There’s certainly crossover amongst Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine though I’ve only experienced the latter two on their home turf. (As to the countries themselves, our teenage waiter keenly summarized “I hear Singapore’s mad clean” while chatting with a customer waiting for take out.) I think that’s why Indonesian strikes me as more esoteric. There are a buttload of islands (I’d say 17,508 qualifies for buttload status) besides Bali, and regional specialties abound.
Elmhurst is home to three restaurants: Upi Jaya and Minangasli are Padang in origin and Mie Jakarta, just a couple storefronts over from Minangasli, serves Sulawesi-style noodles (read about their rivalry if you have Times Select). I’ve now tried all of the above and I have to say that I was least crazy about Mie Jakarta. But that’s not to say the food is poor in any way because I'm prejudiced against poor egg noodles (I also generally steer clear of goulash and Eastern European fare that might contain said starch strips). I do think their use is an interesting remnant from Dutch colonialism, but in that vein I’d prefer a Malaysian prawn paste tea sandwich.
Other items are on the small menu, but the focus is the handful of variations on chicken noodle soup, mie ayam, which comes broken into two components. The larger bowl is filled with curly yellow noodles, greens, mushrooms, chicken chunks and the smaller vessel contains the broth. If you order mie ayam bakso, meatballs come floating in the broth and if you try mie ayam pangsit like I did that means you have three chicken filled wontons tucked along side the main ingredients.
Before I realized everyone else was eating their noodles interspersed with spoonfuls of broth, I dumped my liquid on top all at once. I must be missing the subtlety of the chew and sip approach. Maybe you don’t want the noodles getting too soggy?
I enjoyed the chewy-crisp contrast in texture (James had a problem with the fishballs and mystery meatballs accompanying his soup. Personally, I like the springiness of those items but that’s not a universal sentiment) and mild flavors, but I do prefer spicier Southeast Asian ricey-saucey or stir-fried noodle dishes. Of course, you can add chili sauce, which I did. Unfortunately, a previous diner didn’t screw on the cap and an orange stream splashed up James’s arm and caused him to declare that he didn’t like Mie Jakarta, which is pretty childish, if you ask me.
Despite our fall weather being completely incompatible with shaved ice dessert-drinks, I couldn’t resist ordering es campur. It wasn’t as brilliantly hued as some of these tropical concoctions but it did contain the requisite number of pleasingly disquieting tastes and mouth squishes that demand using both straw and spoon. There were chunks of jackfruit and various beans, peas, seeds, or who knows what, floating in the icy coconut milk. I noticed something made up sounding on the take out menu called es glamour, which I’m even more interested in after it failed to make an appearance on Google.
Mie Jakarta * 86-20 Whitney Ave., Elmhurst, NY