Where: YOI Indonesian Fusion, 1/155 Franklin Street Melbourne
What: The first time I’ve had a sweet martabak
Who: Doc Baker, Pun-Drunk Lover, Mr Whatever Floats Your Bloat, Resident Photographer, Conflicted Pescatarian
Bloat score: 5 – So full of gas I floated home like a hot air balloon
We stumbled upon YOI quite by accident the first time we visited – Mr Whatever Floats Your Bloat and I were meeting Doc Baker, our medical professional friend who would rather be a cake connoisseur, and Pun-Drunk Lover, who loves a good pun as much as he loves a good drink, in the city for a banana leaf meal at Roti Bar. Unfortunately, Roti Bar wasn’t open when we visited – despite me having made a booking! I was very cross – so when Doc Baker suggested new (at the time) Indonesian place YOI, I jumped at the chance to atone for my mistakes.
YOI was packed that first time and has been packed every single time since that I’ve visited. We visited in the warmer months of 2020 post-lockdown 2.0 so outdoor seating was aplenty and QR code ordering was in vogue which, as luck would have it, won’t be that different to the end of 2021. A family-run business, YOI has quintessential Indonesian dishes like mie goreng, nasi goreng and rendang, but also a selection of Japanese like gyutan don, chicken katsu curry and chicken teriyaki. Indonesian riffs on traditionally Chinese dishes like siomay – an Indonesian steamed fish dumpling with vegetables – and salted egg yolk dishes feature too. The menu is eclectic and broad.
After careful consideration, I went for the mie goreng sambal matah ($13) – fried noodles with special Balinese sambal and chicken, served with egg. Mie goreng connotes any yellow egg noodles, really, but YOI used everyone’s favourite instant noodles, Indomie, albeit in a much more jazzed up preparation than the 2am version you whip up for yourself while drunk. If you think I’m silly for ordering instant noodles at a restaurant, you’re (respectfully) wrong.
Sambal matah, which translates to mean ‘raw sambal’, is a famous Balinese condiment made exclusively with raw ingredients – namely lemongrass stalks, shallots, garlic, makrut lime leaves, chilli and, occasionally, shrimp paste which are diced, combined and spooned over with hot sizzling oil. It’s eaten with everything, from grilled seafood and fried chicken, and is distinctive for its fresh piquancy.
My noodles had a satisfying level of heat, and the chicken was thinly sliced and well interspersed with the sambal, but I found the concentration of flavours uneven across the bowl of noodles. I’m guessing YOI used two packets of Indomie instead of one, which brings us to a commonly faced dilemma – one packet of Indomie is too little, but two packets are far too much (1.5 packets is the magic number).
Pun-Drunk Lover ordered the nasi goreng kampung ($15) – fried rice with special chilli and chicken – and this was my favourite main meal of the night.
Not all fried rices are created equal and my favourites are a toss-up between nasi goreng kampung, yung chow fried rice, laksa fried rice and kimchi fried rice. In nasi goreng kampung, which translates to mean ‘village fried rice’, rice is cooked with a chilli pasta comprising bird’s eye chilli, shallots, garlic and belacan (shrimp paste) and tossed with kangkung (water spinach), long beans, and crisp deep-fried ikan bilis (anchovies), resulting in a dish teeming with umami. YOI’s nasi goreng kampung hit the mark, especially when coupled with a glistening fried egg and kerupuk (deep-fried crackers).
Doc Baker enjoyed her Balinese rice ($18.50) – rice with ayam betutu topped with fried chicken skin, half-boiled eggs, nuts and Balinese vegetables. She ordered it with a side of YOI’s famed salted egg fried chicken.
‘Betutu’ is the Balinese term for the rich, aromatic spices and herbs that ayam betutu is marinated it – it includes shallots, candlenuts, garlic, ginger, makrut lime leaves, shrimp leaves, turmeric and galangal. The betutu spice paste is sauteed with coconut oil to release its aroma and used to marinate the whole chicken, which is stuffed with cassava leaves and then wrapped in banana leaves before being steamed and/or grilled. Bebek betutu is the duck version. Both dishes are reserved for festive occasions or temple ceremonies and differ in preparation according to which region of Bali they’re cooked in, but also happen to be one of the more known dishes by tourists.
If the dual poultry combination of ayam betutu and the fried chicken skin wasn’t enough to defeat Doc Baker, the salted egg fried chicken certainly was. As this piece that I linked to in my last blog post deftly highlights, salted egg – whose origins lie in China – has long been a local, traditional condiment in Malaysian cuisine and the same goes for Indonesian cuisine. YOI’s salted egg fried chicken was as the best salted egg-marinated things are – rich, silky and most of all, caused you to feel slightly ‘jelak’ (as we say in Malay).
If you don’t know Mr Whatever Floats Your Bloat’s origin story as a meat eater after 14 years of vegetarianism, let’s just say it started with a Kajang satay stall in Malaysia, so it’s not surprising he made a beeline for the chicken satay ($15) – grilled chicken satay served with steamed rice and peanut sauce – at YOI. Although he enjoyed it enough, Doc Baker and Pun-Drunk Lover who ordered it as a side thought it was one of the weaker dishes of the night.
The salted egg fries ($9.90) were unanimously popular among everyone. To draw on a hackneyed phrase, they were the perfect blend of ‘east meets west’, with shoestring fries doused in a salted egg seasoning that was as moreish as it was indulgent.
Equally popular was the tempe mendoan ($6.50), thin rectangular slabs of deep-fried battered tempe. Tempe mendoan is a snack that originates from the central Javanese city of Purwokerto. In the Banyumasan dialect of Javanese that’s spoken in Purwokerto, among other cities, ‘mendo’ means half-cooked – referring to the batter which is flash-fried until crisp and the tempe within that stays soft. The rice flour in the spiced batter is the secret ingredient that gives tempe mendoan its crispness.
By this point, we were stuffed to our gills but Pun-Drunk Lover, ever the enabler, convinced us to order the pandan sweet martabak ($15.50) as a dessert. Martabak – or murtabak as it’s known in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Yemen – is a stuffed folded pancake (the word ‘mutabbaq’ in Arabic means ‘folded’). I’d only ever tasted savoury martabak stuffed with beaten eggs, chopped onions and mutton or chicken in Malaysia, but sweet martabak is incredibly popular in Indonesia and YOI is the first restaurant in Melbourne to serve it. Though they have the same name, sweet and savoury martabak couldn’t be more different. Upon further reading (and this will only mean something to fellow Malaysian readers), sweet martabak is known as apam balik in Malaysia, and that is a childhood snack I grew up with. Same dish, different names.
Sweet martabak is made in heavy-bottomed circular cast-iron pans where the pancake rises until fluffy and soft while the bottom browns, after which it’s cut in half and one crescent is folded on top of the other side. Tapioca flour is incorporated to give the pancake some elasticity and chewiness, and generous drizzles of butter, ground peanuts, cheese and condensed milk are included alongside the toppings – making this an incredibly rich dish.
With YOI’s sweet pandan martabak, you can choose two or more fillings of your choice and we opted for Nutella and kaya (pandan coconut jam for the uninitiated) out of a selection that included peanuts, chocolate sprinkles, cheese and oreos. Because it was a pandan martabak, the thick and pillowy doorstopper pancakes were a lurid green, and because of the fillings we chose, oozing with the thick caramel goodness of kaya. This almost single-handedly catapulted me to a five-bloat status then and there, and I had to recover afterwards with multiple cups of peppermint tea.
This blog post might’ve stopped here, but I visited YOI a second time in quick succession with Resident Photographer and Conflicted Pescatarian.
Remembering Pun-Drunk Lover’s nasi goreng kampung from the last time I visited, I ordered it this time for myself. It was delicious, but not as good because I had a whole plate to myself? Nothing tastes as good as food you’ve stolen off someone else. What was novel this time was the robot waitstaff who served my dish to me! I was highly perplexed, as Resident Photographer captured in this shot of me – I have always been a late adopter of technology.
Resident Photographer ordered the nasi padang rendang ($14.50). In light of the 2018 fiasco surrounding MasterChef UK where a Malaysian-born contestant was eliminated because her chicken rendang wasn’t ‘crispy’ enough, I’m going to explain what rendang is, as well-known a dish as it is.
Beef rendang is a traditional dry curry dish that originated with the Minangkabau people of Indonesia but has since spread to Malaysia and Singapore. It’s spiced with turmeric, galangal, ginger and lemongrass, and the beef can be substituted with chicken or lamb. What unites all rendangs is the ground toasted coconut (or kerisik in Malay) that underpins the dish as well as the fact that the meat should never be crispy – only soft and fall-apart tender after it’s been slow-cooked over a low heat for hours.
Resident Photographer loved his nasi padang rendang, which looked slightly different to the photo on YOI’s menu, where the egg appears hard-boiled and halved instead of how it was served in a light yellow coconut gravy.
Conflicted Pescatarian stuck to his pescatarianism on this occasion and ordered the squid ink salted egg noodles ($18), which saw YOI borrowing the squid ink pasta of Italy’s coastal regions, subbing the pasta out for egg noodles, and cooking them aglio olio style topped with salted egg sauce and fried calamari. As explained, salted egg is ubiquitous in Indonesia, but this was Conflicted Pescatarian’s first time trying it. He loved it.
We ordered the greatest hits of my first visit too – the tempe mendoan and the salted egg fries.
YOI had squeezed us on to a communal indoors table with great difficulty but because they hadn’t told us a time to leave by, we figured it was fine to order dessert. No sooner had we ordered than a waitstaff (not the robot) came up to us and told us we’d have to vacate because our table had an 8pm reservation. We were told we could sit on a rickety table outside to eat our dessert, but only for 15 minutes because that table was reserved too. In the depths of winter, mind you.
Of course, we’d ordered the exact same dessert I’d enjoyed previously – the pandan sweet martabak. Conflicted Pescatarian was blown away by this, but Resident Photographer slightly preferred the plain martabak he’d ordered during a previous visit. I liked it just as much as I did the first time, while recognising this was going to make me very sick. Plenty of peppermint tea was again consumed immediately afterwards.
As Resident Photographer observed, it’s impossible to leave YOI without feeling super ill – is it because we’d each ordered a main, two entrees to share and a mammoth dessert? Maybe. But I’d do it all over again, rickety outdoors table and everything! Even perusing the expansive YOI menu to write this blog post has had me salivating and hankering to visit now that we’re able to.
YOI Indonesian Fusion is open Monday to Thursday from 11am to 9pm and Friday to Sunday from 11am to 9.30pm.