All things Javanese

It all started with a little love story where her Malaysian father met her Indonesian mother while both were studying in Taiwan. To relief homesickness, they often cooked food from home and soon discovered a shared passion for cooking.

Facade of Niniq Javanese Cuisine at Taman Molek,
Johor Baru
Years later, after their children had completed their studies, Angela Ho and her sister, Jennifer, opened a café in Johor Baru. Their East-meets-West cuisine includes a selection of their mother’s recipes of Surabaya-style Indonesian food.

This family-owned Niniq Bistro & Bakery, which has a menu section dedicated to Indonesian specialties like Lamb Gule and Beef Rawon, recently decided to focus on traditional Javanese food, particularly the recipes that they grew up with, and reopened as Niniq Javanese Cuisine.

Family Favourites

The Indonesian archipelago comprises a number of islands with an equal number of ethnic groups with culture and cuisines unique to them. Niniq presents a taste of how the Javanese of Surabaya enjoy their food.

A serving of Nasi Goreng Jempol
Jennifer and Angela fondly recall childhood visits to their grandmother’s home in Surabaya and tells me about the dishes she served and how they would help themselves to a seemingly endless supply of their favourite food.

These family recipes that grandmother, Suzanna Hartono, had passed to their mother, Lila Hendra, are now part of the menu they serve at the first Javanese cuisine restaurant in Johor Baru.

While all the fresh ingredients are locally sourced, every effort is made to procure traditional spices and dry ingredients from Java to prepare the food.

One of my Niniq favourites, Satay Ayam topped with
spicy peanut sauce... mmm...yummy!
Angela says one of her favourite quick meals must be a hearty serving of Nasi Goreng Jempol (RM15) stir-fried with fresh prawns and chicken slices.

She would usually enjoy it with a bowl of Rawon (RM22), traditional beef soup darkened by buah keluak or candlenut, both comfort food that fondly reminds her of grandmother’s kitchen.

Brought up on her recipes, the sisters admit that they have a higher threshold for the spicy heat of chillies but they assure me that all food served at Niniq are palatable for both young and old.

So I’m reminded that when I place my orders, I'll have to request for my preferred level of spiciness.

Family Dining

Diners at Niniq are encouraged to enjoy their food communal-style dining, like how family and friends will share a variety of dishes to eat with fragrant white rice (RM2) or rich yellow rice (RM4).

Tempe Tahu Goreng [Background]
and Niniq's Ayam Goreng [Foreground]
We start with nibbling on emping belinjau, traditional Indonesian crisps, washed down with refreshing chilled drinks like Es Kelapa Muda (RM7), young coconut juice with slices of coconut flesh or Es Kelapa Muda Jeruk Nipis (RM8), young coconut flesh in lime juice.

Then it’s time for appetizers like freshly fried Tempe Tahu Goreng (RM9), Empek-Empek (RM15) fried fish cake with vinegar sauce, and Gado-Gado (RM14) vegetable salad.

Angela shows me the way to enjoy Empek-Empek by drizzling the vinegar sauce over the fried pieces of fish cake. When I sink my teeth into a chewy piece of fish cake, I tell her it somehow reminds me of our keropok lekor.

As its name describes, the Tempe Tahu Goreng comes with triangles of fried beancurd and slices of fermented soyabean fritters with a side of traditional Sambal Tomat. While this dip sauce has a tomato base, go easy on the sambal as it has a decent yet deceptive heat.

An Ekor Goreng order comes with a side of ox-tail soup
White rice goes well with dishes like Ikan Goreng Garuda (RM55), a crispy, deep-fried seabass fish served with chillie-kicap manis or sweet dark sauce and Terong Belado (RM14), eggplant topped with Niniq’s own belado sambal sauce.

The rich gravy in Udang Kare Java (RM38) should be enjoyed with rice. I think it tastes so right with yellow rice that I cannot resist asking for another small helping.

I also agree that Ekor Goreng (RM32) is a more refined description for deep-fried ox-tail slices in a dish popularly known as Buntut Goreng in Indonesia. Marinated in Javanese spices, its tender flesh melts in my mouth. My beef experience is completed by a side of traditional ox-tail soup.

Sweet Endings

To end my Javanese meal sweetly, Angela recommends traditional desserts like warm Kohlak and Es Dawet (RM5 each). I can’t help noticing that while Kohlak resembles bubur-cha-cha and Es Dawet is their version of iced cendol, these Indonesian desserts are distinctively different.

Indonesian desserts; Kohlak [Left] and Es Dawet [Right]
Having earned an enviable reputation for their quality cakes, The Patisserie by Niniq continues to serve innovative creations in cakes and breads for diners to enjoy with hot drinks including traditional Indonesian hot Kopi Tubruk (RM5).

I am delighted to discover beautifully decorated new cake varieties like Lychee with Rose, Mango Keyline and a pretty slice of fruit cake to enjoy with my coffee.

While I’m enjoying the delicious cakes, Angela tells me that members of the Indonesian Consul Office here are regulars in the restaurant as they feel homesick for familiar food. I’m also glad to learn that Niniq’s catering team was also challenged to meet with exciting orders for special occasions including uniquely designed items presented to the Johor royal family.

Glad that Niniq is still offering a good range of cakes and breads, I venture to ask if they may bring back some signature items from its previous menu. The sisters smile sweetly and reply with an enigmatic, “We will consider…”

19 & 21 Jalan Molek 3/10, Taman Molek, 81100 Johor Baru, Johor

TEL                607 – 352 4800

HOURS        Open 11am to 10pm.  Closed Sunday.

FOOD            Javanese cuisine and modern patisserie

PICK              Nasi Goreng Jempol, Udang Kare Java, Ekor Goreng and Ikan Goreng Garuda

PAY               From RM2 to RM55 per dish

MOOD          Contemporary family restaurant

SERVICE     Efficient and unobtrusive

I SAY…         Go give it a try

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 26 July 2017

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