Spice Tsunami

22 Feb

Upi Jaya, of which I have written of below, was our first experience as a group with Indonesian food. We still had not replaced Charlie and for this venture were only four. After eating at Upi Jaya, I think those of us that were present were unanimous in proclaiming the restaurant, along with Tandoori Hut and Malaysian Rasa Sayang as our top three places in the three years we had been gathering for these dinners.


Upi Jaya
76-04 Woodside Aveue


Upon awakening the morning after eating at Upi Jaya my youngest son shrieked, my wife cowered, and the dog sniffed curiously around me. It was as if there had been a full moon and I had been out all night stalking fresh meat in the forest. There was a raw, coarse odor permeating from my pores; something earthy, yet not of this earth.

It has been a very tough year for Indonesia. The tsunami devastated many of the islands and the earthquake last month added another tragic punch. We’ve all donated to tsunami relief, but I thought that bringing our intrepid group to eat at this Indonesian restaurant in Elmhurst, Queens, one of only five in New York, would, in some small way, help the suffering economy thousands of miles and half a world away. And at the same time we would be satisfying our collective consciences, we would be happily filling our already bloated stomachs.



Rick was a late scratch so there were only four of us for this outing, but Som, the owner of Upi Jaya and a very helpful host, had a table ready. He was anxious for us to try Indonesian cuisine and pleased that we were the adventurous types who were willing to take on anything. And here that meant pulling no punches when it came to the spice meter. None of us had really ever had authentic Indonesian food, so just about everything on the menu was virgin territory. We left the ordering in Som’s very capable hands.

While we waited for our food, Indonesian Karaoke tracks with videos were playing on the television. With the words slowly displayed on the screen, we soon were getting the hang of the tricky Malay language spoken in Indonesia. But the music and the videos were, after a bit, just a distraction to the food. To start, Som brought out one of the specialties of the house, gado gado, a mixed salad smothered in a spicy, though not hiccup-inducing, peanut sauce—kind of an Indonesian cole slaw. Along with the salad, we had pempek kapal selam, a broiled fish cake with a cooked egg yolk inside, served in a hot and sour, cold soup like sauce, and the one familiar item on the menu, beef sate, though the dark, spicy peanut sauce was different than what I’ve had in Thai and Malaysian restaurants.



The most famous item on the menu, according to Som, was rending padang, pieces of beef rubbed in a fiery paste and slow cooked to absolute tenderness. We ordered the small portion, which was more than enough for our group especially since, with the heat in the dish  being truly volcanic, a little went a very long way. Then there were the curry beef ribs in a chili/garlic coconut milk sauce and shrimp broiled and cooked with chopped chili peppers. The only relief for the spice assault was the white rice—and that, with shaved fried garlic bits on top, even had a bite to it. Finally, Som recommended a vegetable which we, thinking it would be a cooling alternative, gladly agreed to. But we should have known better; the sayur daun singkong, a soup of kale and coconut leaf also had a sizzling snap to it.

The waiter kept the water coming, but it did nothing to diminish the heat in our mouths. Some might think eating hot spicy food like what was served at Upi Jaya is a masochistic experience, but they are wrong. If done right, as it was here, the experience is thrilling; almost cleansing in a way. We were having food that yes had intense heat, but it also had intense flavor and for the first time all winter, at least temporarily, my sinuses actually seemed clear. But would I risk a night banished from the bed and quarantined from my children to repeat the experience? I think, for another taste of the amazing rending padang, I might just risk it and I’m sure, if necessary,  Zio would allow me refuge at his Astoria love shack.



Upi Jaya is, thankfully, still in business but I, unfortunately, have never been back since that early spring evening in 2005. A big mistake on my part and one I hope to rectify very soon.

4 Responses to “Spice Tsunami”

  1. James Lax February 22, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    O’K then… So what explanation will you provide for all those years you had not tried spicy, Indonsian food… How about a follow-up vist and review ? Just give those close to you advance warning !

  2. philip richard falcone February 22, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    I took my wife and daughter soon after the review. Both were burned pretty badly, it’s a great place.

  3. BSS February 22, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Yes, even with my asbestos mouth, the heat penetrates. Not for the timid.


  1. Adventures in Chow City: The First Decade « Fried Neck Bones…and some home fries - March 27, 2012

    […] The rending padang at Upi Jaya  Spice Tsunami […]

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