A Lesson in Indonesian Gado-Gado

at astoria’s masjid al-hikmah

By Wendy Wong


(Photographs by Wendy Wong)

Editor’s Note: The Indonesian Food Bazaar at Masjid Al-Hikmah typically takes place on the third Sunday of each warm-weather month. If you’d like to attend the next Bazaar, stay tuned to our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter for reminders about the event as it continues throughout the summer.

On most days, the Masjid Al-Hikmah in Astoria is simply a local mosque where the Indonesian Muslim community gathers. But once a month during the warm weather, the sight of smoke billowing through the air will lead you behind the masjid to a parking lot on 47th Street, where a bustling Indonesian food bazaar is held.

Numerous food tents are squeezed against each other around the edges of the lot, and the scent of grilled meat and spices wafts through the air. It’s a great place to try authentic and sometimes hard-to-find Indonesian dishes, ranging from noodle soups to pandan dessert drinks.

The bazaar’s most popular stop is the gado-gado booth, run by several older women. Located at the very back of the lot, it’s conspicuously and constantly mobbed by hungry and curious people, clamoring for what is arguably the best version of this dish in the city.

Gado-Gado is a meatless dish with an assortment of boiled vegetables and sometimes special add-ons, like egg and tempeh. That mixture is tossed in peanut sauce, layered over lontong (large cylindrical rice cakes cut into bite-size cubes), and topped with crackers or krupuk (Indonesian prawn chips).

Although it may not be obvious to the casual observer, the booth also occasionally serves several dishes that are essentially variations on gado-gado: pecel (made with a thicker, darker, spicier sauce), lotek (made with raw, not boiled, vegetables), and ketoprak (made with a peanut sauce that incorporates sweet soy sauce).

When I visited in late May, both gado-gado and lotek were available, and I opted for a spicy version of the classic dish.

The woman making my gado-gado started by making the peanut sauce. First she mashed peanuts, shallots and garlic together using a huge stone mortar and pestle. Then she poured in the liquid palm sugar and tamarind water, mixing them together. This method gives the sauce fresh flavors and a thicker, more textured consistency.

After grinding the sauce to the right consistency, she added vegetables and tofu and gently tossed everything together. (Watercress, carrots, cabbage and potatoes were available that day—though the ingredients do vary.)

Meanwhile, another woman lined the bottom of a Styrofoam container with rice cakes. Then the container was passed over, and the veggies and sauce were scooped up and placed atop the rice cakes. The final touch was a liberal scattering of prawn chips on top.

The thick peanut sauce burst with a blend of spiciness, nuttiness and sweetness. Cool, smooth tofu and hot, crisp vegetables gave the dish a nice balance, complemented by a crunch from the chips. It was a perfect light meal for a summer afternoon—well worth the trek to Astoria.

Indonesian Food Bazaar
Masjid Al-Hikmah
48-01 31st Ave. (map)
Queens, NY 11103

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