Can you keep a secret?
Ok here goes… 49 Rue Cortambert
Afraid you can’t pick out the address amongst its neighbors in residential 16eme? No worries. The red and white flag at the gate should be a good indication that you’ve arrived at the right place. What place? L’Ambassade d’Indonesie, or the Indonesian Embassy.
Do not be alarmed by the guard post. Sure, you may bring along photo identification to secure your entry, but the few times I’ve visited, we were waved through with an incantation of the magic words “saya mau makan”, meaning “I want to eat” in Bahasa Melayu.
One steps into a courtyard upon gaining entry into the embassy, a neat little space where one can seat amidst greenery and Javanese stone sculptures. At the end of the courtyard is the “Kedai Kopi” or coffee-shop, where one will find within its threadbare, slightly rundown interior, walls of Indonesian food supplies (keropok crackers, spicy sambal, Indomie etc) as well as stacks of boxed meals at lunchtime. The establishment is run by an Indonesian Ibu with impeccable hair, she who presides over all the comings and goings in her grocery store-canteen seated behind the counter, rarely leaving her seat.
These boxed lunches are prepared by Indonesian ladies who live in the city, and the roster changes on a regular basis so that their most faithful clients – the employees of the embassy – get an authentic taste of the archipelago. Extra packs are made for those in the know: homesick Indonesians, other South-east Asians hunting for spicy food in Paris, local French fortunate enough to chance upon this find.
The plastic lunch boxes look flimsy and the contents are simple, but at 6e a pop, they pack a wallop of spice and variety. On any given day, there may be Indonesian staples such as mie bakso, nasi goreng, spicy deep fried chicken. Once in a while, the boxes contain fat pockets of fried tofu stuffed with vegetables and drenched in a sweet, sour sauce, or the flavorful beef rendang, its aromatic chili and coconut sauce sauce so well absorbed into the meat the stew is almost dry at the end of the cooking process. Even for those well-versed in South-east Asian cuisine, the Pempek Palembang might come as a surprise, a deep fried fish quenelle stuffed with an entire hard-boiled egg hard-boiled egg eaten with a rich vinegar sauce. An Indonesian friend was so happy to find Pempek in Paris that she promptly took 3 boxes home while getting the contact number of the coordinator so she could pre-order the food the next time she visited.
The embassy’s courtyard is the other reason to visit, especially on warm, sunny days when one can finally move out of the depressing looking canteen and dine al fresco. If you are planning to visit Indonesia, this place will provide a primer on traditional local cuisine, serving better food than at the handful of Indonesian restaurants in the city. But even if a vacation is not in the cards, this is still one way to experience a little of what Indonesia has to offer.
L’Ambassade d’Indonesie (lunch only, cash only)
Address: 49 Rue Cortambert 75116, Paris, France