JAKARTA: It is the perfect meal for cash-strapped university students and late-shift workers with limited options on what they can eat.
But for some people in Indonesia and elsewhere around the world, these plastic-wrapped, MSG-laden instant noodles are more than life savers in times of hardship. They have become a staple food, beloved for their affordability and practicality.
And no instant noodles are more famous than Indomie in Indonesia. The brand, which first appeared in 1972, is so well-known and loved in the country that it has become the generic term to describe instant noodles.
Since the creation of instant noodles, people have been modifying them according to their tastes and preferences.
Some like their noodles slightly undercooked and crunchy while others prefer them overcooked and soft. There are those who find the seasoning powder which comes with the noodles not flavourful enough and add in chopped chillis, shallots and spring onions. Some like their noodles with meat and egg, be it hard-boiled, sunny side up or whisked into the broth.
But these additions are mild compared to the unique creations on offer by some of these Jakarta restaurants - burgers, pizzas and omelettes.
“It’s all trial and error,” Melissa Liondini, the owner of Be-Em Cafe, told CNA. “We tried to come up with dishes no one has ever seen before.”
Although some customers prefer the original look and taste of the Indomie, there are those who are drawn to the restaurant’s unique spin on the humble meal. Be-Em’s instant noodle dishes have drawn thousands of curious customers to the small restaurant located on the eastern edge of Jakarta, a 40-minute drive from downtown.
“They put us on the map,” Liondini said of her creations.
Zaenal Abidin, a foodie who has been sharing recipes on his YouTube channel, said instant noodles proved to be so versatile that he has so far created at least 20 different Indomie-based dishes, and requests from his followers to make more continued to pour in.
“We can use Indomie as fillings, as bread replacements or as a wrap. The only limit is our imagination,” he told CNA.
Despite this, there are not that many restaurants in Jakarta which sell these crazy creations, with many opting to serve the more popular classic instant noodles.
CNA visited a few eateries where people can savour these contemporary noodles in Jakarta. Here are five options:
INSTANT NOODLES AS BURGER BUNS
Indomie burger is Be-Em's signature dish.
The fat, juicy beef patty is sandwiched between instant noodles moulded into cylindrical "buns" and the whole thing is smothered in a rich, creamy sauce.
The instant noodle buns are soft and have a hint of the savoury Indomie seasoning, which accented the tender burger meat and the crunchy lettuce and cucumber, while spinach and tomato add texture and flavour.
INSTANT NOODLES TURNED PIZZA BASE
The tiny cafe also boasts Indomie pizza, which uses baked instant noodles in place of a pizza bread. Only one variant is available, which is noodle pizza topped with margherita sauce and mozzarella cheese.
The noodles, lightly seasoned with Indomie's own seasoning powder, are cooked and hydrated using boiling water before they are baked to recreate the crunchiness of a pizza crust, which the cafe managed fairly successfully.
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But customers will not get that perfectly-congealed cheese strands which stretch from a slice of pizza as it is being lifted, nor that rich and milky bite of a layer of generously portioned mozzarella.
KEBAB WITH INSTANT NOODLE FILLING
Kebab was given an instant noodle twist at Be-Em. Indomie noodles are used as a filling inside a kebab flatbread, which has been baked until it is dry and crispy.
The dish is then topped with smoked beef and mixed vegetables.
The dish does not resemble a typical doner kebab as it is served in a bowl instead of being wrapped in the flatbread.
But the combination works well, with the softness of the noodles complementing the crunchiness of the savoury flatbread.
INSTANT NOODLE PANCAKE
Keibar is a restaurant chain popular among youths in the suburbs for its sleek decor and affordable menu. It is mainly known for its toasts with a wide range of fillings, from ice cream and Oreo to Toblerone chocolate.
But customers also come for its instant noodles, and one unique creation is the Indomie martabak (the Indonesian version of stuffed meat pancake murtabak) which has become a favourite among its regular patrons.
Like the usual martabak, this instant noodle version has a crunchy crust and a soft and chewy interior.
It is savoury and delectable on its own, but customers can also have the dish topped with minced meat and a generous portion of mayonnaise, which costs a little extra.
INDOMIE WITH SPICES FOR EXTRA KICK
Akademie, a trendy, two-storey restaurant located just minutes away from Jakarta’s business centre, is a hit among office workers looking for a quick and cheap meal.
Akademie, a portmanteau of academy and mie (noodle in Indonesian), is an instant noodle specialist.
While it used to boast more daring experiments like Indomie carbonara and Indomie aglio e olio, the COVID-19 pandemic had forced the restaurant to cut down its menu and focus on dishes that sell.
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But the restaurant still has some unique twists to the humble dish, combining instant noodles with different kinds of Indonesia’s traditional spices and sambal chilli pastes.
For instance, its Indomie sambal matah features stir-fried instant noodles with sambal matah (chopped chilli drenched in hot oil). Garnished with freshly cut chillis and deep fried shallots and served with a halved poached egg, it is the perfect instant noodle dish for those who love a little bit of heat.
The only problem is: One is not enough.