Tri Tunggal: authentic Indonesian flavors at its best
On the 2nd of February 2016 Tri Tunggal officially exists for 4 years. This restaurant has made a name for itself with its great menu, traditional atmosphere and excellent service. The name Tri Tunggal, which stands for three different kitchens originating from one country, reflects the restaurant’s menu. The restaurant serves dishes from the Sumatran, Manadonese and Javanese kitchen and each dish has its own unique taste. Tri Tunggal’s flavors are authentic Indonesian, with each bite taking you on a journey to different parts of the archipelago.
But it isn’t just the food that takes you to Indonesia, the restaurant’s atmosphere has an incredible authenticity that makes you feel right at home. The restaurant is filled with beautiful Indonesian decorations and the waitresses are dressed in sarong and kebaya, which gives that extra Indonesian touch. The restaurant gave me the feeling that I was back in Indonesia, enjoying the country’s food and hospitality. One thing that was very clear to me was that passion was at work here. Not just passion for Indonesia and the country’s food, but also the passion to have other people experience and connect with Indonesia through its flavors. Being surrounded by such passion made me extremely curious. What’s the inspiration behind the restaurant’s food? And more importantly, who are the people behind Tri Tunggal?
The minds behind Tri Tunggal
Jan and Sulfia established Tri Tunggal 4 years ago and they form the heart and soul of this restaurant. Jan focuses more on the management of the restaurant while Sulfia takes care of the food. Jan: “At times I also do some cooking, but the truth is that whatever I cook, Sulfia can cook it better.” Jan and Sulfia share a great passion for Indonesian cuisine and their goal is to share their passion with others. Not everyone is familiar with Indonesian cuisine and Tri Tunggal aims to offer everyone a taste of true Indonesian food. But how did the idea of opening an Indonesian restaurant come about? And more importantly, where does their passion for Indonesian food come from?
Jan van Motman
Jan was born in the Netherlands, but his ancestors are originally from Bogor (also known as “Buitenzorg” back in the day). “My grandfather had two wives. His first wife, my dad’s mother, was from Bogor. After the Second World War, my grandfather took a second wife, who was from Kalimantan. Together with his second wife and all his children, my grandfather moved from Kalimantan to the Netherlands.” Being born in the Netherlands, Jan grew up with Dutch culture. Even though he liked Dutch food, he loved Indonesian food more. “Indonesian cuisine is the best cuisine there is. In comparison to everything I have eaten throughout my life, Indonesian food remains the best. Indonesian cuisine isn’t only extremely varied and flavorful, but it’s also something you can eat every day.”
From civil servant to restaurant owner
Jan worked as a civil servant at the CBS (the Central Bureau for Stastistics) for 30 years. As a lover of food, he often dined out and liked what he experienced. “When I would go out for dinner, I always thought how much fun it would be to own a restaurant. I’m a person who loves to be surrounded by nice people and as a restaurant owner I would be surrounded by good company every day.” While working for the CBS he also worked for Sarinah, a well-known Indonesian restaurant, for a couple days a week. Working for Sarinah allowed him to stay close to his food passion and it taught him all he needed to know about Indonesian food. “While I was working at Sarinah I gained a good understanding of all the different flavors. Indonesian cuisine is quite complicated; a lot of recipes look alike, especially in color.” Jan ended up working for Sarinah for nine years and when his position at the CBS got relieved in 2010, he decided to change the course of his career. “Initially I wanted to take over Sarinah. Since I had worked there for many years, it seemed like the most logical step. The owner was already old and he needed someone to take over his restaurant. When Sarinah was taken over by someone else, I decided to establish Tri Tunggal.”
Experimenting with food
Sulfia’s passion for food started with her mother. “My mother made me cook. She wanted me to learn how to cook every single dish, even if it would bring me to tears.” Sulfia’s mother, who’s from Magalang, started experimenting with cooking straight after the Second World War. “During this time there was a lot of poverty. My mother actually wanted to be a teacher, but in order to become a teacher she needed specific papers, which she lost during the war.” When teaching was no longer an option, Sulfia’s mother joined the school for domestic science (huishoudschool voor meisjes). While she was studying, she started experimenting with food together with her best friend. Due to the variety of Indonesian spices, Sulfia’s mother tried making better versions of traditional Indonesian dishes. After having come up with many new recipes, Sulfia’s mother wrote a cooking book, which Sulfia is now the proud owner of. “The book is a collection of traditional Indonesian dishes, with my mother’s personal twist. ”
After finishing school, Sulfia’s mother started a small catering business together with her friend, which was very successful. They made different kinds of food, ranging from makanan kampung to sweets and cookies. The success of the catering business came with more work, which Sulia’s mother couldn’t handle. She ended up quitting the catering business after two months. “My mother also had a sewing business that she needed to take care of. My father moved to the Netherlands in 1972 and the initial plan was that my mother and the children would follow him soon after. In the mean time, she had to take care of ten children and she had to find ways to make ends meet.” It took another ten years before Sulfia and her mother finally got reunited with her father in the Netherlands.
Deciphering mom's recipes
Sulfia’s mother wasn’t able to bring all her recipes to the Netherlands, which meant that a large amount of her recipes were left in Indonesia. Due to an unfortunate fire in 1988, Sulfia’s family house in Indonesia burned to the ground, together with a stack of her mother’s recipes. “Luckily we still had some of my mother’s recipes here in the Netherlands. What’s even more fortunate is that my mother was still alive when I developed an interest for her recipes. My mother’s handwriting was impossible to decipher. I couldn’t tell the difference between her o’s and e’s. I really needed her to tell me what was in her recipes.”
Learning the basics
Sulfia learned how to cook traditional Indonesian food when she was living in the Netherlands. She had always watched her mother in the kitchen when they lived in Indonesia, but it wasn’t until many years later that Sulfia would stand in her mother’s shoes. “I was in my 20s when I really started cooking. My mother loved cooking and cooking came easy to her. However, cooking wasn’t so easy for me and mother wanted every dish I made to be perfect.” With time and a lot of practice, Sulfia learned all the basics of Indonesian cooking and managed to perfect her mother’s dishes. “My mother told me that if I knew the basics, I could cook anything. And she was right, because when I now taste an Indonesian dish, I know exactly what’s in it.”
All that Sulfia has learned from her mother is now put into practice at Tri Tunggal. The restaurant’s menu is based on the recipes of her mother, which only Sulfia can cook to perfection. “I do all the prep work before we open the restaurant, so I make sure all the flavors are perfect. I leave the actual cooking up to our cooks.”
To spice or not to spice
Tri Tunggal serves the most popular dishes from different areas in Indonesia, such as Sulawesi and Padang. All dishes are based on the recipes of Sulfia’s mother, which makes Tri Tunggal’s menu truly one of a kind. The only compromise that was made with regard to the menu is the spiciness of the food. Indonesian people love spicy food, the spicier the better really. Sulfia and Jan are also big lovers of spicy food, but they realize that Dutch customers might not be able to handle the same level of spiciness as Indonesians do. Jan: “Sulfia has the habit to make food extremely spicy, because that’s the way she likes to eat it. However, Dutch people wouldn’t be able to eat something that spicy, so we had to make the food a little milder. We do that by using Spanish peppers instead of rawit.” Customers who do like spicy food can make their food as spicy as they want by adding Sulfia's homemade sambal, which is proper Indonesian-style spicy!
When I asked Sulfia and Jan about their restaurant’s most popular dishes, the verdict was unanimous; rendang and sate ayam. Their sate, which is accompanied with an amazing sauce, has made people come back for seconds. Also international customers have come back for their sate and rendang and Jan is proud to see that these customers return to Tri Tunggal with friends and family.
For new customers, Jan always recommends a 'rijsttafel' (an assortment of Indonesian dishes), because it allows customers to try a variety of Indonesian dishes and flavors. If he sees that customers love a particular dish, he makes sure to get them another order, free of charge. Service plays an important part at Tri Tunggal and Jan makes sure that their service is of the highest standard.
Sereh, sereh all the way
Sereh (lemongrass) is the core ingredient of Tri Tunggal’s menu and also Sulfia’s favorite ingredient to cook with. Sereh is one of the most essential ingredients in Indonesian cuisine and its aroma fills Tri Tunggal’s kitchen on a daily basis. Most of the ingredients that are used in Tri Tunggal’s dishes can be bought in the Netherlands, but some ingredients can only be bought in Indonesia. Luckily Sulfia travels back to Indonesia every year to meet her family. During the trip she always pays a visit to Pasar Rabu (a big market near Bogor) where she buys large amounts of Indonesian spices for the restaurant. The fact that Jan and Sulfia always use fresh and authentic Indonesian ingredients for their dishes separates them from other Indonesian restaurants. Sulfia: “We’re one of the few Indonesian restaurants that use authentic Indonesian spices that cannot be bought in Dutch shops. That puts us ahead of other restaurants, because you can really taste the difference when you’re using proper Indonesian spices.”
If Jan and Sulfia could wish for anything, they’d wish for a bigger kitchen. Jan: “We have so many dishes we still want to cook and we aren’t able to do that, because our current kitchen is too small. A bigger kitchen is definitely on our wish list.” Opening a toko (Indonesian food store) is also on their wish list. Having a toko would provide them with more space, which allows them to grow their business.
Sulfia’s big wish is for more Dutch people to know about authentic Indonesian food, especially the younger generation. “I think the younger generation doesn’t really know much about Indonesian food. Young people tend to find Indonesian cuisine boring, which is a shame because it’s anything but boring. Indonesian cuisine exists out of thousands of different dishes that are worth being tasted. I hope to change that perspective with our food.”
Noordeinde 143, Den Haag
*The restaurant serves pork, but the rest of the food served is completely halal.