This year’s Ubud Food Festival Presented by ABC theme is Spice Up the World. While other Southeast Asian cuisines are adored internationally, Indonesian cuisine is far behind. But this is changing. Indonesian restaurants are opening their doors on foreign soil more rapidly than ever before. Hungry for new culinary experiences, adventurous eaters are being enticed by the rich aromas, fiery flavors, and captivating cross-cultural histories, and through this, they are learning about Indonesia. “Food is, after all, the easiest way to access a culture,” says our Founder & Director Janet DeNeefe. In our new blog series Diaspora Dining, we speak to Indonesian chefs abroad to hear how they are spicing up the world with Indonesian food. Second in our series is Tasia and Gracia Seger, owners of Makan in Melbourne.
After they won the 2016 series of Australian reality TV show My Kitchen Rules, we were thrilled to welcome Tasia and Gracia Seger to Ubud Food Festival 2016 as headlining chefs. At the Kitchen Stage they celebrated their Indonesian heritage by whipping up a family favorite: deep fried fish with a tangy salad of green apple and young mango, spritzed with a caramelized tamarind and coriander sauce. It was, of course, absolutely delicious, which is exactly how customers are describing the sisters’ new restaurant Makan. One five star TripAdvisor review exclaims, “As an Indonesian, I’m really proud of what the two sisters have achieved.”
“Since opening Makan mid-last year, the response has been really great,” Tasia and Gracia explain. “The one thing we agreed on was that we wanted Makan to grow organically instead of creating a massive hype via social media, so most of our customers have been word of mouth and so far the response has been positive.” About the menu, Tim Grey writes in Broadsheet Melbourne that it’s “genuinely difficult to pick a standout.”
The sisters reveal that “creating Makan’s menu was a project that was almost two years in the making. The menu development included lots of travelling, eating and cooking the same dish but with different methods and ingredients. Many of the dishes on the menu build on our childhood memories of food and the food which our mum taught us to make. Some of the most popular dishes at Makan include the Fried Crepe Roll (aka as the ‘Street Food Risoles’), Ubud crispy duck, Beef Rendang, Cendol Pannacotta and the Banana Brulee (which is our interpretation of pisang bakar).” From that list alone it’s clear Tasia and Gracia are both staying true to culinary traditions and innovating with the classics. (If, like us, you’re desperate to try their Cendol Pannacotta, the above-mentioned five star TripAdvisor review has this to say: “[it’s] something that you have to enjoy yourself, don’t bother sharing, otherwise you’re left with nothing…”.
“We feel that one of the main reasons Indonesian food is not as well known internationally, is that most of the Indonesian restaurants here mainly cater for students or the Indonesian diaspora, instead of other Australians.”
While there are possibly hundreds of Indonesian restaurants across Australia, most of them do not share Makan’s vision and mission for introducing Indonesian food to the wider foodie community. As Tim Grey writes, “Australian iterations of the national cuisine are often cheap and cheerful […] But at Makan, Tasia and Gracia Seger have set out to change that.” As the sisters explain, “We feel that one of the main reasons Indonesian food is not as well known internationally compared to Thai or Vietnamese cuisine, is that, in particular in Melbourne, most of the Indonesian restaurants here mainly cater for students or the Indonesian diaspora living in Melbourne, instead of other Australians. The Thai and Vietnamese have managed to market their national foods to the locals whilst, in our opinion, Indonesian food is only advertised for our Indonesian community.”
Since it opened mid-last year, Makan has been attracting a mix of customers who are already familiar with Indonesia, and those who are hungry for knowledge about the country. “Some customers visited Makan because they are a frequent traveler to Indonesia and have cravings for Indonesian food, and some have never been to Indonesia or are wanting to visit Indonesia, so they are curious to learn through the food our country has to offer.”
“Makan has fulfilled our concept of wanting to create a restaurant which offers Indonesian food at a dining experience level, which we think it deserves.”
How do Tasia and Gracia feel about showcasing Indonesia through its culinary cultures? How do they feel to be spicing up the world with Indonesian food? “We are very honored to know that we are helping people learn about Indonesia, in particular through its cuisine. We feel that Indonesian food is one of the best cuisines in the world (and we know that we are biased), but Makan has fulfilled our concept of wanting to create a restaurant which offers Indonesian food at a dining experience level, which we think it deserves.