Dutch Treats: Rijsttafel

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Say what you will about a buffet, there’s no denying the glee that stems from having an assortment of dishes from which to fill up a plate. A little of this, a dab of that, a heaping spoon of the third. And when the buffet sits right upon your table, precariously balanced in small containers perched atop warming trays, well, that’s an experience worth seeking out.

Purnama rijsttafel at Indrapura

On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I finally had the opportunity to sample the legendary Indonesian Rijstafel, the “rice table” so beloved by the Dutch and Indonesians alike. Our search for a casual yet high quality purveyor of this meal led us to Indrapura, right off Rembrandtplein and mere blocks from our accommodations. Arriving early on a Friday, we had the place to ourselves to begin, and the waiter provided nice attention, offering an Indonesian Bintang beer to accompany the “Purnama” rijsttafel.

After an appetizer of minced lamb in a fried pastry wrapper, the table began in earnest, with the waiter depositing a good score of small containers arrayed with some flair and a brief description. I could hardly keep track of what he was placing before us, but it all looked brilliant. The dominant tastes were of peanut sauce, coconut milk, and very mild spice, carried by a variety of pork, chicken, beef, and vegetables. Two bowls of rice, one plain white and one fried, accompanied the meal.

Purnama rijsttafel at Indrapura

I must confess to being underwhelmed by the spice levels. I had hoped for, and indeed expected, for heat to suffuse the meal, but on the whole, the tastes were subtle and the heat nearly nonexistent. I’ve had this problem in the Netherlands before, where theoretically spicy dishes came out with a “tourist” level of spice. Perhaps I should have let the waiter know that our spice tolerance sits on the high side of the scale.

Still, the total experience left us happy to have sampled such a wide variety of Indonesian dishes in a welcoming environment. A pleasant way to begin a Friday night, indeed, and a quintessential Indo-Dutch treat.

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