrup. I thought that sounded really refreshing for the heat of the day so I got it for IDR21.000. Quite expensive for a dessert, but the portion looked grand so I gave it a go.

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Components of the dessert

The portion was indeed really generous and things got overwhelming after a while. Good thing that it had a nice taste. The sweetness of the milk and syrup combined with the soursop gave a really good punch and just the right amount of tartness. The acidity was there without being overwhelming so when combined with the more acidic fruits such as dragon fruit and strawberries, that “kick” of acidity became balanced. The mixture was strange when you heard it at first but actually came together nicely.

The only thing I hated was the price and the size of it. I’d never had dessert that huge before so yeah, it was quite hard to finish the dish after main course.

6. Nasi Ulam Misjaya

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Please excuse the poor lighting

Presentation-wise, this dish wasn’t the most appetizing – I know. But as far as taste goes, it was my favorite one throughout the my JFFF experience.

The dish – which I got for IDR31.500 – was basically rice, omelette, dendeng (which is basically like sweet beef jerky), perkedel (basically deep-fried mashed potato with some ground beef and onions), rice vermicelli with crackers coated with a peanut-based condiment. All the elements of the dish tasted awesome.

The omelette was savory and very easy to slice in terms of texture, the dendeng balanced the savory flavors of the dish with its level of sweetness, the rice vermicelli was cooked well and not too salty (which a lot of people tend to do when it comes to cooking this – I don’t know why) and the condiment – oh my gosh, that spice mixture was awesome. It tasted a bit like a ketoprak‘s condiment which turned into this weird combo of savory and sweet but strangely, it worked out well. It was a highly Javanese dish in terms of flavor although the price was on the more expensive side for this kind of dish’s standards. There was literally a line of people forming to buy it and I applaud the people in the stall for serving them all so quickly.

A part of the Jakarta Fashion & Food Festival that I also explored was the Wine & Cheese Expo. It was basically a slice of heaven filled with a lot of European products and ingredients that came at a cheaper rate than the average market price, lots of wine, and lots of product testers.

There were so many free product testers on the occasion that my friends and I gave another name for our experience at the Wine & Cheese Expo: “Shameless Product Tasting”

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Being high school alumni with a limited range of monthly allowance, getting to taste a lot of expensive stuff for free, no matter how small the tester portion was, gave me this indescribable feeling of joy. A bit pathetic, I know.

There was this one booth at this festival that became my favorite because they sold a lot of products imported straight from Europe at such a low price and even sold things not available at the supermarket.

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CHEESE!
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Grana Padano aka Joe Bastianich’s favorite cheese
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These Croatian spreads were not available at the supermarket and only costed IDR45.000 here!
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The morels came at a price of IDR300.000. Excuse me while I faint.

The marketing staff was really friendly too and talked about all the products there so passionately and with great knowledge. When she noticed my camera, she pulled out the truffle oil and morels and said “Okay, you have to take a picture of these. These are the most expensive things that we have for sale.” We tried a good range of cheese at this booth from French to Italian and Dutch ones.

Here are some other highlights of the Wine & Cheese Expo for me.

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These came at IDR6.000 each
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Swiss chocolate, German chips, German ice cream. Cue Handel’s Hallelujah!
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Chicken, beef, and pork sausages
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Wine
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More wine
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A lot more wine. Didn’t try any though because I’m not a fan of it.
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These bars tasted fantastic and was made of natural ingredients!

All in all, JFFF 2015 turned out to be quite a great experience for me. The only unfortunate thing was that I hadn’t tried all the food in the festival but I will make it a personal goal of mine for next year’s festival. I congratulate the committee for doing such a fantastic job this year and hopefully, they’ll fix this year’s flaws and turn JFFF 2016 into something so much better than this year.

Can’t wait to come back here next year for more culinary explorations.

Ps: a huge thank you to Gladys & Tania for being my festival-venturing buddies for a day and giving ideas for this post. We should do this again!

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