Sulawesi’s Manadonese cuisine has long been a lesser-known delight of Indonesian food, infused with rich flavors and hues. But these days, venues serving Manado’s traditional cuisine in Jakarta are becoming almost as popular as the city’s many Padang restaurants.
Food author Petty Elliott, who writes a column for the Jakarta Globe, held a cooking class this week at the capital’s Gran Melia hotel to introduce a modern take on classic Manadonese cuisine.
With about 15 people in attendance, she presented three dishes: perkedel jagung , a corn cake; ikan woku belanga , a red snapper fillet with sauce and lemongrass foam; and for dessert, klappertaart , a pudding made from young coconut.
Petty’s modern twist focused on preparing healthier and more appealing versions of the dishes by altering some of the ingredients, portion sizes and presentation.
“The concept of modern Manadonese cooking is to make the cuisine more widely and internationally accepted,” she said.
In roadside eateries, Petty said, the corn cakes are typically made of 80 percent flour and only 20 percent corn.
“But here, the cakes are 90 percent corn, and the rest is flour,” she said. “And normally people use deep-fried techniques, but you can actually use just a small amount oil, so it’s much healthier.”
Petty also suggested substituting some traditional ingredients with more natural alternatives. In her version of the famous Manadonese sambal dabu-dabu , a salsa made with tomatoes and bird’s eye chilies, she includes some virgin olive oil instead of just oil, resulting in a lighter, fresher taste.
Petty also recommended using mashed potato as a substitute for corn starch, which is often used as a thickener.
“It is more natural, and it will also thicken sauces,” she said.
Typically, restaurants serving Manadonese cuisine will also classify themselves as halal or non-halal, given the abundance of meat, such as pork, that some Muslim diners may need to avoid.
Petty’s cooking class was attended by expatriates and a few locals, including Manadonese restaurant owners.
Among the expatriates was Kate Foster, originally from the United Kingdom, who said that although she loves Indonesian food, she had been unaware of Manadonese cuisine’s intricacies.
“The food was good, which I think is thanks to the many spices used in the ingredients,” said Foster, an amateur chef. “[The techniques] are not something I would usually use, but I’d love to try.
“What Petty did looked very easy — the preparation is probably a bit difficult, but I’m inspired by this.”
Manadonese restaurant owner Meity Tampone, who attended the class with her son, said that while Petty’s recipes were similar to her own, she was “inspired by the modern concept.”
“I learned that it is a good idea to apply the concept in our business,” Meity said. “I like the idea of creating a bite-size perkedel jagung instead of making them big like we always do. Bite-size seems more practical, and cute, too.”
She plans to include Petty’s suggestions in her own repertoire.
“My son and I recently won a competition in Manadonese cooking and will participate in another one shortly,” she said. “Incorporating what Petty taught us today would be of value to us.”
In general, Petty said, Manadonese cooking is fairly simple.
“It may look difficult because of the preparation of the ingredients and the cleaning up, but the whole process is fairly easy,” she said.
“Unlike the techniques used in, let’s say, Padangnese or Balinese cooking, where you have to perfectly grind the chilies along with other spices, in Manadonese cooking we just finely chop or cut the ingredients. So it should be easier.”
She uses three main spices: chilies, ginger and shallots.
And because the goal is contemporary cooking, Petty said aspiring Manadonese cooks can be creative in the kitchen.
“You can substitute basil in the sambal dabu-dabu with mint leaves, or maybe just add them along with the basil leaves. Anything that will make it taste better and healthier,” she said.
She encouraged people to taste while cooking, “because that’s what the whole process is all about. You want to enjoy a good meal at the end.”