In Indonesia, open-air morning and night markets — called pasar pagi and pasar malam, respectively — are two of the pillars of the Southeast Asian country’s food culture. In the morning, customers shop for fresh produce and meats that they will use in their daily cooking. At night, crowds wander down lanes of food vendors, enticed by aromas of various dishes and snacks, some of which are cooked on the spot.
“Pasar is everywhere in Indonesia — in general, it’s more like a farmers market, but they pretty much sell everything from household goods to produce, food, clothes, anything,” says Wajan owner Feny.* “But whenever you go to pasar, there are always food stalls and snacks everywhere.”
It is these markets that have inspired Feny to open a new restaurant and bar called Pasar, which will feature jajanan, the snacks that are found at pasar around Indonesia. The restaurant will open this spring in the former space of Cafe Gertrude — it’s the evolution of a side project Feny began last summer, selling snack boxes called jajanan pasar, which contained sweet and savory bites like dadar gulung (pandan crepes with a palm sugar coconut filling), bala-bala (vegetable fritters), and martabak daging (a deep-fried pancake with curry-spiced ground beef and egg).
Growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia, Feny would go to pasar with her family. She recalls hanging out for hours at the morning market and kopitiam (coffee shop) with her parents. “They’re done with the food and the coffee, but still talking for hours,” Feny says. “That’s when the snacks come in handy.”
Like the markets they are meant to emulate, daytime and nighttime services at Pasar will have distinctly different vibes. During the day, the space will have a cafe feel with counter service, serving a selection of five to ten sweet and savory jajanan backed by a tight menu of more substantial lunch dishes. It’s still in development, but Feny plans on offering a “completely different” menu from Wajan. Pasar will open with daytime service for the first few months before adding nightly hours.
During dinner, Pasar will transition to a menu of Chinese-Indonesian dishes, inspired by Feny’s own family heritage and her mother teaching her Hokkien-style cooking. When Chinese people immigrated to Indonesia en masse between 1860 and 1925, a fusion of food brought by the Han Chinese and Indonesian cuisine emerged. Today, Chinese people account for a little over 3 percent of Indonesia’s population, but popular dishes such as bakmi and mie goreng are a testament to Chinese influence in Indonesian cuisine.
As diners tuck into dinner or bar snacks, they can enjoy cocktails, creations of Feny’s business partner Ross Grimes, who also oversees the bar at Wajan. Feny wants to bring the food-focused nightlife culture that is prevalent in Southeast Asia to Portland — she envisions colorful surroundings that evoke the lively feeling of being at the night market. “When you go to pasar, there’s a bunch of stuff everywhere you look,” Feny says.
Pasar will open at 3023 NE Alberta Street.
*Note: In Indonesia, many people do not use surnames. Feny prefers to go without hers, so we refer to her as simply Feny in this piece.