When I asked an Indonesian friend where the best place to get Indonesian food in Vancouver was, his answer was “Pondok”. A second story restaurant on West Broadway. Easy to miss as your eyes look past it to the multiple “ihop” flags wafting in the breeze next door. Parking is dicy with a tight spaced parkade, sitting under the restaurant on ground level. The thick stone columns make steering into a spot all the more difficult. And the fee to park is no cheaper than the road side meters, more easily accessible.
From the outside it doesn’t look like much. Dingy scuffed windows do not allow for an alluring peak into the restaurant, nor does it give its guests inside an unobstructed view of the street below. They may considering giving them a power washing from time to time. “Pondok” has been at this location for as long as I can remember, and I never recall it looking any better than it did today. If they can’t keep their restaurant’s surface clean, how can you be sure they can keep their kitchen hygienic. You walk up the spiralled staircase and enter into a surprisingly large space. The first thing I notice is the disco ball and rainbow light machine, hanging over the wooden dance floor. Apparently on week nights this place turns into a night club. And let’s not forget the karaoke machine in the corner, for added fun.
Our table, like the others, was cloaked with traditional Indonesian prints. It matched the limited Indonesian style artwork on the walls and the figurines that sat on the bar. By the sounds of things, the food must be authentic. Tables were filled with guests both Indonesian and not, glowing over the flavours. Our host was the expert and ordered what he thought were the best for our table.
For the most part I found the cuisine similar to that of Chinese style cooking. Similar ingredients and spice palates were used. The flavours were familiar and the dishes felt safe for me. I tried everything and was full by the end.
“Gado Gado”. A Indonesian favourite. Made with meat, tofu, and boiled egg over a bed of greens; smothered in an amazing sauce then topped with fried prawn chips. The sauce made this dish. The peanuts in it gave it a sweet taste reminiscent to peanut butter. Each bite was filled with great textures from chewy, to soggy, and to melty to crunchy. An explosion of flavours made this my favourite dish of the night. I finished it off with the light crisp of the fried chips, eaten separately.
Fried shrimp dumplings with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. Wished these were better blotted for grease and a lot less fried. Got a bit of the burnt taste coming through as the oil saturated my lips. The shrimp inside was hardly seasoned. A heavier coating of the sauce was needed to save this dish.
Fried seafood noodles. Panfried vermicelli with green onion, julienne vegetables, and tiny chunks of seafood. I would classify this more as a noodle dish than a seafood one. I expected more shrimp and squid, an even a mussel or two. What I got was a salty fish taste that permeated each strand of noodle. This made for a great filler, or side for a more saltier dish.
Fried battered fish with pickled vegetables. I am not a big fan of fish, but this was my second favourite dish of the night. Covered in sauce the batter got soggy quick. But the taste really pulled through. It was both sweet and sour without the artificial Chinese food court look and colour. The fish was crispy during the first few bite, and flaky throughout.
Chicken curry. This was as exciting as it looked. Common and bland, it could have used more chilli power.
Fried green beans with tofu and shrimp in a garlic oil. With a generous amount of green beans, it almost felt there was not enough of shrimp and tofu to bean ratio.
Spicy beef stew. A hearty bowl that makes you regret ordering anything else after it. This is the one that filled you up. I would advise ordering this with rice and calling it a meal. Luckily we were sharing our portion between six, which allowed for everyone to have a taste without being stuffed.
Fried chicken. We were informed by our host that this was another dish very popular in Indonesia. I found it no better or different than any pound I can grab at any pub.
The service was unmemorable. The usual: place your order and have it delivered to your table. All with very little interaction in between. However our group was large and a great effort was put in to ensuring each cup was full and empty plates were taken away quickly.
Would I come back? – No. I only found the food just ok. The dishes were good, but nothing spectacular. They were too similar to other south East Asian cuisines. Dishes I could get better else where, in a nicer setting.
Would I recommend it? – Yes. For those who haven’t tried Indonesian food, with an extensive menu and knowledgable staff this is a good place to start your journey. And like Chinese food the portions are large and the prices small. So you can try and taste with little remorse. Don’t deny your cravings.