Pizza is one of Diana Widjojo’s favorite foods. But the complex spices of Indonesian beef rendang, saté chicken, and bold sambal sauces fuel her chef dreams at Hardena, the corner restaurant her family has run in South Philadelphia for two decades. So perhaps it was only a matter of time before those two culinary worlds eventually collided.
But it took the challenges of a pandemic, with its shuttered dining rooms, comfort-food cravings, and new demands for innovative takeout, that ultimately sparked the inspiration for Widjojo’s #NotPizza box, an ingenious reimagination of a multidish rijsttafel to go.
“Maybe I can do it in the damn box?” she said to herself after a slice of pepperoni pie two months ago.
Out went the pizza. In went lush green banana leaves. Then came fluffy rice topped with potato crunchies to anchor the middle, followed by coconut-stewed collard greens, stir-fried mie goreng noodles tangy with sambal oelek, crispy triangles of turmeric-tinted tofu, plump head-on shrimp, stewed tempeh, grilled saté sticks glazed with peanut sauce, and even a whole fried butterfish, slashed for easy picking and crusted with coriander and turmeric.
Nope. Definitely not a pizza.
Instead, this is a treasure box of fragrant Widjojo family recipes, with sometimes as many as 18 different preparations cooked each morning by Diana, 34, and her sister, Maylia, 33, alongside their mom, Ena, reflecting both the spice-forward Sumatran style and their sweet-and-savory Javanese roots.
Ena ran the cantina of the Indonesian Consulate in New York City in 2000 before opening Hardena with her husband, Harry, in the heart of what was then a growing Indonesian community in Point Breeze. They moved in 2001 to this humble corner space at Hicks and Moore, and have been a magnetic draw ever since, even as many Indonesians returned to Asia after the recession of 2008. Hardena has continued to thrive, finding a wider audience and earning a semifinalist nod for a James Beard Award in 2018.
And things were looking up as the culinary school-trained Diana took over with her sister in 2017, opened a satellite at the Cherry Street Pier, and even had plans for a multifloor renovation this year. But the coronavirus put those plans on hold, she said.
The #NotPizza box has offered a new glimmer of hope. At $75 (plus tax), with more than enough to feed two or three, it’s an expanded version of the wooden board platter they used to serve, the rijsttafel, the multidish presentation that is a legacy of Indonesia’s history as a Dutch colony. “The only good thing that came out of colonialism was the appreciation and love for our food,” she says.
And Widjojo has been selling out, with all 35 of her weekly time slots for pickup disappearing within minutes of posting each Monday morning on Instagram. Along with executing the rest of Hardena’s limited menu, she’s limited by the half hour of work that goes into building each one, meticulously assembling the boxes with artfully balanced contrasts of colors and shapes.
“They’re all strategically placed so they won’t clash,” says Widjojo. “Plus, I’m a control freak, so if things aren’t done my way, I get a little irked.”
Each item, though, also has its own backstory. So here, in Widjojo’s own words, is a guided tour of one recent #NotPizza box of Indonesian delights.
Tahu takwa (Golden Tofu, simmered in turmeric and star anise, fried to order): “When we were kids, we would visit my dad’s family in his hometown of Kediri and he’d take us to this very busy shop where people would come from far and wide to buy them. I tried to get close as I could, and my dad was, like, ‘Oh, this is almost as good as the one back home, but there’s something missing. ...‘ I haven’t figured it out yet. But he took a second helping, so I know mine are good.”
Telor balado (hard-boiled eggs with balado sambal): “This sauce is specifically from Sumatra, with red peppers, shallots, lots of garlic and tomatoes. Traditionally it’s spicy, but in my family we like it sweet and savory.”
Krupuk (garlic and tapioca chips): “Indonesians like texture with their food, so we eat krupuk to add crunch; scoop your food with them and eat!”
Saté chicken (grilled thigh meat marinated in sweet soy and Makrut lime juice topped with Hardena’s peanut sauce): “One of the first things I get whenever we go home! We would go into one of the street stalls in Jakarta and just wait, because there’s always this long freaking line, but it’s worth the wait. It reflects an influence we got from Arab and Indian spice traders, but we put our own spin on it. The main thing is the peanut sauce, which we make with our our own roasted peanuts blended with creamy peanut butter, garlic, brown sugar, and a little paprika.”
Singkong goreng (fried cassava): “Cassava is one of the cheapest starches, and if people don’t have enough money for rice, they’d get cassava. But I love the flavor. It’s like a potato, but chewier. I boil it first in spices – turmeric, garlic, and curry powder – then fry it, and it’s fantastic.”
Tempeh lodeh (tempeh and vegetables stewed in coconut milk): “Tempeh was actually invented in Indonesia. ... We had tofu from China, but when Indonesians saw whole soybeans that were byproducts from that process would start to ferment, and that it was edible, they turned them into another product that’s become a staple. We buy some of ours, but also make our own over the course of a multiday process of boiling, dehusking, boiling again, and fermenting. We’ll season it with turmeric, salt, and garlic and then turn it into a stew. Indonesians love stews, and this is an easy one to make — just add vegetables, coconut milk, and spices. It’s my sister Maylia’s favorite thing.”
Ayam kecap (sweet soy garlic chicken): “One of my favorites and easy for kids to eat because it’s sweet. This one was sauteed, but I also like it grilled. I also sometimes do cumin-fried chicken sometimes for the box, which was influenced by a Szechuan dish at Han Dynasty.”
Sambal terasi (shrimp paste sambal): “The red sambal is our secret family version of one of the most popular sambals in Indonesia. We omit the shrimp paste in a lot of our menu, but two kinds of shrimp paste go into this hot sauce. It’s basically red peppers, tomatoes, garlic, shallots, Thai chilies, sugar, and both the juice and leaves of Makrut lime. Without this sambal, the food would be missing everything; it wouldn’t feel complete, because it gives the dish so much more depth with the shrimp paste.”
Sambal goreng kentang (potatoes with red peppers and coconut milk): “Just one of those things that has to be on the plate. For celebrations, it would normally include fried cubes of beef liver. We tried that once and nobody wanted it, and I was like, ‘OK!’ ”
Sambal hijau (green chile paste): “The green sambal is more simple, which is why a lot of people like it, because it’s chiles, shallots, garlic, and a little lime leaf, which adds a bit of bitterness. I like the green sambal for the fried foods, the red one for the other main dishes.”
Beef rendang: “According to Indonesians, rendang originated in the Minangkabau region in Sumatra, where it can take as much as two days to cook, letting the liquid evaporate until it is dark in color and the coconut milk evaporates into oil that essentially fries the spice. That’s when the flavors come out.... We typically do the Javanese version that still has a bit of liquid. But the dish itself has cultural meaning that signifies society as a whole: The meat symbolizes the leaders and royalty; the coconut milk symbolizes intellectuals and teachers; the chile spice is religion, a reminder that Hell is hot; the rest of the spices are the regular people. When the dish is done, it becomes this really beautiful, flavorful picture of the whole society, and without one you can’t have the others.”
Jasmine rice topped with crispy shredded potatoes.
Udang (shrimp): Head-on shrimp are ubiquitous in the cuisine of this island nation.
Oseng tempeh: Tempeh and tofu sauteed in sweet soy sauce.
Salad with pecel (peanut dressing): “A traditional Javanese salad, but with a spicy peanut dressing that’s chunkier than creamy saté sauce and has lots of herbs, galangal, and lime leaves.”
Sayur Singkong: (coconut collard greens): “Traditionally we don’t use collards, we use cassava leaf, but we don’t have [the kind I need] here in America. But the main secret is that we use Indonesian coconut sugar in this, which is nuttier, along with coconut milk in a nice veg broth with red peppers and onions.
Mie goreng (stir fried noodles): “There are many popular Indonesian dishes influenced by the immigration of Chinese to Indonesia such as lumpia (egg rolls), nasi goreng (fried rice), mie goreng (anything with noodles), ... but they’ve been slightly changed throughout the years to fit Indonesian palates: We add our spices, with sweet soy, garlic, and vinegary sambal oelek.”
Terong balado (eggplant with balado sambal): “We use the Chinese eggplant and flash fry them just a little bit, because you don’t want to overcook and lose the purple color.”
Goreng ikan (fried butterfish): “This is one thing I grew up on because a lot of Indonesians are pescatarian. Back home we’d go to this fun place with a pond of goldfish in the back where you’d literally fish for your food, and they’d cook it. No one would ever think to eat a goldfish, because it’s a pet. But they can grow to be a foot long, and they’re really good, although they’re also bony. ...These butterfish are really easy to eat. I just dredge it in flour with turmeric and coriander then flash fry it, and eat it with limes and red sambal.”
Bakwan jagung (vegetable-corn fritters): ”You can go to most any food vendor in Indonesia and get this snack to eat on your way to work, spiced with turmeric and garlic and filled with lots of veggies and corn.”
Otak-otak (grilled fish cakes): “One of my favorite things to eat when I go to the fish market on the docks in Jakarta, these fish cakes are on the table at a restaurant there as an appetizer and comes with peanut vinaigrette. We make ours Spanish mackerel or kingfish, which gets hand-mixed into a thick paste with tapioca flour, garlic, scallions, and coconut milk. We wrap them in banana leaves and steam them off, then grill it to order for a little smokiness.”