As food lovers, one of the greatest joys might be coming across a new cuisine or dish that tastes like nothing you’ve had before. The first bite when your taste buds are awakened to a totally new flavor profile and the only thing you can do is smile and enjoy this whole new experience.
While L.A. has seen a few Indonesian restaurants come and go over the years, having not just one, but three specialists focusing on the cuisine of Bali (one of the 17,000 islands that comprise Indonesia) pop-up now, during the pandemic is nothing short of a miracle.
A weekly pop-up from Chef Luh Putu Suarniti, Chef Suarniti is not a formally trained Chef, but learned traditional Balinese cooking from her mother growing up in Bali. The pandemic has pushed Chef Suarniti to look at ways to survive and Bali Mesari was born.
Ayam Bakar (Balinese Grilled Chicken, served with Sambal Matah & Sayur Plecing):
Chef Niti’s Ayam Bakar (Balinese Grilled Chicken) looks like something super spicy, arriving fiery red in color. However, taking a bite, it is surprisingly tame, only lightly spicy, but with some unique flavors. It turns out her recipe involves Galangal, Makrut Limes and Lemongrass, amongst other ingredients in her family recipe. The result is a pleasing delicious Grilled Chicken flavor that we’ve never experienced before.
Her Homemade Sambal Matah is an absolutely addictive condiment that comes with the Grilled Chicken, made up of Shallots, Lemongrass and various Chilies in Coconut Oil. It’s fragrant, spicy, and I couldn’t stop adding a bit of it to each bite of the Chicken and Rice.
The side of Sayur Plecing (Blanched Bean Sprouts and Long Beans with Spicy Tomato Sauce) was fine: Lightly flavored, but the Housemade Spicy Tomato Sauce gave it a nice kick.
Nasi Jinggo (A Classic Balinese Dish with Shredded Chicken and Yellow Rice Cooked in Turmeric and Coconut Milk):
The Shredded Chicken in Chef Niti’s Nasi Jinggo has notes of Lemongrass, a Housemade Tomato-based Sauce and Makrut Lime Leaves. It’s meaty, flavorful and the combination with her Turmeric, Coconut Milk Rice made it another tasty dish.
The side of Tempeh was sweet and spicy and the Hard Boiled Egg was OK. The side of Fried Noodles were probably the only underwhelming flavor / bite off of her entire menu.
Balinese Pork Ribs (Served with Sayur Plecing and Sambal Matah):
Then you get to her Balinese Pork Ribs. Taking a bite:
As previously mentioned, for those of us that love food, when you run across a bite of something totally new, interesting, engaging, arresting, those are the moments of bliss we should cherish. This was one of those times.
The flavor explosion was so stunning, unique, interesting that I simply had a giant smile on my face while eating these moist, tender Roasted and Grilled Balinese Pork Ribs. The flavor combination was nothing I’d had before. Chef Niti mentioned later that her recipe involved some Roasted Cumin, Turmeric, various Chilies, along with a Sweet Soy Sauce Glaze, but the flavors went beyond simply those ingredients. It was nothing short of outstanding!
Born out of the pandemic, Bali Mesari is simply joy, with Chef Luh Putu Suarniti delivering comforting Balinese home-cooked meals. If you can only order one item, do not miss out on the Balinese Pork Ribs. But her other items were also quite tasty. I can’t wait to see what new items she does next.
(Weekly Orders through her Instagram Site):
Similarly, COVID-19 forced sisters Celene and Tara Carrara to look at ways to make a path forward during the pandemic. Having grown up in Bali, Indonesia before moving to the U.S., they looked to their past for a way to the future. They had loved eating Bungkus (meaning “Package”, a street food of Rice and various dishes wrapped in Banana Leaves) and other local dishes growing up in Bali, and while continuing to cook at home over the years, they decided to bring this flavor of Bali to L.A.
Satay Lilit Babi (Spicy, Charcoal-Grilled Minced Pork with Grated Coconut, Wrapped around a Lemongrass Stalk):
Their new Special on our 1st visit was Satay Lilit Babi (Spicy, Charcoal-Grilled Minced Pork with Grated Coconut, Wrapped around a Lemongrass Stalk). The Charcoal-Grilled Pork & Coconut was fragrant and savory as is, but adding a bit of their homemade spicy condiment, and it elevated the dish to a whole new level! It was incredibly tasty, onion-y, spicy, tart and zesty. It was like nothing I’d had before.
Celene and Tara’s Bungkus is nicely packaged with some wax paper, which gives way to the fresh Banana Leaf holding together the treasure within: Coconut Rice with a variety of Homemade Balinese dishes.
Sayur Urab (Long Bean and Bean Sprout Salad with Finger Root):
The ingredients may not sound like much, but the Sayur Urab (Sauteed Long Bean and Bean Sprouts with Finger Root) was ridiculous! The sisters have simply worked culinary magic, because it was fragrant, full of spices (not “Chili spice”) and it was another moment of “Where has this been all my life?”
Coconut Chicken Curry (Slow-Cooked for Six Hours in Coconut Milk):
I loved Celene and Tara’s Balinese Coconut Chicken Curry as well. It didn’t taste like a Thai, Indian, Chinese or Japanese Curry, but something unique and standout. Fragrant, tropical and savory, and a great pairing with their Coconut Rice.
Abon Babi (Traditional Dried Pork Garnish) + Tempeh Goreng (Fried, Fermented Soy Bean in a Sweet and Spicy Glaze):
The Abon Babi (Traditional Dried Pork Garnish) was the only bite in this Bungkus that tasted familiar: It was very similar to Chinese Pork Floss topping (used in Porridge), but this was still a delightful, textural and flavor contrast to the rest of the Bungkus dishes.
The Tempeh Goreng (Fried, Fermented Soy Bean in a Sweet and Spicy Glaze) provided a bit of the the sweet and savory angle to the overall meal. They were meaty bites of Tempeh, but still standout.
Kecang Bali (Bali-Style Roasted Peanuts) + Mother-In-Law Egg (Hard-Boiled Egg with Chili Paste):
Their Bali-Style Roasted Peanuts might seem like an afterthought, but these Fresh-Roasted Bali-Style Peanuts are wonderful! Truly the type of aromatic nuttiness you can only get from fresh-roasting Peanuts, and the seasoning was like nothing we usually get over here in the States.
The interestingly named Mother-In-Law Egg was fine. It’s a Hard-Boiled Egg, but it’s their Housemade Chili Paste that elevates it.
Sambal Goreng (Spicy Thai Chilies, Shallots, and Garlic, Fried and Finished with Coarse Salt):
Finally their Sambal Goreng (Spicy Thai Chilies, Shallots, and Garlic, Fried and Finished with Coarse Salt) was the perfect finisher to their incredible Bungkus: It sounds like some familiar flavors, but that topping / condiment was nothing short of stunning! It added real umami flavors, crave-worthy, a real Chili heat and deliciousness. It was so good we bought a package of it to sprinkle on other stuff later.
Black Rice Pudding (A Balinese Dessert Classic. Black “Forbidden Rice” Porridge Topped with Warm Coconut Milk, Palm Sugar and a dash of Salt, with Fresh Pandan):
This was thankfully not overly sweet. Tropical, comforting, delicious.
Bungkus Bagus turns out to be another delightful Balinese Pop-Up from sisters Celene and Tara Carrara. The main focus is the incredible Bali street food known as Bungkus, which is basically a meal with various dishes with Coconut Rice wrapped in a Banana Leaf.
What makes Bungkus Bagus so incredible is the quality of ingredients, the deftness of Celene and Tara’s cooking, and the unique, standout flavors that are not commonly found around So Cal. It’s another standout bite we’ve had this year, despite the brutal challenges that the entire world is going through.
(Signup for their Newsletter to be notified on their Pop-Up dates (usually once a month)):
We saw mention of Medan Kitchen thanks to an Eater LA article, which is more of a Takeout Only spot, with various prepared meals ready to eat, along with some Indonesian grocery staples as well.
Walking in, you’ll see a socially distanced line where folks can peruse various offerings of prepared foods To-Go, and it seems the family who runs Medan Kitchen prepares many of the main meals, but the counter features “guest meals / sweets” as well from various other Indonesian families.
While some of the prepared meals were still piping hot (steamed up and warm / hot to the touch), the staff confirmed that most of the dishes are at room temperature, to be taken home to heat up and eat, or refrigerate and save for another meal.
We’d normally order a few items here, but the meals that looked the most interesting were cold (to be taken home to reheat later), so we stuck with their Balinese Bungkus offering.
Nasi Bungkus (White Rice, Beef Rendang, Spicy Boiled Egg, Sambal Belacan, Fried Chicken, Tofu Tempeh with Green Chili, Spicy Potato w/ Anchovy and Peanuts):
Medan Kitchen’s version of Nasi Bungkus is a lot of food! It’s probably about ~50% more food than Bungkus Bagus’ version, and this could probably serve 2 people. Opening it up:
Spicy Boiled Egg + Tofu Tempeh w/ Green Chili:
Their Spicy Boiled Egg was fine. It was a Hard-Boiled Egg slathered with a Spicy Sambal.
The Tofu Tempeh with Green Chili was tasty. Definitely a lot more saucy (all of the components) compared to Bungkus Bagus, but the flavor profile on Medan Kitchen’s version of Tempeh was standout in its own way. I loved the Green Chili kick to each bite.
Medan’s version of Fried Chicken was a bit disappointing if expecting it to be anything crispy or crunchy. It was fried, but then coated in a spicy-sweet Chili Paste. The actual Chicken itself was fresh-tasting and tender enough.
Beef Rendang + Spicy Potato, Anchovy with Peanuts:
We’ve had Beef Rendang in the past (although still not a very common offering around town), and Medan Kitchen’s version tasted distinct and with a pleasing spice blend compared to previous versions we’ve tried. Each morsel of Stewed Beef was tender and quite tasty.
The Spicy Potato, Anchovy & Peanuts dish was standout as well, with an interesting herb and spice combination that we haven’t had before.
Overall, Medan Kitchen is a family operation, offering Indonesian Takeout Meals and grocery staples as well. Their Bungkus is cheaper ($13 vs. $18) and has more quantity of food than Bungkus Bagus’ version, but flavor-wise, we preferred Bungkus Bagus much more. Still, this seemed like a great, unique meal option for the area and we’d be glad to stop by again the next time we’re passing through.
(Open Thurs - Sun Only)
8518 Valley Blvd., Suite 102
Rosemead, CA 91770
Tel: (626) 782-7252
With the pandemic forcing countless restaurant closures, it’s a minor miracle to see these 3 specialists focused on the cuisine of Bali start-up in a time like this. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, but we can’t wait to return and try more items from each of them.
Bali Mesari’s standout Balinese Pork Ribs are a must-order, unique, stunning in its flavor profile, but at the same time, it is tender, meaty, luscious Pork Ribs at its core.
Medan Kitchen has a wide variety of offerings, and has the best QPR of the bunch, with a solid Nasi Bungkus as well.
And Bungkus Bagus delivers a beautiful, captivating dish with its Bungkus, a Balinese street food, but elevated with the care of sisters Celene and Tara, a cute Banana Leaf package of Coconut Rice, and such an interesting array of Balinese dishes to pair with it, like the Sayur Urab (Long Bean and Bean Sprout Salad with Finger Root) and their incredible Coconut Curry Chicken and more.
It’s food that’s not only unique and interesting, but it’s comforting as well, and their packaging is perfect for enjoying To-Go. These are culinary gems worth celebrating and supporting, especially in a time like this.