Sandy • The 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia are home to the fourth-largest population in the world. But few of us in Utah know anything about Indonesia’s food.
The owners of MakanMakan, an Indonesian-influenced restaurant found in a commercial center next to a diamond dealer and chain breakfast joint, hope to change that. With their unexpectedly delightful take on the street food of their youth and their travels to Southeast Asia, they may just do so. Being perhaps the Salt Lake Valley’s only Indonesian-Malaysian restaurant seems to have its advantages: One Saturday night, more than an hour before closing time, we were turned away because the kitchen couldn’t keep up with demand.
Imagine eating goat cooked in a curry of coconut milk, cloves, lemongrass and lime leaf ($11.25) while sipping nutty coconut water from the carved fruit ($4.25). Follow it with what looks like a bowl of jewels: a mound of shaved ice topped with strips of mango-yellow jackfruit, cubes of emerald-colored grass jelly and balls of pale pink lychee fruit swimming in coco pandan syrup ($5.55).
Let’s start with the name: Makan means “eat” in Indonesian, but the restaurant’s owners translate the name to mean “Let’s have a feast.” And you’ll want to bring an empty stomach and some friends to help you dine on the large helpings.
All of the rice or noodle entrées — served with various meats or seafood and often topped with a jammy boiled egg and flavored with coconut milk and a helping of sambal, or chile jelly, on the side — are inspired by married couple Daniel Yuswadi’s and Mercy Subianto’s childhood meals in Indonesia, or their annual travels to places like Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
While the dishes could be found at a food stall in one of those countries, the entrées aren’t entirely authentic. Yuswadi, who worked as a district manager and regional chef for Panda Express for years in California, Florida and Utah, said he dialed down the spice levels to match Western tastes. But you can always turn it to 11 with the free side of the tomato-chile jam made with shrimp paste.
MakanMakan’s owners mix their spices and create the sauces from scratch.
“It’s like our playground,” Yuswadi said. “We want to play with food.”
To start, set aside your no-bread diet for the night and indulge in roti canai ($4.75), sometimes known as Malaysian croissants: three large pieces of flatbread made with flour, margarine and condensed milk, soaked in oil and cooked on a griddle. They are served with warm, red curry sauce that you’ll want to bottle and use at home (and our server gave us an extra container upon asking). It’s also the same curry sauce used in the kari ayam dish, so don’t be surprised to find pieces of shredded chicken.
The martabak telor ($6.95) is a good option, too: a savory pancake of diced chicken, lots of scallions and scrambled eggs folded in a crêpelike wrapper. It’s served with acar — lightly pickled cucumber and diced red onions, a refreshing complement that accompanies most dishes. The finger-licking Honey Glazed Lollipop Wings ($7.75) are breaded almost like tempura in the Japanese karaage style, coated in a sweet sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
There are almost two dozen entrée choices. It helps to know that goreng means fried, ayam is chicken and mie is noodle. And the picture of the red chile pepper next to some menu items doesn’t necessarily mean those dishes are spicy. Ask the server to be sure; sometimes it means it comes with sambal on the side.
The lunch and dinner menus are the same, though the restaurant offers a lunch-only mini-rijsttafel, a sampler of three dishes (some off the menu and some are specials) and rice for $9.95. It’s popular in Amsterdam, a throwback to when the Dutch colonized Indonesia.
The gado-gado salad ($9.25) is a great entrée option, whether or not you’ve made the appetizers the main meal. It’s a hearty mixture of fried tofu cubes, wedges of hard-boiled egg and thinly sliced potatoes, all coated with a peanut-coconut milk dressing.
The mild laksa ($10.55) is a comforting bowl of coconut curry soup filled with rice noodles, chicken, prawn and strips of scallions, with just a hint of basil flavor.
A familiar, and popular, dish is mie tek tek ($9.55), named for the “tek tek” sound the spatula makes while hitting the wok. Similar to chow mein, the plate of fried thin noodles comes with large pieces of chicken and is flavored with a house-made sweetened soy sauce. The nasi goreng jawa ($9.75) is basically the same but made with rice instead of noodles.
Ayam bumbu rujak ($12.25) is a plate of six pieces of Cornish hen cooked in a spicy chile, onion, garlic and shrimp paste for an hour before heading to the grill, bone-in. It’s a lot of chicken for one diner, but since it’s traditionally meant for special occasions, go ahead and share. The sweet and spicy Red Curry Fish ($12.95), cod in a thick sauce with peas and carrots, is also tasty and satisfying.
There may be some polishing to do: When we called to make reservations, I was told they don’t make them, even though we had previously seen reserved tables.
But all in all, it’s worth a trip to Sandy to try flavors from afar.
MakanMakan (★★1/2 out of ★★★★)<br>Food • ★★1/2<br>Mood • ★★<br>Service • ★★1/2<br>This Indonesian-Malaysian restaurant, found in a Sandy strip mall, is full of surprises — from curried goat to a Dutch-influenced lunchtime menu to green jelly cubes on shaved ice. There are also curries and noodles reminiscent of Chinese, Indian or Thai food, but sweeter.<br>Location • 33 E. 11400 South, Sandy; 801-251-0967<br>Online • makanmakansandy.com<br>Hours • Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; 5-9 p.m.<br>Children’s menu • No<br>Prices • $-$$<br>Liquor • No<br>Reservations • Yes<br>Takeout • Yes<br>Wheelchair access • Yes<br>Outdoor dining • Yes<br>On-site parking • Yes<br>Credit cards • All major