>> Upi Jaya | Eat the World NYC

13 November 2008

Upi Jaya


There are many reasons why the borough of Queens is so amazing, and on this late August Sunday, Indonesian goodness was the proof. First we spent a short 15 minutes or so at the Al-Hikmah Indonesian Mosque in Astoria, perusing the sweets, finger foods, and ready-made lunches served to happy patrons, who must miss the food from home very much. My Indonesian friend left the simple "food bazaar" with a bag full of things to take home. I could not leave empty handed, and picked up some lemper ayam, sticky rice and shredded chicken wrapped in a banana leaf, and a couple pastel, which could have been mistaken for any number of Latin American country's empanadas. After we were satisfied, it was time for the 45 minute walk to Elmhurst, and Upi Jaya, our destination for the day.

After the warm trek, we met up with three more friends to explore the menu here as best we could.

The first item to our table was the beautiful tahu goreng ($2.50, above), a fried tofu that only came alive when eaten with the accompanying hot green chili peppers. This simple dish is a favorite of school children for lunches, and cooked by food vendors outside. Shortly after, came the fried chickens, a favorite of our friend. Both the ayam goreng padang ($6.50, below, left), and ayam goreng kalasan ($6.75, below, right) were certainly tasty, but did not set Indonesia above or apart from any number of other fried chicken varieties. The spiced sauce that arrived with them was the most interesting, and probably different for each restaurant and cook.

Three of us could not say no to the delightful sounding es campur ($3, above), a collection of shaved ice, palm fruit, jackfruit slices, and shredded coconut. After our appetizers settled a bit, our main selections arrived first with the sayur daun singkong ($5.75, not pictured), a curry-like coconut milk based dish that went excellently with the rice. The sauce was pleasantly tangy and delicious enough that the five of us were fighting for the last portions left in the bowl. We had earlier decided to "splurge" on the ikan pepes ($18, below), a red snapper that required special time to prepare, but was worth the time and wait. Its green chili marinade was delicious, although I might ask for it to be cooked slightly less next time.

Our final dish was the gado gado ($6.50, below), which was initially forgotten by our server, but added at our insistence. An Indonesian staple for sure, it is one of my favorite dishes, and this version did not disappoint. The peanut sauce was milder than normal, but had layer after layer of taste inside.

I look forward to returning to try some of the other interesting items on the menu, and omitting the fried chickens to make room for something more exotic and new, especially the soups.

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