A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Being an international student, far away from home, is never easy. At certain times, there must be something you discover (accidentally or in purpose) that will fly your memories to a country you call home, such as a distinctive food aroma you encounter, a staple food you accidentally bump into when you’re doing your weekly grocery, or meeting a bunch of people speaking in your native language. Those memories will cause you something that you hate to have while having the time of your life in a country so far away from home: HOMESICKNESS.
Me, as an Indonesian being stranded in the Netherlands, feel the same way too. There are times when I suddenly think of home and all I can do to cure it is to cook my favorite meal back home, foods that are usually being cooked for me by someone else in the house (read: mom). Even though there are a lot of Indonesian students here in Leiden, sometimes I find it very tiring to hang out with them, and not even the presence of fellow countrymen can cure my homesickness. So I always run to food whenever the feeling of missing home strikes my soul.
But what happens if you really want to eat something, but the ingredients are very hard to find, and you don’t want to spend a ton of euros just to buy some ingredients to make a food that will run out after eating it once or twice? You run to the nearest Indonesian restaurant!
For your information, there are two kinds of Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands: Indonesian restaurant and Indische restaurant. What’s the difference? Well, according to me (as a born and raised Indonesian), an Indonesian restaurant is a restaurant that serves true Indonesian foods. By true Indonesian foods, I mean the Indonesian foods which flavor matches the exact flavor in the home country. Meanwhile, Indische restaurant is a restaurant with Indonesian foods which flavor has been altered to match the foreigners’ taste buds. For example, you can find that a chunk of sambal in an Indische restaurant as not that spicy compared to the same chunk of sambal in an Indonesian restaurant. The menus in Indische restaurant often relate to the Indonesian foods brought back to the Netherlands by the Indo people (part European and part Indonesian), such as tempe orek, ayam semur (‘ajam smoor’, chicken stewed in sweet soy sauce), babi kecap (‘babi ketjap’, pork with soy sauce), acar (‘atjar’, pickles), and of course with a chunk of krupuk (‘kroepoek’, deep fried prawn crackers). In this post, I will gladly review Si Des, the ultimate go-to Indonesian restaurant for Indonesian students in Leiden and Den Haag.
(I think you can find those foods in the nearest supermarket like Albert Heijn or Hoogvliet, for they have the ‘Hollandized’ version of the foods. The Dutch loves Indische foods like that.)
Si Des is located at the very strategic Den Haag’s Chinatown, precisely at Rabbijn Maarseplein. It neighbours with a Vietnamese restaurant called Little V and a Japanese restaurant named Momiji Sushi. I personally like Si Des because they have various amounts of Indonesian foods, such as bakso (meatball), ayam/bebek/ikan lele penyet (smashed fried chicken/duck/catfish served with chili paste, steamed rice, and assorted vegetables), soto ayam (yellow spicy chicken soup), pempek Palembang (savory fishcake), and an extensive range of Indonesian desserts such as es cendol, es teler, and es soda gembira. I bet some of their menus don’t exist in other Indonesian restaurants. It’s very diverse and it’s very perfect if you are serious in trying out Indonesian foods. The sambal (chili paste) in Si Des is the best (personal opinion, again) because it’s spicy and very flavorful at the same time, just like what I always have in Indonesia!
Another reason why I love this restaurant is because of the price (DUH :p). I think the price range at Si Des can be considered cheap. They have full menus for as cheap as 7 euros! For example, with 10 euros you can buy a plate of ayam penyet (complete with steamed rice, assorted vegetables, and the almighty sambal) for 7 euros and a tall glass of hot tea (2-3 euros). If that doesn’t sound cheap for me, I don’t know what else will. I consider this as a cheaper version of Indonesian food (and also hits closer to home) because most of the Indonesian restaurants I encounter usually puts the number from 10 to 15 euros for one dish. I know that Indonesian foods can be expensive because the ingredients are expensive too, but the way Si Des always have their foods affordable cannot be comprehended by words.
The final reason about why I write this super long blog post to assure you to taste Indonesian food at Si Des is because of the ambiance. Si Des claims themselves to be an ‘Indonesisch-Surinaams restaurant’ but I cannot see any Suriname influence on the ambiance, even though they also serve some Suriname foods. It looks very Javanese to me. I know I’m not Javanese, but Javanese culture is one of the major cultures in Indonesia. Going to Si Des makes me feel like coming home, with all of their simple decorations. It’s not like going to a fancy rijstaffel Indische restaurant and being overwhelmed by the amount of wayang (Indonesian wooden puppets) or batik clothes they decorate their restaurant with. In other words, it’s homey, but it’s not too painful for the eyes.
So, what are you waiting for? Should you claim yourself to be a true foodie, come and stop by at Si Des! You’ll find the authentic taste of Indonesian food with a super cooperative price for students’ wallets 🙂
and now… I’m craving for a hearty bowl of piping hot soto ayam with steamed rice and a sprinkle of fried shallots.