There's a pocket in South Philly's Point Breeze neighborhood called "Little Indonesia" with Indonesian restaurants and stores that I've been meaning to explore for years now (that to-do list is massive), and I finally got around to one of those eateries, Cafe Pendawa Lima.
Well, Cafe Pendawa is not really a restaurant like the highly praised South Philly Indonesian restaurants, Hardena and Indonesia, but Cafe Pendawa, is more of a corner bodega (check out this Chowhound listing for a list of more Indonesian bodegas in Philly).
Cafe Pendawa has a small selection of Indonesian grocery staples in back, and quite an impressive selection of freshly made food. Meals in plastic clam shell boxes are stacked in a large refrigerator along the wall, and sweet and fried goodies are displayed on a table running down the middle of the narrow building.
Scanning the refrigerator and all the plastic clam shells -- some without any identifying sticker, some with just the Indonesian name of the dish, and some with the Indonesian name and a list of ingredients -- I was a bit unsure what was what, and what did or didn't contain meat. I had to ask the friendly employee for assistance. He looked in the case, and said, "Sorry, they all have meat," but I spotted one without any markings that looked promising. "Ah, yes, Gado-gado has no meat," exclaimed the employee.Gado-gado might be one of the only Indonesian dishes I'm familiar with and have eaten before. If you're unfamiliar with Gado-gado, it's a salad with all sorts of varying ingredients of varying textures, but is always dressed with a sweet peanut sauce.
Pendawa's Gado-gado comes with the individual ingredients separated or in containers so every ingredient keeps it integrity until you're ready to assemble the salad and eat it. Chopped lettuce, Lontong (compressed rice cake cut into pieces), Kerupuk (Indonesian fried crackers), tempeh, fried tofu, mung bean sprouts, shredded steamed cabbage, half a hard boiled egg, chili sauce, and peanut sauce (heat up first to get ingredients combined) all came together for an excellent and filling salad that I would not mind eating every day. The ingredients were super fresh; no scary lettuce here!The desserts also don't have names or ingredients listed on their containers (when there even is a container; some are just hanging out in baskets), so I needed help in that department, too. Good thing I asked, because some desserts are made with meat!
The helpful employee recommended Nagasari, explaining it was a banana cake. Inside the banana leaf parcel was a firm, pudding-like dessert made from steamed coconut milk and flour surrounding a firm banana nothing like the soft, pale banana from the grocery store you're familiar with. I was conflicted by the smooth and firm gelatinous texture not common in most Western desserts, but oddly compelled by it, too. I ate it all in a jiffy and wanted more.I also grabbed Terang Bulan to try. Unfamiliar, yet yummy, I can only describe this dessert as minced peanuts, chocolate jimmies and cheese sandwiched between a condensed milk-soaked pancake. I'd definitely get it again.The freshness and quality of the food at Cafe Pendawa is exceptional. You just never know about some of these corner stores in Philly; they'll surprise you in a good way sometimes.
With the exception of a couple of dishes under my belt, I'm practically an Indonesian food newb, but so far so good! I can't wait to try some of the other Indonesian places in Philly, and might even get on it sooner them later.
Cafe Pendawa Lima
1529 Morris St., Philadelphia, PA 19147