Kenangan, Melbourne

Where: Kenangan, 507 Elizabeth Street Melbourne

What: Another excellent addition to the burgeoning list of Indonesian restaurants in Melbourne

Who: Marvelling Mardian (formerly known as Indo Food Bud)

Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach

One of the rare joys of lockdown was discovering ghost kitchens, many of them Indonesian and Malaysian, who delivered serotonin-boosting parcels of food across Melbourne. I tried the roti jala and beef rendang of Suka Suka Kitchen, the nasi campur of Jaen Jumah and the fried chicken of Ayam Goreng Borneo. In a time of flux, uncertainty and grief, it was such a balm to eat familiar dishes that evoked the flavours of home (that I didn’t have to recreate myself, it must be said, having tired of cooking by the time Melbourne’s second of seven or whatever lockdowns had rolled around). One of these ghost kitchens I never got a chance to try was Kenangan, but thankfully it has set up permanent premises from 5–9pm in the same space that operates as Meet Sando by day.

Indonesian food isn’t suddenly ‘in vogue’, in the way the food of 273 million people can’t be reduced to a passing fad, but the sheer number of packed out Indonesian restaurants in Melbourne speaks to its ever-growing popularity with non-Indonesians. Malaysian food and Indonesian food share some common dishes, like rendang and sate, but I’ve learnt so much more about the intricacies of different regional variations of Indonesian food upon living in Melbourne, for which I’m very thankful.

Unlike Warung Agus and Makan which specialise in Balinese food, Kenangan serves up dishes from across Indonesia. I visited with Marvelling Mardian who, like Prince, has undergone a rebrand after our mutual friend tried to transfer her money and had her full name autocorrect to Marvelling Mardian, which is a great nickname I’ve decided to use as her blog moniker.

Marvelling Mardian had visited before and noted that despite the 5pm open time, dishes often sold out quite early and so we found the sate lilit was unavailable. We opted instead for eight skewers of sate ayam bumbu kacang (chicken satay with a peanut sauce) to share, but had optimistically overestimated how much we could eat alongside our mains and Marvelling Mardian ended up taking half of this home.

However many skewers I did manage to fit in were deliciously saucy, with glimmers of sweetness from the pooled kecap manis and meat that was tender and moist.

I ordered the nasi balado because fried chicken, a fried boiled egg and fried eggplant covered in hot sambal is a match made in heaven. Indonesia is home to numerous permutations of sambals, but sambal balado is native to the Padang cuisine in West Sumatra, with ‘lado’ translating to mean ‘chilli’ in the local Minang dialect. While sambal is commonly served as a condiment on the side, balado has main character energy – it’s commonly blanketed over eggplant, eggs, chicken, prawns, squid, clams, dendeng (thinly sliced Indonesian beef jerky), potatoes, you name it. Sambal balado comprises shallots, garlic, red chilli, tomato, key lime, sugar and makrut lime leaves – a combination which is typically pounded in a mortar and pestle and stir-fried until fragrant.

Kenangan’s nasi balado was exquisite – the sambal balado was spicy, but not so heat-filled that you lost sight of the complex flavours underpinning it and its fragrant aroma. The quarter chicken had skin so crisp it was glistening, despite being doused in sambal, and the skin-on wedges of eggplant had clearly been flash-fried in oil that was just hot enough – they didn’t become soggy, which is commonly what happens to eggplant chips I order at pubs. The hard-boiled egg had been deep-fried until its skin turned a thin crisp layer of golden brown and, contrary to what I thought, hadn’t been breaded like a scotch egg, which allowed it to retain its lightness.

Each of the elements in this dish was tantamount to a main dish – ayam (chicken) balado, terong (eggplant) balado, and telur (egg) balado – so to have them all together was a treat.

As tasty as my dish was, it looked visually homogenous when compared to Marvelling Mardian’s nasi campur Bali, a colourful medley of shredded plecing chicken, urap (Balinese side salad), crisp chicken skin and sate lilit (guess they were saving all their sate lilit for this dish!). Marvelling Mardian had missed out on this dish numerous times before as Kenangan had always sold out, so was very happy to have it on this occasion.

Nasi campur is the best thing to order if you want a taste of everything. Nasi campur differs according to where it’s prepared, diverse as the Indonesian archipelago itself and a commonplace thing to eat as Indonesians, and broadly Southeast Asians, love to eat steamed rice surrounded by multiple different dishes. Although the Balinese version is the most internationally famous one, there are many other variations. In Java, nasi campur is called nasi rames and includes fried noodles. In major cities with significant Chinese populations such as Jakarta, nasi campur can include an assortment of barbecued meats such as char siew, crispy roast pork and pork sate.

To contextualise the various elements of Kenangan’s nasi campur: plecing chicken is native to Lombok, an Indonesian island that shares cultural heritage with the neighbouring Bali on its west. In this dish, chicken is sliced, baked, marinated in a plecing sambal of tomatoes, ground red chillies, bird’s eye chilli, shallots, garlic, and shrimp paste, after which it’s finally grilled. Plecing sambal is most traditionally served with kangkung (water spinach) in Lombok and Bali.

Originating from Java, urap is an Indonesian salad that is besmirched by its mere association to salad. It’s far more interesting – steamed vegetables like spinach, bean sprouts, green beans and cabbage are tossed together with a spiced grated coconut dressing that has makrut lime leaves, tamarind, ginger, lemongrass and galangal. It’s commonly served as a side dish in Javanese tumpeng (a cone-shaped rice dish surrounded by Javanese preparations of vegetables and meat) or nasi kuning (turmeric rice).

Sate lilit might be familiar to those who have either been to Bali or frequented the many Balinese restaurants in Melbourne. Unlike the chicken sate that we ordered as an entrée where chicken is pierced and threaded on to a skewer, ground meat is wrapped and pressed around a lemongrass skewer in sate lilit, with the lemongrass imparting an aroma on to the chicken when it’s grilled over fiery coals. Minced fish, shrimp, pork, beef and duck can be utilised, but Kenangan used ground chicken and a bamboo skewer instead.

Marvelling Mardian knew what to expect from the nasi campur, being Indonesian herself, and thought each component of the dish was expertly prepared. Because Kenangan’s nasi campur was Balinese, it had its famous raw sambal (sambal matah), which gave it a pleasant level of spice, but one which Marvelling Mardian thought wouldn’t be suitable for people who couldn’t handle their heat. As a point of comparison, she thought it was better than YOI’s nasi Bali.

In a comical turn of events, dining outside on the footpath surrounding Kenangan on a weeknight meant we were treated to at least ten minutes of a street sweeper’s roaring machine as they cleaned Vic Market and the areas surrounding it, so if you’re less likely to enjoy such ambient sounds, perhaps choose to dine indoors.

Marvelling Mardian and I enjoyed every dish we had at Kenangan and as I’m fond of saying, I can’t wait to return! The excess amounts of FODMAP-rich sambal consumed meant it was a three-bloat time so next time, I may opt either for the nasi campur Bali, one of the sotos (a traditional Indonesian broth) or the mie goreng. So many options!!

Kenangan is open Tuesday to Saturday 5pm to 9pm.

Author: Sonia Nair

Sonia Nair is a Melbourne-based food writer who persists with her love of everything deep fried and spicy, despite being diagnosed with a histamine intolerance and lactose intolerance after incorrectly thinking she was fructose-intolerant for several years.

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