Sari Rasa: The Best Restaurant in Nusa Tenggara (According to Lonely Planet)

Our Discovery

We did it, we finally caved. When Ranah and I were in Sumba, we finally bought a copy of Lonely Planet Indonesia on my Kindle. We already had Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Budget and Rough Guides: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring but when it came to the smaller parts of Indonesia, there was more frequently than not little to no information about what to do and where to go. In Sumba we learned that when you’re in a spotty 3G zone or out of data, this is a relevant concern.

So, once in Ende, Flores I checked my Lonely Planet guide, and it recommend Sari Rasa restaurant, calling it “one of the best restaurants not just in Ende, but in all of Nusa Tenggara.” With a recommendation like that, I had to check it out. I dragged Ranah out on a long walk to the restaurant, and once there we discovered that it hadn’t yet opened for the day.

Luckily, the restaurant owner came out to tell us that the restaurant would open at 6:30, not 6 PM as the book said. So, we waited for over half an hour (we were hungry and we arrived at 5:50 PM) in anticipation.

Apparently all the other tourists had also read the Lonely Planet, because it seemed like just about every tourist in town (including us; there were about 6) showed up that night. None of the locals were there when the owner let us in, and in fact he hadn’t even fully opened the doors, only letting us in because we had been waiting with two others.

The Story

Restaurant owner Ali Martin opened Sari Rasa in 2010 when he and his family moved from Jakarta. Some of his family asked him to come to Ende, and he recognized the opportunity to start a business in town. While they expected something more on their arrival, they were disappointed to discover that some of what they had been promised was not fulfilled.

When they arrived, Martin began my perfecting his small menu, starting with his handmade noodles.He is passionate about making a slow-cooked menu of healthy Indonesian food. Unlike many restaurants in Indonesia, Martin was adamant that he would not use MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) in the preparation of his handmade noodles. Every item in his restaurant is lovely handmade in the kitchen. He cited this as the reason for their late opening time; Martin and his wife need time each day to prepare everything from scratch.

At first, Martin noted that the “local people were very confused.” They didn’t understand why Sari Rasa wasn’t using MSG in his noodles. It took the new restaurant owner some time to “educate the market” and educate his customers. Now, he says, the market in Ende better understands some of the health concerns impacting their dietary choices. It seemed a special triumph that people were able to enjoy his noodles even without the use of MSG.

Previously, Martin served a famous bakso (chicken soup with meatballs) with heart-shaped meatballs. Although these meatballs were well-beloved, and even featured in Lonely Planet’s recommendation, Martin retracted this item because of its time-consuming preparation process.

Today, Sari Rasa is evidently a thriving local business. Although business only seems to really pick up at dark, every night it’s full of hungry people eager for Martin’s healthy food.

The Food

Sari Rasa only has four menu items, and owner Ali Martin takes the time to carefully explain each item.

Ayam Goreng – 30,000

Sari Rasa - Fried Chicken

Sari Rasa’s ayam goreng, or fried chicken, is made from only free range or village chickens. The chicken is boiled on low heat for 2 hours to tenderize the meat. He uses special spices to flavour the chicken, and the chicken is then topped with a fried young coconut topping. This topping reportedly takes a number of hours to prepare. You can choose to add either white or yellow rice to your dish for an additional 4,000 or 5,000 RP, respectively. The yellow rice is Martin’s recommendation, as he flavours the yellow rice with spices so that the flavours match the fried chicken. The dish is also served with several vegetables on the side and an herb that can be added to the rice in order to enhance the flavour.

Mie Ayam – 17,000 RP

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Sari Rasa’s mie ayam is a minimalist chicken soup dish with noodles. The noodles are handmade without MSG, and topped with some small items for flavouring. Ranah ordered this when we went back the second time, and she loved it.

Gulai Sapi – 22,000 RP

_DSC2096

Gulai Sapi is an Indonesian beef curry. It is yellow and similar to a soup with a delicate taste, but not extraordinarily filling. It is usually eaten with white rice. Martin noted that Indonesian curry is similar to Indian curry only in name; Indonesian curry uses just a small amount of coconut for flavouring, while other curries use coconut creams heavily as a base.

Rawon – 25,000 RP

Sari Rasa - Rawon

Rawon is a dish hailing from the west of Indonesia in Jakarta. This item is an addition from Martin’s wife, who hails from that region. Rawon is a black coloured beef soup, flavoured with a spice called keluwak which is found in Indonesia. It is light in texture, and flavoured with a deep savoury undertone.

The Drinks

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In addition to their main courses Sari Rasa offers a small selection of delicious drinks. He offers aloe vera using aloe vera flown from Borneo and sold exclusively in his restaurant, as well as iced tea flavoured with lemon (Lemon Tea) and a delicate lime-aid (Jeruk Nipis) in addition to regular black tea (Teh Manis). These were all delicious, and I wouldn’t recommend that you visit the restaurant without trying at least one of these speciality drinks.

The Verdict

Having travelled in Indonesia for some time now, Ranah and I both felt that Sari Rasa was indeed a cut above most of the local restaurants we had visited. In particular, we were impressed by Martin’s care and attention to each item. Everything was homemade, and everything was delicious. In fact, we came out of our way to visit again and try the other two items on his menu. Should you ever find yourself in Ende, you should definitely pop on by!

Tl;dr: Sari Rasa Restaurant opens at 6:30 PM. We liked it. 

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