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Indonesian Cuisine Popular in U.S.


Indonesian food is catching on in the United States -- especially in big cities like New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. -- where there are large Indonesian communities. As Amy Katz reports in this story, which was produced by VOA's Indonesian Service, the restaurants are a haven for homesick Indonesians but they are hoping to become popular with Americans.

Toto Sugito is from Subang, West Java, and now lives in Los Angeles, and he says he misses Indonesian food.

He, and many of his fellow expatriates, flock to Indonesian restaurants in the U.S. to eat authentic food from their homeland. And those who can cook the region's specialties are opening stalls, cafes and restaurants to satisfy the demand.

Karnoto {note: like many Javanese, Karnoto only has one name} just set up his own stall in his home just outside Washington, DC. "I did this because all of my friends urged me to do this. A lot of them miss their traditional food."

From these home businesses some branch out into full-fledged restaurants. Upi Zahar's Upi Jaya restaurant in New York had humble beginnings -- in her home.

"It was no longer possible to work from homeā€¦ but people kept on coming for the food. They wanted to eat in a more relaxed atmosphere with more room. So, that's why I set up this restaurant."

Opening a restaurant in America is not easy to do. Permits and licenses need to be obtained. And the rules vary from state to state.

If something does not meet local requirements, the restaurant could face closure or lose its business permit.

Some Indonesian restaurateurs have hired lawyers to navigate the system for them. Others have found the process is easy enough to navigate themselves.

Dewi Tirtowidjojo, who owns a restaurant in Los Angeles, California, says her restaurant not only gives people a taste of home, but also the opportunity to meet fellow Indonesian expatriates.

"I think the only way to bring Indonesians together, is by food. There's no better way to do that."

Some also see their restaurants as a way to promote Indonesian food -- in America. Currently other Asian cuisines, which have been available for much longer, are much more popular. Some restaurateurs say the Indonesian government should be doing more to help them gain access to the American market.

Riaz Saehu, a spokesman for the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, DC insists the government is involved in promoting Indonesian food.

"It's the policy of the Embassy to support these businesses. And we do support them. We have to have an understanding first of what this support means. For most people they think of support only in financial terms, but we don't provide that."

What the embassy and the restaurateurs hope is that Indonesian food will grow beyond its current status as comfort food for homesick Indonesians and will become part of the American mainstream -- like Chinese and other Asian cuisines already have.