>> Warung Selasa at Indo Java Groceries | Eat the World NYC

03 January 2018

Warung Selasa at Indo Java Groceries


[UPDATE 08 NOVEMBER 2019: We wrote up a piece for Culinary Backstreets that includes more information on Sundays (Warung Minggu) and Thursdays (Warung Kamis) at Indo Java Groceries, and the wonderful chefs cooking on each of those days.]

Around the end of 2015, the tiny but much-loved Java Village restaurant in Elmhurst closed its doors, cutting the already low number of Indonesian restaurants in the city by one. Some months later in the spring of 2016, the popular chef of the restaurant started preparing meals on Tuesdays at nearby Indo Java, an Indonesian grocery store on Queens Boulevard that has been open for a decade.

For most of 2016 and 2017, the "popup" flew under the radar and did a primarily takeout business. Local Indonesians knew, and would come in throughout the day to get whichever dish the chef had selected for the day. They might bring a friend or two as well, and word slowly spread.

Chef "Dewi" Tjahjadi

The owner of of this small grocery store is from Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia which is on the west part of the island of Java. This "Tuesday food shack," known in Indonesian as "warung selasa" is run by a chef from Surabaya, on the eastern portion, and tends to offer foods that originate there as well.

One stand alone table used to occupy the back of the grocery for those customers that wanted to eat in the shop and chat rather than taking their treasures home. This has become insufficient and a second has shown up, as well as random chairs from back rooms and the basement that do their best to accommodate the crowds that come today. Most likely showing up around dinner time now will almost guarantee that a bit of wait will occur as others finish up in the back, but hanging around the shop while waiting for a seat is a pleasure in and of itself.

Near the end of the summer, another Jakarta transplant Chef Vivi has started cooking on Thursdays, and on Fridays you can come in for bubur ayam, a delicious chicken congee for $5.

Homemade tempeh.

Currently the price for any Tuesday and Thursday meal is a flat $10. You can check the chef or the shop owner's Instagram feeds the night before to see what will be prepared, or just show up and be surprised. Without any eating restrictions, it is pretty much guaranteed that any meal here is going to be completely satisfying. Our first dish was the amazing East Javanese ayam penyet (below), which means smashed fried chicken. In the photo above, the black pestle in the background is used to mash a fiery chili sauce called sambal into the chicken.

When you sit down, Chef Dewi will tell you what she has and ask if that is ok. After this polite verification, spice levels might be worked out if necessary. On this day, either "medium" or "deadly" was available.

As each plate is prepared, the nature of the meal setting can be properly enjoyed. Most conversations between new customers will be about the groceries and packaged foods that the table sits between, you can reach up and read about all the new items you have never tried before. It only takes a few minutes for the dish to come, but there are never a shortage of options to talk about.

My friends noted that their "medium" versions were already quite spicy, while I suffered (happily) through the "deadly" rendition. The chicken is combined with slices of freshly made tempeh, fried tofu cubes, and water spinach to round out the plate. A sweet and sour tamarind soup came with it, as well as a portion of white rice, really the only relief to be found.

On the Tuesday after Christmas, siogor (below) was on offer, a dish name created by the combination of siomay and batagor. Batagor is a further abbreviation of bakso tahu goreng, a popular type of Sundanese Indonesian fried fish dumpling that stars on the plate. Siomay are similar but steamed and these versions are intertwined with cabbage. The whole plate is smothered in a beautiful peanut sauce.

My one attempt to come on a Thursday was unfortunately thwarted by the high demand of others. While officially open from 1-8pm, some other customers were getting the last bowls of curry laksa when I popped in just before 6pm. The moral of the story is to make this your lunch outing to be sure there are still portions left when you arrive. If you want to call ahead, they will save some for you.

My three visits to Indo Java and the friendly conversations I had with everyone here thankfully timed perfectly to get an invitation to their New Years Day party, which featured another East Java specialty known as liwetan (below). This spread is laid out on top of a table of banana leaves and would traditionally be attached with your hands. Plates and utensils were passed out on this occasion.

Both chefs had a part in creating this, different types of rice, noodles, dried beef, fried potatoes, barbecue chicken, and spicy shrimp were among the crazy amount of food offered on the table. We arrived a bit later than when the liwetan was laid out, so the image is unfortunately not as beautiful as it must have looked when created.

The atmosphere was joyous as the Indonesian community and those of us that had the honor to be there celebrated in style. The table was the obvious focus of the evening, but full-bodied laughter was coming from each end of the grocery store.

Trays of Indonesian desserts and brownies were also on offer, and takeout containers were passed out near the end to make sure nothing went to waste. Amazing hospitality made me feel so humble from folks that had just met me a couple weeks prior to this celebration.

As 2018 has started, the three day schedule is back in place. Based on my brief experiences, I would recommend going as soon as you can. Something about this setup might not be able to last, simply because the demand is outpacing the supply and the capabilities of the tiny space. These conditions are what makes having a meal here so unique though, so hopefully some sort of balance can be found.

[UPDATE FEB 2018: Made it back recently for the Friday bubur ayam, which was excellent of course]

Bubur ayam

[UPDATE MAR 2018: One more trip for the bakso beranak, a giant beef ball full of other beef balls, etc stuffed inside. Served with noodle soup and wonton.]

Bakso beranek

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Warung Selasa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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