It all started with a line in Jonathan Gold's LA Weekly article on Indo Cafe. In the last paragraph, he wrote:
"But you could probably scour every Indonesian restaurant in California without finding another nasi bungkus..."
A marvelous description, to be sure, yet that opening line bugged me. I remembered Linda Burum's LA Times article about that same dish - at Java Spice in Rowland Heights. Granted theirs is only available on Saturdays and Sundays. But what about the restaurant just across the street from Indo Cafe, Simpang Asia? I was pretty sure they had nasi bungkus.
In the end, I decided to do a round-up. Yep, a nasi bungkus round-up. Because if you do scour - forget California, let's just focus on LA County - you can find other nasi bungkus.
I started my acquisitions with the easiest and closest:
10433 National Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
I ordered a nasi bungkus to go (because that's what nasi bungkus was meant to be in the first place). They wrapped the rice and further put it in a styrofoam box - a little redundant? - with a side of shrimp chips.
In this nasi bungkus ($6.99) they put white rice, chicken, beef rendang, vegetable curry (lodeh), potatoes with chicken gizzard, Balinese egg.
Their chicken was surprisingly tender, but unfortunately the rendang wasn't as tender as it could've been. My favorite part was the morsels of delicious chicken gizzard chunks. The lodeh was also flavorful without being too spicy. Since lodeh is a coconut-based vegetable curry, it adds a richness to the dish and the part of the rice that has soaked up this curry sauce was incredibly delicious. The rice itself is for the most part fragrant after having been wrapped inside the banana leaf.
Next was the restaurant across the street that J Gold had visited:
10430 National Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90034-4664
Indo Cafe's nasi bungkus contained white rice, beef rendang, green beans, hard boiled egg, chicken curry, tofu/tempeh curry.
This was served with a dollop of green chile, which is traditionally from the Padang region in Sumatra. The rice did receive some fragrance from the banana leaf, but it wasn't as moist as Simpang Asia's. The beef rendang was more tender, however, and more than makes up for it. Surprisingly, my favorite part of the dish was the curried tofu and tempeh. The tempeh here was one of the better ones in the city, chewier and not as dry as others.
1743 Fullerton Road
Rowland Heights, CA 91748-2614
Java Spice on Urbanspoon
Since it received such a great write-up and is only available on the weekends, Java Spice was packed on a Saturday night and service was painfully slow.
All that aside, let's focus on the dish we came for.
Inside: rice, marinated fried chicken (ayam kalasan), tofu, tempeh, telur kecap (egg boiled in soy sauce), and of course, beef rendang, jackfruit curry.
The rice was particularly fragrant and brought this dish to a whole new level. It was much more fragrant and rich I was suspecting that it might've been coconut rice, but it might've just been the results of the curry and sauces seeping through. The ayam kalasan was disappointing as it was too sweet, a little tough and didn't really go with the rest of the dish (so I thought - chicken curry in my nasi bungkus please). Putting the chicken aside, everything else was great. The rendang was very tender and so was the jackfruit curry - usually a rare sight unless you're eating nasi gudeg.
812 Nogales Avenue
Walnut, CA 91789-4170
Sate House on Urbanspoon
Like Java Spice, the nasi bungkus at Sate House is also only available on Saturdays and Sundays.
A little different this time. The beef rendang was there, with fried chicken and egg, but the green beans with tofu and tempeh were not curried but just boiled, and the whole thing was topped with some stir fried vermicelli.
I'm sure you all understand why everything is piled on top of the rice right? So that their sauces and juices will trickle down and douse the rice moist with spicy, flavorful sauce ...
Probably the least spicy of the five, I enjoyed this one quite a bit with the fork-tender beef and moist and tender chicken. The vermicelli was quite a nice touch as well, adding another dimension of texture.
17155 Bellflower Blvd
Bellflower, CA 90706
Toko Rame on Urbanspoon
The nasi bungkus from Toko Rame had gotten a write-up a few years ago from Elmo Monster, a fellow foodblogger from Indonesia whom I unfortunately have not met.
Upon picking up my order I immediately thought "Wow, this is the heaviest one yet!" and upon opening it and seeing the red pile of rice, thought "Uh oh, this is gonna be the spiciest one .."
White rice topped with egg balado, beef rendang, fried chicken drumstick, lodeh (vegetable curry)
I sat a big bottle of water next to me and I was ready. Some people complain that the beef rendang found in this part of the world is just not as spicy as back home. Well, Toko Rame's is still not as spicy but it sure does pack a heat. The beef was earthy and tender, the chicken a little dry but had a nice turmeric flavor. The boiled cabbage on top was contrastingly unspiced which helped me tone down the spiciness but on the other hand could be detracting.
Toko Rame already mixed the rice with the chili paste for you, you see, instead of putting a dollop in a corner. The end result is an amazingly spicy and flavorful rice that you won't be able to stop eating even after you've finished all the meat and vegetables. If you can't, don't worry, just rewrap the rice for the next day... back in the banana leaf, of course.