The evening we discovered Betawi was one of those jarring moments when you realise your brain plays tricks on you. We had walked down that road a hundred times before, and at least ten times in the previous week alone. And yet suddenly, Betawi appeared out of nowhere. How had we missed it? Where was it hiding before? Surely this place wasn’t always here? The questions were many, but the answers were none. Despite having been on our way to a different restaurant, we had no choice but to go inside.
[Written by I’m Not A Fiend]
The cute interior is brightly decorated, with Indonesian artifacts, plants, and black and white photos of Indonesian scenes. I noticed a framed picture of a couple in traditional dress sharing a bicycle, with a tropical scene behind them. We started discussing how much we’ve been wanting to travel to Indonesia, Bali and Java in particular! The gamelan, the temples, the street food, the tropics; it’s another world we’re keen to explore.
What made me immediately happy upon sitting down at Betawi was the complementary crackers on the table. I’ve since learned that there’s loads of varieties of fried crisps and crackers in Indonesian cuisine, often eaten as a street food snack, or accompanying a main meal.
These crackers at Betawi were the kind of snack that I could happily eat for an hour straight without coming up for air. Seemingly flavoured with spring onion and coriander, and served with a peanut sauce to dip, these were bloody delicious. It’s a good thing they aren’t readily available to me on a daily basis, because we would have a dangerous addiction on our hands.
So after whetting my appetite with some cracker crack, we started with a plate of siomay – steamed fish dumplings served with wedges of egg, covered in peanut sauce. These were a little bit chewy and gelatinous, and only moderately fishy. Once you gave yourself a minute to get used to the texture, these tasty guys were great! And clearly anything covered in that peanut sauce is going to be awesome.
While we waiting for the next dishes, we noticed a group of guys that left had left their table and gone to sit outisde. These dudes were chilling hard! After watching the world go by for a while, chatting with other guests on their way in and out, and enjoying a bit of guitar, they headed back inside to finish their meal.
Next up, ketoprak, a dish with a long-ass description in the menu: rice cakes with steamed bihon (rice noodles) and bean sprouts, covered in a sauce of peanuts, palm sugar, chilli, garlic, and Indonesian sweet soy sauce, served with prawn crackers! At this point in the game a terrible thought occurred to me. Imagine being allergic to peanuts in Indonesia! I can’t even contemplate such a twisted fate.
The textures and flavours of this dish blew my mind. It was all completely new to me. We liked to build up little bites using the prawn crackers as mini spoons! Much like the siomay, the first bite confused me. The second bite, I started to get it. I was full-on hooked and weeping with joy by the third bite.
We had to have Betawi’s special dish, Pecel Ayam. This basket is a thing of beauty! Presented alluringly here is every texture you need in life! Grilled crispy chicken, a wedge of fried silken tofu, warming tamarind soup, crackers, rice, and a little pile of stickily-spiced peanuts and fried soybeans. In the middle is sambal terasi, a hot chilli sauce with a hint of shrimp paste. They warn us it’s hot, forgetting to mention “oh yeah btw guys this is also the tastiest shit you’ll eat for weeks”.
We’re pretty cocky when it comes to chicken wings. But just when you think you’ve had it all, a place like Betawi comes along and throws you a curveball. A delicious, charred, sticky, spicy curveball. I don’t know what kind of sorcery that marinade was.
If you ever doubt the merits of heading over to old Dubai, an experience like Betawi will remind you. It’s a place so unshowy that you can walk past twenty times without realising; yet inside is so cosy and full of good vibes that you want to stay for hours. A friendly hub for the Indonesian community in Dubai to get their favourite foods, and an opportunity for hungry fiends like me to get an authentic taste of their cuisine, without hopping on a plane. I can’t wait to get back and try more!
P.S. Betawi also quite randomly have a mini outlet inside Emirates Towers Metro Station. However, the food isn’t made onsite (only reheated, I’m guessing they make it all at the Karama branch), and it doesn’t have the same vibes. It is still worth stopping by though, if you fancy a quick beef rendang on the go!
[Written by I’m Not A Fiend]