Sri Owen’s Indonesian Food

A book review by Franz Scheurer


Sri Owen’s knowledge of Indonesian food, cookery, utensils and occasions is astonishing; she is undeniably the world authority on this cuisine. And in her new book Sri Owen’s Indonesian Food, she makes this knowledge accessible.


Owen writes about the classic dishes of Java, Sumatra, Bali, Sulawesi and Kalimantan, and even Irian Jaya gets a look in. She deals with staples and festive foods and her recipe are clear and easy to follow. Assembling all of the ingredients is the hardest part, and shopping might prove a bit of a challenge, but that’s part of what that makes bringing another cuisine into your own house so much fun.


In the section dealing with family recipes handed down from Owen’s grandmother, ‘Pangek Ikan’ (braised fish with young vegetable shoots) caught my eye and I immediately thought of utilising the earthenware pot I generally use for Cassoulet. In the streetfood section you’ll find ‘Pisang Goreng’ (fried bananas) and ‘Rempeyek Kecang’ (savoury peanut brittle) to whet your appetite. As Owen wrote the bulk of this book in Italy (Veneto), she had daily contact with Italian gelato, which obviously triggered memories of Indonesian ice creams; one of my favourites, ‘Es Krum Ketan Hitam’ (black glutinous rice ice cream) is in the book as is ‘Es Krim Duren’ (durian ice cream) of course.


These days many butchers sell duck breast and the recipe for ‘Panging Bebek Dengan Kuah Bayem’ (thirty-minute duck breast with spinach sauce) might be a great way to surprise your next dinner party guests. It’s seriously delicious! Sago is used throughout Indonesia but ‘Jilabulo’ (chicken livers with sago and coconut) from Sulawesi is a terrific way to serve chicken livers. On page 148 you’ll find the only recipe from Irian Jaya, ‘Ina Avau Au’ (sago and pork rolls). If you have never found a way to cook bitter cucumber then the ‘Paria Berisi Tahu Dan Udang’ (bitter gourd stuffed with tofu and prawns) might be a good way to experiment and the result is well worth it. The need to preserve without refrigerators probably gave birth to Rendang, meat cooked for a long time in coconut milk and the dish ‘Rendang Daging’ (beef long-cooked in coconut milk with spices) from West Sumatra is easy to make and absolutely delicious. Everyone in Indonesia loves satay and there are many different ways to prepare it, using chicken, beef, buffalo, vegetables, prawns, etc. but the ‘Sate Padang’ (offal satay with a special Padang sauce) is one of the rare pleasures; now you can make it at home.


The book is divided into six chapters, dealing with the early days, starting out, view from abroad, staples and basics, methods and techniques and finally food for celebrations and special occasions. If you only own one book on Indonesian cuisine, this has to be it.

Released on 1st October 2008. Published by Pavilion Books in the UK and distributed by Harper Collins Publishers Australia.

ISBN: 9781862056787, RRP $60