First published in Dutch, issue #5

In many ways, my dad’s past is a mystery to me. His life in Indonesia, his childhood, even the years he first lived in the Netherlands or his time in the Japanese camps, where he was kept with his brother and his mom: I know so little about it.  When asked, he’ll give an evasive answer at best, or claims he’s forgotten since “that was such a long time ago.”
But about once a year, during my own childhood, I’d get an opportunity to delve into his world. I must have been about six years old when we visited the Pasar Malam Besar in the Hague for the first time, during the mid-seventies. Walking through those doors opened up a whole new world for me, and allowed me to enter my dad’s world, even just for a day, just to catch a glimpse. I stepped straight from the soggy Dutch soil into the bustling, busy atmosphere of a colorful, enticing and dynamic Indonesian pasar malam, the night market…the colorful dresses, the grace of the dancers, the sweeping melodies and most overall, the pride that people had: presenting their art, sharing their food, telling their stories. It was so different from our daily, Dutch lives.  As a child, I soaked it all up. This was my father’s world, his culture, his background. 

I savored those days I got to go with my dad to the pasars. After listening to the music, we’d scout out the food stalls. He’d look at each stall, ask a question or made small talk with the vendors, and we’d move to the next one. I knew that it was just a matter of time before he’d buy something and we would sit, side by side, eating without saying a word.  Sometimes he would tell me it tasted just like he remembered from his childhood, other times he’d wait for me to finish up so we could move to the next stall, without saying a word.

It was here that I first tried tjendol, a sweet milk beverage with tapioca tears and flavored with rose syrup. Where I once sank my teeth into fried frog legs, and where I ate so many satés that it almost made me sick.  This is where, after a reprimand from my dad, I learned how to take small bites of my thin slice of spekkoek, honoring and respecting all the hard work that went into making this layered spice cake instead of devouring the delicacy in two big bites, like I used to do.

My Dutch and Indonesian roots are inseparably enlaced and it’s often hard to determine where one begins and where the other one ends. Those twinings are not only reflected in the history of the unique Indo culture: it is also expressed in its cuisine, of which the rijsttafel is possibly its capstone. A Dutch concoction, fathered perhaps by necessity,  greed or nescience, the rijsttafel or rice table contains a myriad of dishes, showcasing the large variety of colors, flavors, ingredients and cooking techniques that encompass the regional Indonesian kitchens.  Small plates containing meats, vegetables and condiments grace the table, sometimes up to 40 dishes at a time, and are a feast for both the eye and the eater. 

During the summer time, we will showcase various dishes to create your own rijsttafel, with as little or as many dishes as you like. Selamat makan!


  1. Mmmmm...it all looks so delicious to me. What amazing food you must have grown up with!

  2. Lovely, looking forward to this series Nicole!

  3. make sure you dig up and include some good lumper recipes!! - miss them from my Dutch Airforce days -
    on weekend duty with the Indo crews - grilling sateh between a couple of bricks over some charcoal outside while munching on lumper made by the wifes..!!!

    1. check out the facebook page Dutch-Indonesian Kitchen. I am a big fan of it. Their is a recipe page there. I am sure lemper is on there...yup just looked...3 versions for your enjoyment.

  4. Thanks Marcella,

    for other folks interested in the recipe page refered to by Marcella
    here it is...


  5. Hi.. Very happy to see this posting about Indonesia. I'm Indonesian :)

  6. Wonderful you've included Indonesian food on this site, I'm Dutch-Indonesian too and recognise so many things you say. My parents had an Indo friend who used to make spekkoek for us and we learnt to slice it really thinly to appreciate its delicacy. When I order or ask relatives for food from Holland it's always a mixture of Dutch and Indonesian food.


I welcome your comments! Please be so considerate as to include a name, as anonymous comments will be deleted. Comments will appear as soon as they are monitored (usually within 24 hours). If you have a direct question, please consider emailing me at nicole at thedutchtable dot com for a faster response, or post on our Facebook page.