I was sifting through Google Images for photos of classic Dutch food one day when I came across HEMA Resto, a restaurant chain in Indonesia. The name stood out, of course—HEMA is the best-known household department store in The Netherlands—but more conspicuous was the food. Traditional Dutch fare like hutspot met klapstuk (carrot, onions, and potatoes, all mashed with beef), huzarensalade (traditional Dutch salad), slavink (meat roll) and Dutch croquettes (meat ragout snack) were alongside Indonesian dishes like oxtail soup, bakso, nasi goreng and coconut cake.
There is a real love in the former Dutch colony for Dutch food, despite the fact that our food is not exactly known for its sophistication. I mean, boerenkoolstamppot (kale stew) is tasty, but it fades next to a spicy rijsttafel.
Butthis Indonesian restaurant chain—which claims ten branches in Jakarta and Bekasi—displays more clichés about Holland and Dutch cuisine than any tourist would ever find in Volendam and the Zaanse Schans combined. And it turns out that HEMA Resto has nothing to do with the Dutch HEMA—which, by the way, is famous for a smoked sausage that even has its own T-shirt. The HEMA at HEMA Resto stands for Halal, Anak, Murah and Artistik: halal, tasty, cheap and artistic.
We spoke to Zainir Umar, the owner of the restaurant, about Dutch cuisine and the remarkable interpretation of Dutch culture at Hema Resto.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Zainir. When did you open HEMA Resto? Zainir Umar: In the year 2000, we bought a school canteen in Bekasi. We sold only meatballs and soda and decorated the cafeteria with tulips, wooden shoes, and Delft Blue [ceramics]. Therefore, a lot of people thought that we were Dutch. We thought it was a great idea to have a restaurant with a Holland concept, so we renamed the canteen HEMA Dutch Family Restaurant.
But you don't have any roots in the Netherlands? No, there is really no connection at all. When we were working on the first restaurant, we gathered information and promotional material at the Dutch embassy in Jakarta. Since then, we are [now] very close to the embassy and we work together with them a lot. There is even a branch of HEMA Resto in the embassy.
Do you know the HEMA in the Netherlands, and its famous smoked sausage? This is a department store right? It is a coincidence. For us, the acronym means something completely different. We don't know about the sausage either, but are very curious to try it one day.
The menu is filled with Dutch dishes. Is your chef Dutch? Our head chef is Indonesian. He gets his inspiration for his dishes from the Het Kookboek voor Hollandse, Chinese en Indonesische gerechten of W.C. Keijner [a cookbook from 1927, written by a Dutch lady who lived in Batavia]. We also sometimes get recipes from friends and acquaintances.
How do you select dishes like stamppot met worst (mashed vegetable and potatoes with sausage)? For our Dutch menu we rely on things that are popular in Indonesia, such as mashed potatoes with smoked sausage, croquettes, brown bean soup, huzarensla, and macaroni. Most customers are Indonesian or have Dutch roots. Our restaurants prove that the Dutch taste is similar to that of the people in Indonesia. You love satay and nasi goreng; we love croquettes, bitterballen, and poffertjes.
You fell in love with each other's cuisine! Yes, that's true. We have a long history with the Dutch culture and the food. Without the Dutch, we would never had coconut cake, and you would never have rijsttafel. I mean, are there coconut trees and rice fields in the Netherlands? Even Bill Clinton loves rijsttafel—he ate it here when he was in Indonesia. With the Dutch desire for innovation and inspiration, we are very happy.
You now have ten restaurants. What is your secret formula? Our motto is "Dutch Cuisine with Holland Atmosphere." People do not just come for the food—they also come to visit "Little Holland." When you come to us, you will be greeted by a waiter in a Dutch costume with a Dutch name. Everyone who works with us also gets Dutch names like Henk, Ruud, Charles, Juliana, and Joyce. All rooms are named after Dutch cities and adorned with tulips, clogs, the royal family, the KLM houses, the Keukenhof. In the background, we play music from Wieteke van Dort or organ music. So you feel like you're really in Holland and people get an idea of Dutch culture, because that is our goal: to promote Dutch cuisine and culture in Indonesia.
Thanks for speaking to me, Zainir!