When I asked the man at the counter at Mama Yu what I should order, he wasn't much help. "Everything good," he assured me. But after a moment's reflection, he said I should have the nasi goreng. It's usually my pattern to try something new to me, but I realized, I hadn't eaten Indonesian food since I was maybe 11 or 12, at a family favorite in Westchester County, NY.
The cuisine isn't easy to find even in ultra-diverse Houston, where Mama Yu, at 10815 Beechnut, and Rice Bowl II on Bellaire Boulevard are the only options. Ordering the standard fried rice dish that I'd eaten so many times as a kid seemed boring to me, but I couldn't resist. The result, fortunately, was anything but. While a few Indonesian families watched "Wheel of Fortune" on a pair of flat screens, I sipped a box of jasmine tea, one of two available in the drink case.
To say the experience of eating my plate of nasi goreng recalled childhood gustatory triumphs would be a lie. The version at Mama Yu was far better, with toothsome grains of rice glowing yellow with turmeric rich curry powder. A shallow wave of spice covered the scallions and clumps of eggs mixed in the rice. Chunks of lamb not much bigger than peas were speckled throughout the pile. Fried onions (bawang goreng) crunched on top. Comfort and complexity have seldom made such happy bedfellows.
Most Americans have eaten their share of satay skewers at Thai restaurants. But the meaty creation originated in Java and is widely considered the national dish of Indonesia, though nasi goreng is also a contender. At Mama Yu, there are three varieties: beef in Sumatran-style Padang curry, lamb dressed in sweet soy sauce and chicken in peanut sauce.
Once again, I made the obvious choice and went with chicken. I was rewarded with long-marinated, grill-charred meat in an exceptionally rich peanut sauce. Another stack of crispy bawang didn't hurt either. And just like that, I remembered how much I love Indonesian food. But next time, I promise I'll try something new.