In Jakarta, Indonesia, Pasar Muara Karang — a morning market, or pasar pagi — opens at 5 a.m. to crowds starting their daily shopping. Vendors lay out water-filled tubs of whole crabs and fish, while others set up piles of fresh produce. Within stalls, cooks begin simmering pots of broths for soups or setting up displays of colorful kue, a type of bite-sized dessert often made with tapioca or glutinous rice flour for maximum springiness or chew.
While Feny,* the owner of Burnside Indonesian restaurant Wajan, was growing up, she would go to Pasar Muara Karang for groceries and breakfast with her mother. They’d seek out her favorite treat, a pandan-coconut cake known as putu ayu, to stick in her weekday lunches, and after shopping, they’d sit down to bowls of lontong Cap Go Meh, a Chinese Indonesian soup filled with small rice cakes made from steaming uncooked rice in banana leaves. Feny is Chinese Indonesian herself, and the dish was one of her favorite weekday meals. “Lontong is a marriage of Javanese and Chinese immigrant cuisines,” Feny says. “The broth is from Indonesia, it has both tempeh and tofu in it; it’s a blend of cultures.”
What Feny remembers most about the pasar were the snacks, known as jajanan pasar — little fried bites called gorengan; lemper ayam, layers of banana leaf-wrapped sticky rice sandwiching chicken floss. So when she and her partner, Ross Grimes, decided to open another restaurant, they wanted to dedicate it to two facets of Feny’s upbringing: Her identity as a Chinese Indonesian woman and her memories of the morning and evening markets — pasar pagi and pasar malam, respectively. While Wajan is a tour of Indonesia’s greatest hits, like gado gado and rendang, Feny hopes Pasar, her newly open restaurant on Northeast Alberta, will showcase elements of Indonesian dining less commonly available in other parts of the world.
“It’s common in Indonesia, these cuisines, but not as common outside Indonesia,” she says. “I want to say, ‘This is the Indonesian food we eat daily as well, beyond nasi campur and rendang.’”
Grimes and Feny designed the space to evoke the feel of a pasar malam. At the entrance, snacks like chips, crackers, and candies hang from the walls and sit in shelves, alongside a soon-to-be-utilized warming case for grab-and-go snacks. The bar’s awning is meant to evoke images of an Indonesian warung, a shop or food stall, with batik fish swimming below the bar’s counter. The two put mega mendung patterns on the ceiling to look like clouds. And along the space, the colors of the walls mimic the shifting color of the sky during the course of the day: warm sunrise oranges and reds progress into cooler twilight purples.
For now, Pasar is open for dinner service. In the future, however, she wants to be open all day, starting with morning pasar pagi-like snacks before transitioning into pasar malam-style dishes, as well as more Chinese Indonesian fare. Grimes runs the bar, where people can drink cocktails made with arak or baijiu — or a house-made pandan-coconut liqueur in the style of a limoncello — while snacking on fritters or jiggling desserts. Many of the snacks and treats are meant to be small, so people can come in at any time of day for a quick bite.
Below, we have a rundown of the treats you might encounter at Pasar, from pagi to malam.
Risol sayur and bala-bala
Fried treats are a quintessential part of pasar snacking. Risol sayur is an adaption of Portuguese rissole, developed when Portugal colonized Indonesia. Feny fills a wrapper, which feels somewhere between a dumpling skin and a crepe, with vegetables like stir-fried potatoes, carrots, green beans, and green onions. It’s folded together and dipped in breadcrumbs before hitting the fryer. Bala-bala, on the other hand, is a classic variety of gorengan — Indonesian fried fritters — filled with carrots, cabbage, green onions, and bean sprouts. More widely known as bakwan, its culinary influences are closely tied to Chinese immigrants in Indonesia. Feny serves hers with a garlicky peanut sauce, frying the fritters with bird’s eye chiles.
For this snack, Feny steeps sticky rice in coconut milk and lemongrass, layering the rice with a combination of chicken floss and kencur, also known as aromatic ginger. The parcel is then wrapped in banana leaves and grilled. Lemper ayam is typically served in the mornings, and is one of the classic jajanan pasar, or market snacks, commonly spotted at pasar pagi.
Nasi tim, a Chinese Indonesian rice dish, was a classic breakfast Feny ate growing up in Jakarta; it’s often something she craves on sick days. She cooks chicken and dried mushrooms down with soy sauce, garlic, and oyster sauce, placing it in a bowl with what she calls a “brown egg,” an egg hard-boiled with soy sauce and the sweet Indonesian condiment kecap manis. Over the top of the meat and egg, she layers rice cooked in chicken broth, which then lands on a plate upside-down, in a rounded mold. It’s topped with fried shallots and served alongside a cup of chicken broth garnished with scallions. “To me, it feels like a version of Hainanese rice,” she says.
Bakso goreng kuluyuk
This dish, in many ways, is a cross-section of two Chinese Indonesian standbys. Bakso is a firm meatball similar in texture to a Chinese fish ball; often, they’re made with beef, though Feny makes hers with chicken and shrimp. Ayam kuluyuk is sweet-and-sour chicken, very similar to the dish found in Chinese restaurants throughout the United States. Here, she fries the bakso before tossing it in the tomato-based sweet-and-sour sauce, serving the dish with peas, carrots, and onions. “It’s a comfort dish I grew up eating,” she says.
Lontong Cap Go Meh
Cap Go Meh is the 15th day of Lunar New Year, or, as it’s called in Indonesia, Imlek — but the dish, lontong Cap Go Meh, is now served on a day-to-day basis in Indonesia, particularly in Java. In the pasar pagi, vendors will often sell versions of this dish; some are customizable, with optional toppings. At Pasar, the dish starts with sayur lodeh, a spiced vegetable stew, which Feny bolsters with terasi, or shrimp paste. She then fills the bowl with jewel-shaped lontong, Indonesian rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves, as well as fried tempeh, tofu, chayote, green beans, carrots, a spicy hard-boiled egg called telur balado, kripik kentang (chili potato chips), and krupuk bawang (onion tapioca crackers). “It’s the soup version of nasi campur, almost,” Feny says.
Kue (putu ayu, talam ubi, and cantik manis)
Part of Pasar’s origin story involves Feny’s pandemic-era kue boxes, filled with colorful bite-sized desserts people would order ahead. Here, she offers a broader selection of kue: Putu ayu, her favorite pandan-coconut cake, is on the menu, as well as talam ubi, a purple sweet potato tapioca cake topped with jiggly coconut. Cantik manis, the shop’s tapioca pearl cake, is essentially made as a pudding with jackfruit, which cools in a mold. “It means, basically, ‘Pretty sweet,’ which people think is the alternative to ‘Not too sweet,’” Feny says. “But it’s more like, cute-sweet. Sweet and cute.”
Pasar is now 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.