The cultured soy product tempeh, called “tempe” by Indonesians, is much reviled by some, beloved by others.
“Two groups of people in the world know and appreciate tempe (pronounced ‘tem-pay’): vegans and Indonesians,” explains elmomonster. “The former have adopted what the latter has eaten for centuries. And as well they should. Tempe is a great meat-substitute, a soybean product that, unlike tofu, has the satisfying chew somewhere between a mushroom and a dense piece of meatloaf.”
Tempe is best fresh, but it’s hard stuff to make, explains elmomonster. It’s temperamental, and the process is laborious, including hulling each soybean, cooking it carefully, and getting the room temperature right. “Since the process is left to the whims and fickle nature of microbes, it is fraught with pitfalls. If you don’t know what to look for or what tempe should taste like (tangy but smooth), there’s always the danger that your hours of labor will result in something that might make you sick,” says elmomonster.
There hasn’t been a local producer of real Indonesian tempe until now: Tempe House, the only one of its kind. The place is almost to Palm Springs, in a desolate part of town, in a deserted strip mall. But if you get there: perfect hunks of tempe for $1 each, ready to take home.
Tempe House also has ready-made “turo turo” (think steam table) foods. The beef rendang is tempe-less, but it’s slow-cooked to tenderness, sweet, and intensely spiced. There’s also gudeg, a sugary stew made of jackfruit and hard-boiled eggs. You can get the tempe covered in crunchy batter as well, paired with a Thai chile garnish.
Tempe House [Inland Empire]
24984 Third Street, San Bernardino