Orlando is a really diverse, multicultural, cosmopolitan city — far more than most outsiders would believe, and sadly far more than most tourists ever get to see for themselves. But locals know we have so much more going on than theme parks and chain restaurants (even though for most people, there is a time and a place for those too). Our culinary scene has advanced so much that we have all kinds of exciting pop-up restaurants now, many of them cooking out of ghost kitchens and specializing in takeout food you preorder online. This is a great way to adapt to the changing needs of diners, allowing creative chefs and enterprising entrepreneurs to minimize expenses and personal contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, when fewer people feel comfortable dining in restaurant dining rooms. I’m always on the lookout for new, unfamiliar cuisines I’ve never tried before, especially when pop-up restaurants are involved. These ephemeral eateries motivate me to get out and try things while I can, because you never know when they’ll be back, or what they will offer next time.
So imagine my excitement when I first hear about Yellow Spoon Kitchen (https://yellowspoonkitchen.com/) on the tried and true Orlando Foodie Forum Facebook Group. This is a pop-up restaurant specializing in Indonesian cuisine, which is definitely new to me, as well as healthy pre-made meals. Guess which one caught my attention!
The young chef behind Yellow Spoon Kitchen, Ridwan Nurjaman, is also a sushi chef, according to his Facebook profile. This is an ambitious side hustle, introducing a mostly unfamiliar population to Indonesian food out of a shared ghost kitchen in the East End Market in Audubon Park. But that’s a great location for him — in one of Orlando’s foodie landmarks, our small food hall easily accessible from most of our hippest, most diverse, and most open-minded neighborhoods that are home to some of our finest local restaurants. This week he advertised two different Indonesian dishes up for preorder this weekend, so I ordered one of each — one for me and one for my wife — and requested to pick them up today, Saturday, at noon.
Me being me, I arrived almost an hour early because parking is terrible at the East End Market on weekends. Then I realized I had no idea where the food pickup was supposed to be. The place isn’t that large, but the e-mail receipt didn’t have any information, so I searched high and low for the mysterious ghost kitchen. At one point I walked through some unmarked doors on the second floor of the building and interrupted a church service, with a keyboard player and singers and everything. That was definitely not one of my finest moments! Eventually I found a door in the very back of the market with a small sign on it — the ghost kitchen entrance, where we could pick up our Yellow Spoon Kitchen preorders. My order wasn’t ready until after 12:30, but I had a book I have to read for work, and I was content to wait in the back and avoid everyone eating at tables in the busy parts of the food hall. I’m still doing everything I can to avoid crowds and any unmasked people, which includes pretty much everyone dining in public.
This is an Indonesian “heavy salad” called gado-gado ($10), requested by my wife. According to the website, gado-gado is an “Indonesian salad of slightly boiled, blanched or steamed vegetables and hard-boiled eggs, boiled potato, fried tofu and tempeh, and lontong (rice wrapped in a banana leaf), served with magic spicy peanut sauce dressing. In 2018, gado-gado was promoted as one of six national dishes of Indonesia.” Neither of us noticed any hard-boiled eggs or rice in a banana leaf in this particular salad, but there were definitely bean sprouts on the bottom. She loves tofu, tempeh, and peanut sauce, so I think those were her favorite parts.
This was the peanut sauce, in a generous-sized plastic cup:
This was my meal, the nasi padang ($13), a segmented platter with all kinds of dishes, like a Japanese bento box, an old-school TV dinner, or the school lunches of my youth, only a lot better than the latter two. Whenever I eat somewhere new, I usually have a hard time deciding between a few dishes, so I always love some kind of sampler platter that lets me try a few different things. I was so happy this was something he offered today, since it was my crash course in Indonesian food. The top left dish is beef rendang, a spicy, savory stew of beef slow-cooked in coconut milk, herbs, and spices for hours until it is fork-tender. It’s kind of like a curry, but more of a dry curry that isn’t overly saucy. I tasted some familiar flavors, but as a whole, it was an entirely new taste experience for me. To the right of the beef rendang was a savory omelet full of peppers and other vegetables. Miraculously, it was still warm by the time I got it home. I love omelets and cooked them often for myself at home, until a recent physical confirmed I have high cholesterol and blood pressure, and my doctor told me eggs are the enemy. (Funny, I know I indulge in delicious and unhealthy foods sometimes, but I always thought eggs were a reasonably healthy and uncontroversial thing to eat. What are you gonna do?) And next to that was a bed of rice, perfect for cutting the heat of some of the dishes in the bottom left compartment.
The immediate bottom left of the nasi padang tray contained jackfruit curry. Jackfruit is a large tropical fruit grown between India and Malaysia. It isn’t sweet, but vegetarians love it because it can be used in a lot of savory recipe as a decent meat substitute. The texture was softer and more yielding than chicken or pork, but I could finally see what my vegetarian friends rave about, how it could be a satisfying substitution in so many dishes because it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it in — in this case, a mildly spicy curry sauce.
The greens in the photo above are steamed kale. I usually hate the harsh texture of raw kale, but I’ve enjoyed it in a stew with sausage, potatoes, and white beans, and I liked it with this softer texture from steaming. It was seasoned with something that made it surprisingly spicy, though.
Directly above the kale, there are red and green condiments called sambal. The green one is sambal ijo, and forgive me, but I don’t know what the red one is called. I ate every drop of these, mixed with the rice, because they were so spicy. The green sambal ijo was much hotter than the red one, but I liked the flavor of the red one more.
At first I was like “Man, what a small little chicken leg!” but this was the standout of the nasi padang — definitely my favorite part, and one of the best pieces of chicken I’ve eaten in some time. It was fried, but not breaded or crispy, and definitely not greasy. I would not be surprised if it was brined or marinated first, because it had such a good flavor — very savory, with a hint of sweetness. No spiciness here, unlike several of the other ingredients. I wish Chef Ridwan would offer a whole meal of Indonesian fried chicken, because I would totally order that.
These were lightly crispy, crunchy, salty chips that were included. I’m not sure which of the two meals they came with (maybe both?), but I have bought similar chips at Asian markets around Orlando, and I always like them.
I thought about holding off on writing my review of Yellow Spoon Kitchen because I don’t know when and where Chef Ridwan will pop back up with new menu items. But life is so unknowable these days, and everyone is still hunkering down and ordering takeout, while craving some novelty to break up the monotony. I wanted to start spreading the good word now, so people can be on the lookout for his eventual triumphant return and discover his Indonesian cooking for themselves.