Ridwan Layantara and Susanty Lim are from different parts of Indonesia. The couple, who run Sydney’s Ayam Bakar 7 Saudara, grew up with very different cuisines. Lim knows Javanese food, as that’s what she ate at home and what her family cooks at each of their restaurants (there are six other iterations of Ayam Bakar Saudara in Indonesia).
Layantara is from Timor. “Timor food is very different. It’s so simple,” he says. Unlike Sumatra or Java where there’s a lot of ingredients and, for the former, a lot of spice, Timorese cuisine is mostly about cooking with very few ingredients.
When Layantara’s family came to Sydney in the '80s, there wasn’t a single restaurant serving Timorese cuisine – and there still isn’t. Instead, the family would congregate at the home of Layantara’s mum, Lanny Timora, for meals of daging kete (a slow-cooked, herbal beef stew), daging fuga (boiled, shredded beef that’s stir-fried until it’s very dry) and jagung bose (slow-cooked dried corn with coconut milk). “[Jagung Bose] is so simple, if you go anywhere in Timor in the villages, they will serve you that, the main food is corn, it’s cheaper than rice,” says Layantara. But in Sydney, rice was the family staple and jagung bose was the special item – an occasional reminder for Layantara and his family of their home. “Even when I smell it, I remember Timor.”
Layantara met Lim in Jakarta. He was doing business there while Lim was working in the family restaurant, and running two businesses on the side. The two had a mutual connection to Lim’s great aunty-in-law, "a crazy old lady", Layantara says affectionately. That "old lady" met Layantara on a walk one day and asked him, with Lim in mind, "are you married? Do you want me to introduce someone?" Fast forward a few years and countless phone calls between Lim and Layantara later, and the two moved to Sydney – Layantara convincing Lim to drop both her businesses to be with him in another country. When we ask Layantara how he convinced her, he just says it was magic. “It was amazing, from God. He was my first love,” says Lim. “I left everything.”
Before Lim met Layantara, she had never experienced Timorese cuisine. As Indonesia is a vast country of many islands, cultures and languages, many Indonesians might never experience or learn about many of the country’s lesser-known cuisines.
Lim first encountered Timorese food at Layantara’s family meals. She quickly became fascinated with the recipes and would spend a lot of her time at her mother-in-law's kitchen, watching Timora cook. Her favourite Timorese dish was and still is daging kete. “It’s like rendang, but it’s dry, it’s a bit of a different taste,” says Lim. “It’s very common – if there is ever a party in Timor, there is always daging kete; at the home too, daging kete.”
Fast forward a few years and countless phone calls between Lim and Layantara later, and the two moved to Sydney – Layantara convincing Lim to drop both her businesses to be with him in another country.
Daging kete is the dish that has brought Lim one of her most proud moments. Lim can’t remember the exact occasion, but she had made daging kete for Layantara and his family. What she does recall is what happened afterwards. “My mum said, [Lim] can cook better than me,” says Layantara. “I was shocked.” In Indonesian culture, like many food-loving cultures, a mother’s cooking is revered and for one to admit their cooking is inferior to their daughter-in-law is a powerful statement. Lim says it was an "amazing feeling, I don’t know why – maybe I have talent from God?”
Timora passed away three years ago, but Layantara and Lim want to continue her legacy at their Ayam Bakar 7 Saudara restaurant in Penshurst. “We are going to make [Timorese food] here,” says Layantara. They’ve already had Timorese people asking them for jagung bose and daging kete for years, but they never found the time to make it on top of the everything else on their menu – but now they are going to try and make it work. “I know [Timora] would be proud,” says Lim.
Ridwan Layantara and Affandy Lim’s Timorese recipes
These recipes are listed in order of easiest to hardest to make.
Makes 10 small serves
- 500 g dried corn (yellow maize grits)
- 200 g coconut milk
- Place the dried corn in a saucepan and pour water into the saucepan until the water is just covering the corn.
- Place the pan over high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook until the corn is soft, but still retains a slight chew, up to one hour.
- Add coconut milk to the pan and season with salt. Increase heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove from heat and serve.
Makes 10 small serves
- 10 small shallots or one big red onion
- 5-10 garlic cloves depending on size and desire
- 5-10 candlenuts (you can use macadamia as an alternative)
- 1 heaped tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp fennel powder
- ½ tsp white pepper
- 10 long red chillies, blended or pounded in a mortar and pestle
- 10 bay leaves
- Galangal, thinly sliced into 10 sheets
- 3 medium-sized sticks of lemongrass, sliced into roughly 2 cm bits
- 1 kg beef rump, cut into long strips
- 1 tsp shrimp paste
- 2 tbsp tamarind water
1. Place the shallots (or onion), garlic and candlenuts in a blender or mortar and pestle. Blend or grind the ingredients until you have a paste-like mixture.
2. Heat a neutral oil in a wok (like canola oil) at medium heat. Place the paste into the wok and cook while continuously stirring until the paste starts browning.
3. Add the coriander, turmeric, fennel and pepper to the wok, continuing to stir until the paste darkens in colour.
Add the chillies, bay leaves, galangal and lemongrass and continue stir-frying until the paste becomes aromatic.
4. Add the remaining ingredients and turn the heat to medium-high, mixing them together with your spoon or spatula. Once the ingredients are mixed, reduce the heat to low.
5. Let the stew cook for half an hour, stirring if needed. If the stew becomes too dry and starts to stick to the wok, add water as needed.
Adjust quantities according to party size (you might want to serve one steak per person)
- Ceylon oak (kayu kesambi), hickory chips or branches for smoking
- Rump steak
- Banana leaf
- Long red chillies
1. Start a fire in a firepit or place charcoals into a barbecue along with the branches or wood chips.
2. Meanwhile, rub your steak with a small amount of salt and pepper, and then wrap the steak in banana leaf.
3. Wait until your fire is a pile of smouldering embers or your charcoals have become a similar state: the fire should be generating a low heat, but producing a good amount of smoke. Place leaf-wrapped meat on a rack around 1 m above the fire, or equivalent in the barbecue Monitor the heat of the fire, trying to keep it relatively consistent. Allow the meat to smoke for 40 minutes to two hours. If you haven’t smoked meat before, it's safer to wait longer and be sure the meat is done. The finished meat should be brown on the outside and softly dark pink in the middle.
4. While the meat is smoking, combine the chillies and salt (adjust the ratio to taste) in a mortar and pestle and grind until smooth paste forms.
5. Once the meat is finished on the smoker, unwrap it and serve with the chili-salt mix.
This is a very traditional Indonesian cake that is grilled layer by layer in the oven, but the results are impressive and totally worth it.