Rijsttafel – the Dutch version of Indonesian meal

When visiting a country for the first time, I always want to try the signature dishes. When the first time I was in Thailand, I tried Tom Yum, in Dubai I tried Kebab, in Vietnam I tried Pho Bo, in Malaysia I tried Laksa Penang, in Singapore I tried Chili Crab, in Switzerland I tried Cheese Fondue etc .

But when I visited Holland for the first time, I was wondering what kind of food is traditionally Dutch?

It’s not that this country is filled with bad or boring food, it’s just that very little is special or unique. While we can find some traditional Dutch foods like the wonderful pannekoek, bitterballen, kroketten, poffertjes etc, I noticed that many restaurants in Amsterdam serve international foods.

The most famous – and uniquely Dutch food in Amsterdam is the Rijsttafel. And you can even find restaurants serving Rijsttafel all over the Netherlands.

What is Rijsttafel?

The Rijsttafel is an Indonesian culinary tradition that was invented by the Dutch during the time when they occupied Indonesia. It is not an indigenous Indonesian custom. It’s origins date back to the Dutch Colonial Era when it evolved as a way how Dutch citizens living in Indonesia could impress their visitors and show them the enormous wealth of exoticism and abundance that existed in the colony.

Can we embark on the subject of Colonialism without raising too many eye brows?  I guess so, when emphasis is given to the gastronomic.

Rijsttafel means ‘rice table’ in Dutch, and consists of tiny servings of about “a million” Indonesian dishes. In those days the number of dishes on the menu was indicative of the hosts wealth and prestige. The food is served to guests by waiters who walk in a line, each responsible for one menu item.

The dishes served are designed to show visitors the extent of the multiculturalism that influences the Island.

One of the famous Rijsttafel restaurants in Amsterdam is Tempoe Doeloe (literally means The Old days) at Utrechtsestraat 75, 1017 VJ Amsterdam, Netherlands.

And in my country, there’s one famous restaurant which serves Rijsttafel named Oasis located at Jalan Raden Saleh 47, Jakarta.

Oasis Restaurant is housed in a grand two-storey mansion built in 1928 as the private residence in the Dutch East Indies of the millionaire, F.Brandenburg van Oltsende; the owner of extensive tea, rubber and cinchona estates. Great teak-wood beams span the ceilings of the room, high above a sweeping checkerboard of gleaming white and black tiles.

The Doorman will escort you to the lamp lit Entrance Hall, where you will be spellbound by the richness of color around you and the music of a Sundanese gamelan.

A large ceremonial gong will be struck to sound your arrival, and ladies will be handed a corsage.

The Maitre’d will greet you and accompany you across the broad sweep of the Kalimantan Room to your dining table, or to the privacy of one of the Raja Rooms, or-as you wish-to the exotic atmosphere of the Topeng Bar, richly arrayed with dance masks of Indonesia and graced with paintings by the distinguished Indonesian artist, Hendra.

The Oasis Rijsttafel is served by breathtaking procession of 12 lovely maidens dressed in traditional costumes, each carrying a kitchen Ming Plate with delicacy of the archipelago.

The meal begins when a huge platter laden with a cone shaped pile of rice is placed in the middle of the table. After the rice is placed on the table, a parade of the waitresses dressed in Kebaya and Sarong (Indonesian traditional costumes) bring out as many as 12 smaller dishes that are to be eaten with the rice

Once you have all the dishes in front of you, you begin taking food from whatever catches your eye. Take a little and added it to your plate of rice. Rice is a major part of Indonesian dinning. There are no meals eaten without rice. Once you’ve tried one dish, move on to something else.

There’s another restaurant in Jakarta which offers Rijsttafel – the name of the restaurant is Kembang Goela. The owner set the restaurant up to revive the nostalgic colonial past. This restaurant also proves that you can actually experience old-style elegance in the midst of the busy Sudirman Street . Its location in Plaza Sentral makes it a constant temptation for office workers to have lunch the aristocratic way every now and then.

Beautifully decorated and strategically located, Kembang Goela is a perfect place to go if you are in the mood for graceful or romantic dining. The dishes are inevitably Indonesian in taste, but the addition of Dutch influence makes it slightly friendlier to first-timers.

Picture from http://www.selbyfood.blogspot.com

If this is your first Rice Table, one of the most enjoyable aspects in addition to experiencing new taste sensations, is the delight of having lots of little dishes on the table at the same time, and the added challenge of remembering what each dish actually is! All told, it is an extremely sociable way to dine.

Far from its relatively simple sounding name, Rijsttafel is actually a lavish feast that is best enjoyed with friends over a few hours in comfortable surroundings.

Smakelijk Eten! …………Selamat Makan!…….Enjoy Your meal!

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