On the menu
If the only words you recognize on the menu are "small" and "big," you're probably in for a good time.
Satay, the kebabs of Indonesia, were well represented here. Beef and lamb were winners, charred until crisp and served with multiple sauces. The dishes came with firm cubes of cold rice, which you spear with your skewer and drag through the sauce.
In Indonesia, satay isn't limited to mild chunks of beef and chicken; organ meats and off cuts like tongue are also common. Here the firm, meaty tongue was slicked with an earthy curry sauce and served with more rice cubes.
Perhaps the best-known dish from Indonesia, and this is definitely the best version I've ever had. The gorgeously tender beef was chock full of rich coconut flavor and a well-balanced spice paste. Real deal rendang takes time, patience, and care to cook the beef properly and reduce the braising liquid down to a thick, rich paste. This took no shortcuts.
This dish was a first for me, and I'm a better person to know about it. Thin slices of jerky-like dried beef are briefly fried until crisp, then served with a spiced sauce. What exactly that sauce is depends on where you get it; a bright, fruity chili sambal dressed this version.
Coconut milk braising is one of my favorite kale preparations, and this didn't disappoint. The spicing is mild compared to the meatier curries, but no less flavorful. Food crawler pro-tip: if you've eaten something too spicy, don't stuff your stomach with rice to dull the pain. Eat this kale instead.
Shrimp and Vegetable Fritters
Indonesia and nearby Malaysia know just how well vegetables and shellfish play together, especially when there's some fermented funk involved. This lacy fritter combined all three.
Tempeh is a meaty cake of fermented soy beans, and like tofu it comes in a pantheon of forms. These thin slabs were coated in a slightly spicy batter and fried. Be warned: Indonesians are not afraid of sour, fermented flavors and tempeh can taste powerfully funky. One attendee told me that this preparation is usually used on young, less fermented tempeh. I don't know if my tempeh funkometer is poorly calibrated, or if this version was using an older tempeh, but whoosh, this was a flavor rush.
These cubes of tofu were stuffed with a mix of sweet and slightly spicy vegetables, then fried until crisp. Stuffing tofu is kind of brilliant: the vegetables flavor the otherwise-bland core, keeping every bite exciting.
More fried snacks
Mashed cassava or yuca frequently wrap fillings of shredded meat, chicken, or vegetables. As fried snacks go, these are far more nutritionally balanced and far less greasy than your typical fairground bites.
The Indonesian tamale: steamed sweet sticky rice stuffed with lightly spiced chicken. The real hero is the banana leaf wrapper, which adds subtle sweet and herbal flavors not unlike pandan.
There were several soups available at the bazaar, which given the rain became unexpectedly appropriate. Here, a bowl is filled with noodles (mie), chunks of meat, greens, fried wontons, and bits of crisp coconut.
Broth then gets ladled on top.
Then the onus is on you to add kecap manis (a sweet soy sauce), fiery sambal, and vinegar to taste.
Bakso are firm meatballs similar to what you'd find in Chinese cooking. Here they were served in a noodle soup laced with chilis, herbs, and what I'm guessing is lemongrass. An amazing broth.
A starchy cake stuffed with fish and chunks of hard boiled egg.
How do you make coffee more exciting and stimulating? Brew it with a ton of ginger. This steaming cup carried a serious jolt.
Cendol is one of my favorite desserts, and words can't express how much I loved this version. It's a cold, soupy mix of tender, pandan-flavored rice noodles mixed with a raw sugar syrup, coconut milk, and ice. It's a dish you can stir, sip, slurp, and chew; you can't feel anything but delight to really dive in and eat it. The best cendol is made with a smoky, butterscotchy palm sugar called gula jawa and rich coconut milk. This one had both, and was pretty much perfect.
Coconut milk gets ladled over a mix of wobbly noodles and rich syrup. All the flavors should be very intense; they'll get diluted as the ice melts.
Small chunks of intensely flavorful banana, wrapped in a slightly flaky pastry dough, and deep fried. I'm afraid to know what I would do if these were a readily available street food for me. Easily a Top Ten use for a banana.
The Indonesian version of Thai khanom chan. They're made from a mix of tapioca and rice flours, coconut milk, and fragrant pandan. Think of them as jello jigglers, but creamier and better in every way.
When it rains, it Singapores
The rain didn't stop anyone from having a good time. This was a wonderful community event, and smiles were just as generous as the food.
I'm proud to say I did my fair share (and them some) (and then some more) of eating at the bazaar, but there was plenty I missed. I'll be heading back as soon as I can.