Bali Kitchen

Bali Kitchen

MEET THE RESTAURATEUR

Jazz Pasay, Owner of Bali Kitchen

Nestled right at the heart of East Village, New York City, is a small and chic Indonesian restaurant. Bali Kitchen, owned by Indonesian immigrant Jazz Pasay, features an industrial chic decor which blends in well with the East Village aesthetic. This neighborhood is unique because the 1960s brought about an influx of musicians, artists, and hippies drawn to low rent prices. Bali Kitchen’s white-painted exposed brick wall and dark wood tabletops contrast with the silvery metal chairs and the stark black exterior. This combination with a glass storefront creates a beautiful setting to eat delicious food.

Bali Kitchen
Bali Kitchen

Bali Kitchen is only a few blocks away from the iconic New York deli, Katz delicatessen. But not to worry, Bali Kitchen holds its own.

Jazz Pasay, the owner of Bali Kitchen, is a warm and put together individual who is a confluence of Indonesian culture. His passion to share Indonesian food as a vehicle for culture is contagious. He was born in Manado, a city on Sulawesi island but grew up in Surabaya, East Java island spending much time in Bali and eventually moved to the capital city, Jakarta. His menu is inspired by his vibrant and island-hopping style upbringing. Pasay takes the best dish from every city and showcases them in his menu, thereby bringing the best of Indonesia to New York City.

Bali Kitchen

Jazz Pasay, the owner of Bali Kitchen, holding a plate of fake rambutans (an Indonesian fruit)

“I immigrated straight to New York City,” said Pasay. He worked for American, Chinese, Korean and Japanese restaurants before ultimately opening Bali Kitchen.

Pasay opened this restaurant in September of 2017 with the mission of sharing Indonesian culture to New Yorkers. New York City is already well known for its ethnic diversity and charming multicultural society, so introducing Indonesian food and culture is another great addition to this already breathtaking city.

Pasay’s mother owned a small catering business in Jakarta where he was introduced to the importance food plays in shaping identity and forging relationships among people. While Pasay helped his mother in the kitchen occasionally, he still owns a fashion business in Jakarta that has been operating for the last 20 years called Jazz Pasay & SAMAR costume & beyond.

Bali Kitchen

Head Chef, David Silva Perez, cooking in the kitchen of Bali Kitchen

Pasay gets his aromatics, spices, and ingredients from an Indonesian grocery store in Chinatown as well as from Amherst, Queens. According to Pasay, there is a large and thriving Indonesian community in Queens and supermarkets with imported Indonesian goods are abundant in the area.

Bali Kitchen

Interior of Bali Kitchen.

Pasay’s genuine need to share his culture comes through when asked about his clientele. He knows them very well, already categorizing the restaurant eaters into three groups. His familiarity with who eats at his restaurant reflects his passion to share his culture to both those who don’t know it and those already familiar with it. He explains the first group are local New Yorkers who live in East Village. Second come New Yorkers who have, according to Pasay, “certain connection to Indonesia, either they have been to Indonesia or they have family members or friends who are Indonesian”. And thirdly, are Indonesian tourists who need some taste of home after traveling to the States.

BEING GAY IN INDONESIA

Pasay immigrated in 2012 through his husband. Pasay said, “Gay marriage over there [in Indonesia] is very illegal so I just moved here [New York City].” Pasay married his husband in June 2012 while in the process of applying for gay asylum, he said, “Lucky us, before submitting the file, the US federal government legalized same-sex marriage in June 2013.”

The Indonesian LGBT community is subject to discrimination and hate crimes. Indonesia is a Muslim majority country and religion is very closely tied with politics, thereby affecting public policy. Religious norms hold strong beliefs that make it dangerous for Indonesians to express their sexuality and many face threats to their lives, such as flogging punishments in Aceh. Same-sex marriage is not recognized and same-sex couples are not protected under the eyes of the law. Recently, the political climate is increasingly hostile as sharia-supporting terrorist fundamentalist Muslim groups have gained more support.

OBSTACLES FACED IN AMERICA

Pasay talks about the hardships he faced with opening a restaurant in America. For instance, Indonesian cuisine may simply be too exotic and therefore practically unheard of to many Americans. This lack of exposure is a significant barrier to bringing customers to his restaurant. Pasay said, “Not many people are familiar with Indonesian food so it’s hard for them to instantly get drawn to it.”

Further, there was a difference in workplace dynamics that needed to get some getting used to; such as the relationship between employer and employee is more hierarchical back in Indonesia. Pasay said, “It’s just harder to manage people because this is America and it’s not like in Indonesia where you can just ask people to do things. Here it’s a different dynamic.”

Pasay also mentions health regulations as an unexpected obstacle. Pasay said, “In Indonesia, you serve food at room temperature and it’s okay. But here everything has to be hot and cooked right away. If you leave the food out for a long time the health department would give us sanctions.” What makes it difficult, according to Pasay, “our food has different varieties [of cooking methods]: one is baked, grilled, fried, steamed and so you really have to be able to manage the time.”

THE CUISINE

Indonesia is home to over 300 ethnic groups and this presents a uniquely diverse and incredibly wide range of dishes. Indonesia is a large exporter of spices which leads to crazy flavor combinations in their food. From his menu, Pasay recommends Nasi Campur Bali, Rendang, and Nasi Goreng. He said, “Those three are very popular.”

Bali Kitchen’s food is authentic and traditional, with hardly any American influence. According to Pasay, the taste may seem diluted to some people “because of the spice itself. We [him and his chefs] cannot get the fresh one so we’re subjected with the dried ones so as a result, it’s not really rich like in Indonesia. But in terms of authenticity, we employ/add the whole thing according to the traditional authentic recipe.”

Bali Kitchen
Bali Kitchen

My first visit I decided to order the house special Nasi Campur Bali, which literally translates to Rice Mix Bali. This dish is incredibly complex with nine different toppings (yes, nine) on top of rice plated over banana leaves served with a side of extra hot chili paste. Nasi Campur Bali acts much like a microcosm of Indonesian cultural identity- separate components that all come beautifully together in a delicious dish. Nasi Campur Bali includes chicken marinated in a combination of Indonesian herbs topped with grated coconut flakes, peanuts, egg topped with chilli sauce, tempeh (fried fermented soybean), green beans, fried shallots, krupuk (deep fried cracker), sate lilit (chicken skewer marinated in Indonesian herbs) and some battered and fried miscellaneous vegetables. If you like your food sweet, I definitely recommend topping it off with the in house sweet soy sauce called kecap manis that they provide on the countertop next to the cutlery.

Going clockwise: Jamu drink, chilli sauce, krupuk and Nasi Campur Bali (House Special dish).

For the accompanying beverage, Bali Kitchen has a wide range to choose from, including but not limited to durian juice, coconut water, iced lychee or rambutan, and sweetened iced teas (famously teh botol and teh kotak). I chose the traditional Indonesian drink, Jamu which is a blend of turmeric, tamarind, black pepper, and yacon syrup. The thin, dark orangey liquid was surprisingly pleasant despite the unconventional mix of ingredients and perfectly complements the main course because it cuts right through the intense spiciness of the added chili. Traditionally, Jamu is a medicinal drink but here it takes on a milder taste, while still staying true to the health benefits of its original inspiration.

My second visit I ordered Nasi Goreng Kampung, fried rice with dried fish and shrimp paste. This dish is topped with eight toppings: sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes, shrimp crackers, pickled vegetables, fried onions, fried egg, dried fish and dried shrimp. Nasi Goreng Kampung is a staple, everyday food for Indonesians and has an incredibly strong flavor profile that can only be achieved using a variety of spices.

Nasi Goreng Kampung

Bali Kitchen doubles not only as a restaurant but a catering service- with a secret menu. Pasay mentions that with the cold New York winter season, offices and private events order food for large groups. They famously prepare Nasi Tumpeng, an elaborate and colorful feast centered around yellow, aromatic infused rice shaped in an inverted cone. Pasay smiles when he mentions that those who call for this service are almost always Indonesians because they are familiar with what they want and ask him to prepare special orders like terasi and ikan asin which are sometimes unfeasible to cook in the small restaurant kitchen. But don’t be intimidated, Pasay is very friendly and is willing to cater to newcomers who have no idea that they would be in for such a treat!

Nasi Tumpeng catering order. Image courtesy of Bali Kitchen.

Nasi Tumpeng is an extremely significant dish to Indonesian cultural and historical identity. It dates far back to ancient Indonesian tradition that revered mountains as spirits. Read more about the symbolic and philosophical meanings and the complex beliefs about Nasi Tumpeng in this article.

SITUATION NOW IN INDONESIA

Indonesia was hit particularly bad throughout 2018 by a series of earthquakes and tsunamis that caused numerous casualties namely in the regions of Java, Sumatra, Lombok, and Sulawesi. The worst of which struck Sulawesi last September which killed over 2,000 people. Despite Indonesia’s unfortunate familiarity with earthquakes and tsunamis, there is a lack of infrastructure available to prevent high casualties. Death and injuries could have been mitigated or avoided but instead, the government failed to maintain warning systems that would have saved many lives.

CNN covered an article about what went wrong with Indonesia’s early tsunami warning system, which highlights the country’s failure to warn its citizens due to “vandalism, limited budget, and technical damage to tsunami buoys”, according to Supoto Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for Indonesia’s National Board for Disaster Management.

Despite the natural disasters that occur seemingly frequently in the area and questionable human rights issues, Indonesia remains a fascinating place to visit. To get a small taste of that Indonesian spirit, visit Bali Kitchen, right here in the Big Apple. You won't be sorry.

 

Visit:
Bali Kitchen
128 E 4th Street • New York, NY 10003
646.678.4784
Hours: Everyday from 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

About the Author

Isabel is an adventurous eater and will happily go out of her culinary comfort zone. She’s constantly obsessed with finding her new favorite food and trying the craziest foods. As an avid traveler, she believes food is the perfect way to bridge the gaps between people of different cultures.

Ital Kitchen

Ital Kitchen

A red door and a pink patio announce the small, Caribbean-style eatery on Union Street in the midst of the shops, corner stores and brownstones in Brooklyn, New York. The emerald green siding and painted cement patio recall the vibrant island culture where chef Michael Gordon finds his roots.

Ital Kitchen
Gordon, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, began cooking around the age of 6 or 7 out of necessity for himself and his sister when their family lived in the rural Jamaican countryside. “We didn’t have a refrigerator or anything, so we just had to cook food every day, what we grew from the ground.” He moved to New York 30 years ago at the age of 15, following his mother to Queens to find himself in a world of new people and a different culture. When he first moved to Queens, he explains that at first he struggled to fit in and adapt to the American language, much different than Jamaican patois – sometimes called “broken English,” spoken in a strong accent with grammatical influences, language structure, words and phrases borrowed from several African and other languages. “After about a year, I started running with the other Jamaicans and it was all good,” Chef Gordon continues, and says that he also spent time with his Uncle who is a member of the 12 Tribes of Israel order of Rastafari. The experiences with him brought him to cooking Ital, and since then his love and appreciation for the food has grown. “I love how Ital food makes you feel, … once you stop eating the stressed-out animals, and switch to a plant based diet, you become more positive.” Ital food (pronounced eye- taal) comes from Caribbean Rastafarian culture, a stylized form of the word “vital.” Ital food is traditionally pescatarian or vegan, free of synthetic chemicals and preservatives, and full of beneficial herbs, spices and nutritious fruits and vegetables. True to Rastafari, Gordon states “Positivity starts with your food; When you start to rebel, food is where you start.”

To understand Ital cuisine, one must understand Rastafari. Rastafari began as a religiopolitical movement among the oppressed and poverty-stricken people of the slums of Jamaica in the 1930s. As a religion Rastafari holds Haile Selassie I, former emperor of Ethiopia, to be the second coming of the messiah, Africa to be the spiritual homeland of all Blacks, and the Holy Bible to be the only true word of God, or Jah. As a culture Rastafari celebrates love, unity, respect, African culture such as drums, language, art and spirituality, and natural, sustainable living. It is born from a Caribbean culture that is a mix of African, European, Native American and East Indian influences, and as such Ital food represents a meatless, all-natural take on Caribbean food.
Ital Kitchen
I visited Ital Kitchen BK around noon on a Friday in January for a healthy, vegan lunch. I walked in to the one-room establishment to find a beautiful interior, its small size typical of a New York business. The walls are painted a vibrant violet hue, decorated with African paintings and wooden carvings and masks. Gordon stood at the stainless-steel counter in the rear of the room chopping vegetables, the kitchen area sectioned off by shoulder height rice-paper folding dividers. He invited me to sit anywhere I liked. I took my place at a small table next to a short pink book shelf and a painting of Reggae legend Peter Tosh. I gave a nod to the Stepping Razor, and examine the book on the shelf – a collection of cook books in between cultural and sociopolitical works like Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and Nelson Mandela’s “Conversations With Myself,” as well as a book on natural healing through food.

Ital Kitchen

Gordon strolled over to my table and greeted me with the Rasta phrase “Yes I,” and placed a bright blue glass in front of me and a large glass bottle of ice cold water. He handed me the menu and let me know me he was now cooking food from the lunch section, and suggested to me the ‘Lunch Box Special’ of the day: Jerked “chicken” (tofu strips) and zucchini. I spent a few minutes looking over the single-page menu, its simple and effective format offering an array of tasty dishes, drinks and sides but not an overwhelming amount. The lunch menu – served 11am to 3pm – is smaller than the dinner menu, with savory and convenient choices like the Jerk “Chicken” Burrito with sautéed onions, peppers, and brown rice and the Mushroom Burrito with shiitake mushrooms, sautéed peppers, onions, and rice as well as avocado and black beans. I decided to order the Lunch Box Special, and also the soup of the day, which was a spinach soup.

While I waited for my food, I enjoyed the crisp taste of water served in glass, appreciating the absence of plastic in Gordon’s restaurant. I took some time to look over the rest of the menu, and saw an array of flavorful, unique Ital dishes. Mickey Lee’s BK Chow Mein caught my eye, a serving of Asian noodles with red cabbage, carrots, and peas, a marker of the diversity of Gordon’s menu. Right under that I saw the IK Veggie Burger, a vegan spin on the American food classic with sun dried tomatoes, chickpeas, mushrooms and lettuce. The Turmeric Stew was a savory, spicy choice that made me wish I had come four hours later during the dinner menu. I dreamed of the hearty dish of potatoes, carrots, roasted corn, and coconut milk. The drink menu was equally diverse ad colorful, with natural beverages like Turmerical Ting – made from turmeric, ginger, lemon, and apple – and acai, sea moss and mango Yes I! offering rejuvenating tropical flavors and nutrients to accompany the main dishes.

Having read the Kitchen’s slogan “We Cook Slow!” online, I was prepared for an extended wait for my food after I gave Gordon my order. To my delight, before 15 minutes had passed Gordon was placing a steaming plate of “chicken” and zucchini in an aromatic brown jerk sauce on the table, accompanied by a small bowl of wild rice and the vegetable soup. I thanked Gordon for my food, and took my first bite of the Jerk.

I was immediately surprised by the satisfying texture of the tofu shreds. As any vegetarian understands, soy meat substitutes are typically rubbery and are not very flavor absorbent, but such was not the case with Gordon’s vegan chicken. The scraps were chewy to an ideal extent, and had fully absorbed the essence of the sauce. The zucchini complimented the strips excellently, adding a fresh crunch to the savory dish. I moved on to the rice, and took a small pile of the firm, separate grains on the tip of my fork. The steam from the tan and brown long cut cereal carried an earthy scent, and the flavor was simple and earthy, the texture slightly al dente as it is in most Afro rice preparations. The soup was also a simple, complimentary dish: spinach with small slivers of potato and onion in a thin vegetable broth. It tasted of fresh spinach leaves, with the subtle taste of onion and spices. My two basic, modest sides created a fulfilling solid backdrop for the spicy, robust tastes of the jerk “chicken” and zucchini, and left me wanting for nothing. Finished with my food analysis, I dumped my rice into the plate of jerk, mixed it all together, and enjoyed a warm, healthy and filling meal.

Visit:
Ital Kitchen BK
1032 Union St. Brooklyn, NY.
Phone # 347-405-9727

You can find more information on Instagram @italkitchenbk.