In the tropical islands of Indonesia, halfway round the globe, rice is the mainstay of diet. As in other parts of Asia, native cooks have developed an enormous repertory of spicy additions to this bland staple food to give variety to their meals from day to day. When a table is prepared for some special occasion the complexity of the banquet will usually far exceed anything known to the West. A ceremonial feast of rice includes anywhere from 20 to 45 side dishes—the whole assortment being carried to the seated guests by an equal number of djongos, or "boys."
Talented, New York-born Lucile Brokaw van Riemsdyk, who signs her paintings as Lucile Brokaw, learned about Indonesian cooking in Holland and on travels to the former Netherlands territories in the Far East with her late husband, Dutch Art Expert Rombout van Riemsdyk. She has simplified the ritual of making rijsltafel—the word in Dutch means rice table—and adapted this exotic meal for serving buffet style when she entertains in the flowery patio of her house in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Mrs. van Riemsdyk's version of rijsttafel calls for a large platter of chicken and nine other side dishes. "I have to send away for three special ingredients," she says, "but the rest are easy to come by anywhere. The preparation takes time, so I usually start the day before. But the end result is reward enough—for it is a marvelous party that people enjoy because it is different."
Lucile van Riemsdyk is an artist of some standing, who will have a one-man show at the Esther Robles Gallery in Los Angeles in November. A sportswoman too (her father, Irving Brokaw, was U.S. national figure skating champion in 1908), she took up skin-diving "to get inspiration for my painting." Next, she decided she had to learn to cook the fish that she speared on underwater excursions. "Now," she told me, "I have become mesmerized by the cuisine of the Orient. I love to cook as much as I love to paint."
Rijsttafel is accompanied in Indonesia by palm wine, which is best replaced in this country by ice-cold beer. The most refreshing choice for dessert after this abounding feast is either a fruit ice or a preparation of chilled, cut-up fruit.
MARKET LIST FOR A RIJSTTAFEL WITH 10 SIDE DISHES
2 to 3 cups uncooked rice
3 chickens, frying size, cut up as for frying
1 pound top round steak, chopped fine
2 pounds lean pork tenderloin, all fat removed
Granulated sugar; brown sugar
1 package fine bread crumbs
1 pint milk; 8 eggs
About 1 pound butter
Peanut oil or shortening
3 medium-sized onions
1 head of garlic
3 cucumbers; 4 tomatoes
2 lemons; 4 bananas
1 cup shelled peanuts
1 cup fresh grated coconut, or 1 can moist coconut meat
Fresh or dried marjoram, chervil and rosemary
Large bottle soy sauce
Salt and pepper
1 package kroepoek oedang*
2 small bottles sambal oelek*
1 roll trassi*
*Can be obtained from Mrs. De Wildt, Box 25, Harvey Cedars, N.J.
Rice: Any kind of rice will do, if properly cooked so that every grain is separate. It should be served dry and fluffy.
Chicken: Sauté chicken pieces in butter till golden. Place in a roasting pan and add 2 cups of water. Sprinkle with the 3 chopped or dried herbs; season with salt and pepper. Cover, place in oven and bake for 1 hour or till tender.
Meat bails: Mix round steak with ½ cup bread crumbs and 2 unbeaten eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Form into small balls and roll these in bread crumbs until coated. Sauté in butter till brown. Before serving, reheat for 15 minutes in a liquid composed of 1 cup each of soy sauce and water.
Saté: Cut raw pork into bite-size chunks. Make a marinade of the following: ½ cup each of brown sugar and soy sauce; 1 teaspoon salt; juice of 2 lemons; yellow zest of 1 lemon cut in small pieces; 1 onion minced with 2 cloves garlic; ‚Öì inch trassi, minced. Soak pork pieces in marinade for several hours or overnight. Remove meat and sauté in a little butter till brown. Add marinade to the pan, cover and simmer for 15 minutes; then cool. Thread meat on skewers and, just before serving, broil these over a hibachi or under broiler of kitchen range. Serve hot, grouped around dish of reheated marinade in which the meat can be dipped.
Curried eggs: Hard-boil 6 eggs. Sauté 2 minced onions and 2 cloves garlic in 4 tablespoons butter in a heavy pan, covered, till soft. Add 2 tablespoons curry powder. Stir; cook for a few minutes. Mix in the milk, 1 teaspoon salt and 2 heaping teaspoons granulated sugar. Quarter the eggs and add to the pan. Simmer mixture for ¾ hour, and serve while hot.
Bananas: Peel, split lengthwise and halve. Sauté in butter till browned and soft. Serve hot.
Peanuts and coconut: Toast slightly in oven and serve either separately or mixed together.
Cucumbers and tomatoes: Serve them peeled, seeded, cut in convenient pieces, salted and chilled.
Sambal oelek: This bottled product, made of fiery peppers, is served in a small dish by itself.
Kroepoek oedang: These are small flat chips made of shrimp. They puff up to many times their original size when deep-fat fried, one by one, in hot peanut oil or melted shortening poured 2 inches deep in a pot. Fry till pale golden; then drain on soft paper. Prepared in advance, they stay crisp to be crumbled over servings of the rijsttafel.
EXOTIC SETTING for serving rijsttafel is patio decked with Balinese fruit-and-flower arrangement, statue from Java and (on wall at left) an assemblage composed by Mrs. van Riemsdyk. She is shown broiling sweet-and-sour saté over table stove.