Last night I watched director Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous for maybe the fifteenth time.

It is a film about a San Diego high school student named William Miller who is given the chance to write a story for Rolling Stone magazine about an up-and-coming rock band called Stillwater which he accompanies on a concert tour. It is one of my favorite movies because it reminds me of the early ’70s, one of the happiest periods of my life.

Whereas the kid in the film experiences the US rock music scene of this period, I spent the same time in East Africa teaching in a boys’ secondary school. Filled with lots of period music, I find the film very nostalgic and evocative of the time. It is a kind of “comfort food” for my soul.

But my literal comfort food of the period was a meal served a couple times a month to the staff of the school: rijsttafel (translated “rice table”).

A Dutch colonial feast, a rijsttafel was created to provide a banquet that would represent the multi-ethnic bounty of the Indonesian archipelago. Indonesia was once the richest agricultural region in the world, ruled by the Dutch for over 300 years. Brought back to the Netherlands after Indonesia gained its independence in 1945, the rijsttafel was popular with Dutch families with colonial roots. It is also a staple in almost every Indonesian restaurant in the Netherlands.

It consists of many condiments and side dishes served in small portions, placed onto the dining table simultaneously, and accompanied by rice. As my mind tends to wander and I have a three-plus-year supply of rice on hand, last night’s film occasioned me to think that I should begin experimenting with reisttafel as a format for more of my meals at Estrella Vista.

Although a true rijsttafel can consist of up to 40 dishes, most comprise far fewer due to the preparation time involved. At the school in East Africa, the side dishes were very simple: sliced bananas, loose peanuts, shredded coconut, chutney sauce, and sliced fresh vegetables such as carrots often took the place of more elaborate cooked sauces and concoctions. In fact, I think the only true rijsttafel I experienced was in Minneapolis, when some Dutch expatriates hosted a traditional feast.

The idea is that you first heap white rice, nasi (fried rice) or bami (fried noodles) into a soup bowl or onto your plate, and then help yourself to a little of all the other side dishes, careful not to mix them together too much.

People who live in big cities or order over the Internet can buy traditional condiments. However, there is a lot you can do to approximate classic flavors without a single Dutch or Indonesian import. Rice goes with anything.

Indische kipsaté is a warm side dish which is surprisingly easy to prepare and can be served alongside a separate bowl of satay sauce for topping when required. Babi ketjap is a pork stew which is also easy to prepare.

The majority of Dutch serve ready-made atjar tjampoer with their rijsttafel, although you can rustle it up yourself in next to no time: simply grate a little white cabbage and some carrot, finely chop an onion, and then mix together in a bowl with a splash of vinegar and a teaspoon of sugar.

No authentic rijsttafel would be complete without these famous Indonesian condiments, including ketjap manis (sweet soy sauce), sambal oelek (a particularly hot chili sauce) and seroendeng (a seasoning prepared from peanuts, coconut flakes, and salt).

Selamat makan! (Bon apetit in Indonesian)


Groove of the Day

Listen to Stillwater performing “Fever Dog”


1 Response to “rijsttafel”

  1. 1 Max's Scout Services & Communications, LLC
    December 6, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    thanks I learned a new word
    and another way to feast on food.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: