Off the Beaten Path: Java Village, an Indonesian Epiphany in Elmhurst
"I might wind up eligible for honorary Indonesian citizenship by virtue of eating here so often."
Java Village, the latest addition to Elmhurst's vibrant Indonesian restaurant scene in Queens, was once a Chinese take-out. Not much has been done to spruce up the place, save for a paint job and some really cool black-and-white photographs of life in Indonesia. And the beverage machine whines incessantly. And most of the food comes off a well-appointed steam table. And that food is some of the cheapest and tastiest around.
I might wind up eligible for honorary Indonesian citizenship by virtue of eating here so often. It’s going to take some time to eat through the 70-item menu, especially since not all dishes are available at all times.
Ikan balado, or spicy fried fish was delicious. Perfectly fried and coated with a fiery sambal. An appetizer-size portion runs $3.50.
The appeal of certain Southeast Asian hard-boiled egg dishes has always escaped me. Such was the case with telur balado, a hard-boiled duo that's fried and then simmered with garlic, shrimp paste and red peppers. The eggs themselves were dry and crumbly, but spooning bits of egg and spicy sauce over rice wasn’t half bad. At $1 an order, can I really complain?
Sambal tempe, or fried tempeh with chili sauce, perplexed me and a dining companion. He hated it, while I wasn't sure what to make of the fermented soybean cake. Maybe it's an acquired taste, but I probably won't be ordering too much more of this protein-rich dish sometimes called "Javanese meat." It had a funky, nutty flavor. That said, it was edible thanks to the liberal amount of vibrant hot sauce it was served with. Two bucks was a small price to pay to find out I don't dig tempe.
Just look at this $2.50 bowl of sweet-savory gudeg. Those meaty chunks cooked for three hours, with plenty of coconut milk and lots of spices, including cumin and coriander. You could call it Java's answer to chili or barbecue, except it lacks one key ingredient: meat.
Gudeg looks and even chews like brisket, but those meaty looking chunks are actually young jackfruit. Forget tempe, this dish deserves the moniker Javanese meat. Last night, a customer peering at the steam table asked, “Is that beef?” "No, it looks like meat, but it's a vegetable," was the response.
Of the seven mie, or noodle dishes, I chose mie sambal goring kikil. Five dollars bought a generous plate of handmade noodles topped with translucent blobs beef tendon, greens, fried shallot and bits of tofu. The menu says it's spicy beef tendon, yet it was one of the milder dishes. They may not be spicy, but those warm wobbly bits are gelatinous to the point of melting. Can't wait to try them in a soup.
Hot sauce porn: Java Village’s sambal terasi. It's so good I asked for an extra-large helping. Dried shrimp and chilies are usually this sauce's two prominent flavors, but Java Village’s sambal had something else going on. I tasted it straight and couldn’t stop thinking about eggplant caponata. I even asked the chef whether it contained eggplant. Nope. But it does have lots of red onion, tomato and garlic. Who'd have thought Southern Italy could be channeled by way of Java?
86-10 Justice Avenue, Elmhurst NY 11373 (map)