Travel + Leisure’s online magazine recently named Curaçao among the “Best Caribbean Islands for Foodies”: ‘with a population made up of more than 50 nationalities, Curaçao’s food scene is incredibly diverse. Restaurants run the gamut from French and Dutch to Brazilian, Indonesian, and Japanese. Local krioyo (Creole) specialties include yuana (stewed iguana), keshi yená (stuffed cheese), and kokada (coconut patties).’
I will, however, give you one crucial culinary tip:
If you consider yourself a respectable foodie, do NOT leave Curaçao without sampling Indonesian rijsttafel.
Got to hand it to the Dutch, they sure know how to pick awesome colonies! And their colonies continue to spice up (traditionally bland) Dutch food with exotic flavors and textures. Though Indo-influences can be found all over Curaçao (hmmm peanut sauce!), rijsttafel (= rice table) is truly out of this world… a banquet of 10+ Indo-Dutch tapas (chicken, pork, beef, prawns, fish or all-vegetarian)… served on a bed of fluffy, steamy rice.
Little known fact, Indonesian rijsttafel belongs to the Dutch “Indische keuken”… and calling it “Indonesian” is actually a misrepresentation. Traditional Indonesian flavors were too extreme for Dutch colonial taste buds, so indigenous chefs had to soften their recipes by adding turmeric, lemongrass, ginger and other root herbs… this gave birth to a modified Indonesian kitchen: the “Indische keuken”, not to be confused with the Indian kitchen. (I’m not sure how to translate “Indische” to English (Dutch Indonesian?)… and the Dutch word rijsttafel gives this banquet sufficient Dutch flavor, so I’m not going to fuss about the misnomer too much)
Recipe modifications notwithstanding, rijsttafels are meant to represent the diverse indigenous cuisine of the multi-island, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual Dutch East Indies. Really thorough rijsttafels strive to feature an array of flavors, colors, degrees of spiciness, textures (crispy, chewy, slippery, soft, hard, velvety, etc.) Per Wikipedia: “dishes were assembled from many of the far flung regions of Indonesia, where many different cuisines exist, often determined by ethnicity and culture of the particular island or island group — from Javanese favorite sateh, tempeh and seroendeng, to vegetarian cuisine gado-gado and lodeh with sambal lalab from Batavia and Preanger. From spicy rendang and gulai curry from the Minangkabau region in Sumatra, to East Indies ubiquitous dishes nasi goreng, soto ayam and kroepoek crackers. Also Indonesian dishes from hybrid influences; such as Chinese babi ketjap, loempia and bamie to European beef smoor.”
After Indonesia gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1945, it mostly did away with the colonial rijsttafel (that said, select fine-dining restaurants still serve it today). Most rijsttafels are imported by former Dutch colonials, Indo-Europeans and exiled Indonesians and can be found in Amsterdam, Curaçao, Suriname, Brooklyn, San Francisco, etc (I’m always looking to expand this list, please let me know if you know of other countries / cities with Indonesian rijsttafel restaurants!)
In Curaçao, Indonesian rijsttafel is served at Tempo Doeloe in Piscadera (a short drive from the Marriott, Hilton, Floris Suites hotels), Batavia Club 1920 in Penstraat (walking distance from the Avila Beach Hotel) and Curanesia on Sta. Rosaweg.
** Sambal restaurant serves certain typical rijsttafel dishes but doesn’t offer a full banquet. Cabana‘s beach restaurant offers a Javanese buffet on Monday night; O Mundo restaurant offers their Javanese buffet on Saturday night.