It's not that Seattle lacks Indonesian food. Capitol Hill's Malaysian noodle house Kedai Makan has a few entrées, as does Beetle Cafe on the Ave, and there's a limited selection at Bumbu Truck in Fremont. But if you want the sit-down Indonesian dining experience, you need to head up to the edge of the city limits—Aurora Avenue North and 137th Street—to Indo Cafe.
I only know about this place because my friend Anna, who grew up in the Netherlands, had been missing Indo food real hard. (The word Indo generally refers to the Eurasian culture that sprang from the Dutch East India Company's 19th-century occupation of Indonesia.) While straight-up Indonesian food resembles other Southeast Asian cuisines, Indo food adds unexpected European ingredients: kidney beans, collard greens, fried potatoes. Bread and dairy. Mayonnaise. It's the result of poaching another culture's cuisine and then spending the next 200 years tweaking it in your own cuisine's language.
Anna and I started with quintessential nasi goreng (fried rice). Indo Cafe's is a classic version (sweet soy sauce, onions, protein of your choice). That said, they have a half dozen other nasi (rice) dishes, all around $10, with more exciting flavors and textures, like the nasi gila menteng (crazy rice), doused in a garlic-heavy "special sauce" and stir-fried with sliced sausage, chicken, and beef meatballs.
Indo Cafe also offers rijsttafel ("rice table" in Dutch), similar to a smorgasbord in that it encompasses a few dozen or more dishes and you bring all your buddies and everyone samples everything. Usual suspects include chicken satay skewers, spring rolls, rice balls filled with spicy beef, perkedel jagung (corn fritters), egg balado (a hard-boiled egg, deep-fried and slathered in spicy sambal oelek hot sauce), and bebotak (South African–influenced curried meatballs).
Born from colonial-era opulence, rijsttafel is something you see all over the Netherlands but rarely in Indonesia, so it's interesting that Indo Cafe has it. The full rijsttafel spread is only available by reservation, but the menu features mini versions—entrées served with rice, egg balado, stir-fried veggies, and a corn fritter, which I expected to be like corn bread, but was actually a deep-fried dollop of mashed-up sweet corn, kernels included.
Speaking of sides, the risoles ($6.50) are by far the best thing on the menu. A European dish that's been Indonesia-fied, risoles are bread-crumb-rolled, deep-fried crepe-burritos stuffed with chicken ragout, accompanied by peanut sauce. I want to make a helmet of risoles and eat my way out of it.
Anna's all-consuming obsession, meanwhile, is the pisang goreng (banana fritter, $3.25). Dunked in batter and deep-fried like a mozzarella stick, the banana becomes liquefied. A side of ice cream (vanilla, avocado, or durian) is recommended to cool down your mouth down after you bite into the molten fruit.
The other major player on the dessert menu is es teler ("drunk ice," $5.25), one of Indonesia's national drinks/desserts. A cross between a sundae and a booze-free frozen cocktail, it's decorated with jackfruit, long fat snakes of green rice jelly, and cocopandan syrup. Sometimes they do a chocolaty rendition with Milo powder, Cocoa Puffs, Rice Krispies, Oreos, chopped peanuts, and sweetened condensed milk. Talk about opulent.
All of this is to say that, unsurprisingly, you don't have to pine for Indo food from your hazy Dutch childhood to be enthralled by it. We barely made a dent in Indo Cafe's expansive menu, but I'm committed to trying every single thing on it. Maybe all at once, on my birthday, when I plan to enjoy the full rijsttafel menu.