Saturday, 28 April 2012

Warung Ibu Amye

On one of the main roads, the Stuart Highway, leading into the Darwin CBD you pass by Sexyland on the right hand side. As you may gather, from the name, Sexyland sells adult erotica. Allegedly, because how would I know? It is said that you can purchase magazines, DVD's, clothing, blow up articles, things that need batteries to work, similar things that do not need batteries and a host of other stuff that consenting adults know about. However my eyes are drawn to what is on the opposite side of the road. A small, somewhat dilapidated looking shop called Warung Ibu Amye. The signage proudly declares that it sells Laksa, Indonesian food and Timorese food. On Friday and Saturday nights there is a sign outside advising that "Amees famous spicy BBQ Chicken" is on the menu. The name in English means something like Amye's Restaurant.
I have a fondness for Laksa but passed it by many times before venturing in one day. To be perfectly honest it is not the most appealing place to visit for what one hopes to be food that is not going to give you a good dose of the trots. Entering inside reinforces the impression that one should have not bothered to stop the car and kept driving. Cheap tables, resin chairs that sell for about $7 or so dollars in the local hardware chain store and walls that look like they last saw a paint of coat when Noah was doing odd jobs to find money to build his Ark. On the plus side one can see into the kitchen and it looks well organised and clean.
My first visit was in the wet season, the room was stinking hot and two men had the air-conditioner disassembled on a bench. Anyway I ventured in and ordered my Laksa. While I waited I had time to look around. I soon worked out that Amye does not have an extensive menu. Typically she offers up 2 or 3 dishes for Lunch or Dinner. The day's offerings are placed on a Chalk board. Like it or lump it. The food is basic, it is earthy, it has the feel and taste of home cooking, it is lovely. When the Laksa arrived what a surprise it was. A large bowl with a very generous serving of the Soup, noodles and Chicken that comprise the main ingredients and a couple of lumps of the fried tofu that absorbs all that lovely juice. The Laksa had a very rich sauce, it was thick, it was spicy, it was tasty and almost overflowed the very generous bowl. Put simply it was one of the best Laksa's that I have ever had. I am sure that most of my readers know what a Laksa is so I will not explain it here, other than to say that as it is a Coconut Milk based soup this one got some great ticks in the "avoid at all costs if you are on a diet or trying to control your cholesterol" stakes.
From that first visit I have been back several times, sufficient to be recognised as a semi regular customer. Amye herself is a very friendly woman and is always good for a pleasant hello and a quick chat while she works. As I mentioned above she does not have an extensive menu, but what she does do she does well. This seems like a labour of love for her rather than a money making proposition.
I have also observed that she knows most of her customers, so I guess that she gets a lot of repeat business.
Amye is also, in her way, a perfectionist, putting her customers before profit. I was in her Warung one day having lunch. One of her regular advertised specialities is Ox Tail Soup. I am not a fan of Ox Tail Soup, although my dislike is based on ignorance not actual experience. A customer came in and asked for the Ox Tail Soup. Amye apologised and told him that it was not properly cooked and she would not serve him the soup. She had tasted it and it was tasteless and not up to her usual standard. She then went on to explain that Ox Tail needs a long time to simmer, which I knew, and this batch needed a further 2-3 hours before she would consider serving it. I am sure that many would have eaten the soup without fuss, but she was not going to compromise her own standard of quality. Isn't that refreshing!
Her restaurant is in fact quite an authentic Indonesian Warung transferred to Australia. Building codes and Food preparation safety codes have modified the idea a bit, but if you travelled in large parts of South East Asia you would find similar establishments.
However this post was meant to be about the famous spicy BBQ Chicken, the last few paragraphs have been just an entrée to the main course. I have been waiting for the right time to buy the Chicken. Some barriers to overcome such as no food in the house, no motivation to prepare something, feeling hungry enough to cope with what I know will be a large serve. Tonight was the night as I did not finish work until almost 6pm. (On a Saturday!) I drove there and was surprised at the transformation of Amye's Warung. We are now in dry season. There is no seating inside the Warung, it has all been moved outside.
Outside was charming, in comparison, if a little rustic. But the seats and tables were well patronised and I even saw some people drinking wine. The Warung is not licensed so this was obviously a BYO arrangement. With outside seating and the temperature mild and humidity dropped off this place now has quite a pleasant atmosphere.
Outdoor eating in the dry season
As normal I had only limited choices. Chicken Laksa or BBQ Chicken with rice and salad. As I had planned I chose the BBQ Chicken. I was informed that there would be a slight wait as the Chicken was just being cooked. I waited. While I waited I shared a table with a Malaysian couple, who turned out to be regulars and raved about how authentic the food was.
Yum yum on the BBQ and being prepared for my consumption
After being delivered a Laksa, which I pointed out was for someone else, I ended up with my Chicken. I had asked for takeaway. So I took it home. The meal proved to be a half a Chicken, with a pile of rice and a token effort at salad, mainly consisting of shredded lettuce and a few slices of cucumber. The Chicken was drenched in a thick sauce. It was basically a Sweet Soy sauce, but the cooking had given it a slightly bitter/burnt flavour. By intent I think and the salad provided a good counterpoint to the sauce. The Chicken itself was well cooked but not over cooked.
A somewhat blurry image of what I ended up with
The Bludger will not be racing out to have Amye's Chicken again, but will not turn his nose up if he is presented with it again.

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