Spice Up the World is the theme of this year’s Ubud Food Festival. 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. 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. First up is Pryandi Ibrahim, Assistant Chef at Bali Bali Indonesian Restaurant in London’s West End.
On its website Bali Bali describes itself as a “truly authentic Indonesian restaurant in the heart of London’s West End.” As Chef Priyandi explains, his grandparents emigrated to the UK from Padang in Sumatra in 1965, as his grandfather had got a job with the BBC. Along with his uncles, they opened Bali Bali in 1986. “It is a family business passed down over two generations,” says Chef Priyandi. “My uncle and my grandma are great cooks, so they decided to start a restaurant with an Indonesian home cooking experience in London. It turned out to be a good business as people love our food!”
As their website attests, “Over the years we have steadily built a reputation as a venue where you can relax, enjoy excellent food and find yourself in a little part of Indonesia.” That means there’s a little part of Indonesia nestled amongst many of London’s major tourist attractions, shops, businesses, government buildings and entertainment venues, including the famous West End theatres. So what kind of foodie is following their nose to Bali Bali, perhaps before or after a West End show? Are they already familiar with Indonesia, or perhaps are Indonesian themselves?
“We have plenty of Indonesians who come to eat at the restaurant too, because eventually when Indonesians are on holiday, they are going to look for their comfort food!”
“Basically they know about Bali more than Indonesia,” Chef Priyandi admits, “but many of them come back because they tried Indonesian food when they traveled to Indonesia. We have plenty of Indonesians who come to eat at the restaurant too, because eventually when Indonesians are on holiday, they are going to look for their comfort food!”
Chef Pryandi informs us that their most popular dishes are rendang, nasi goreng, sate, gado gado, and semur daging. All but semur daging are part of the five dishes officially declared by the Ministry of Tourism as Indonesia’s ‘national foods’ last year, in an effort to boost culinary tourism. (The fifth ‘national food’ is soto). When asked why he thought Indonesian food still isn’t as popular as other Southeast Asian cuisines, Chef Pryandi explains, “In my opinion our food is better but we don’t have enough restaurateurs abroad, while Vietnamese and Thai is everywhere, the scale of comparison could be up to 20:1. And Thai restaurants received great assistance from their government many years ago to increase tourism by opening restaurants around the world.”
“I’ve always said to the customer, if you love our food you must love our country”
Along with the five national foods initiative to promote culinary tourism, the Tourism Ministry is collaborating with 100 diaspora restaurants across the globe through its Wonderful Indonesia co-branding program. Bali Bali is one of the 100 restaurants, along with three others in London.
How does Chef Priyandi feel to be showcasing Indonesia through its culinary culture? How does he feel to be spicing up the world with Indonesian food? “It means a lot to us. I’ve always said to the customer, if you love our food you must love our country, and I hope with our small contribution it can help improve our tourism.”
You can visit Bali Bali’s website here, read their current menu here, and access the list of 100 diaspora restaurants here. Do you have a favorite Indonesian restaurant abroad that you’d like to see included in this series? Let us know by emailing email@example.com.