Wahyuni Kamah, Contributor, Denpasar, Bali
A visit to Lombok is not complete without eating ayam taliwang -- fried, grilled or roasted chicken, a popular local cuisine.
In Mataram, the capital of West Nusa Tenggara province, there are a number of restaurants that call themselves ayam taliwang restaurants, or those that include the special dish on their menus. However, the most popular restaurant there is Rumah Makan Taliwang I that specializes in ayam taliwang and is known for its authentic taste.
Sandwiched between the shops in Jl. A.A. Gede Ngurah, Cakranegara, Lombok, Rumah Makan Ayam Taliwang I has served its loyal customers since 1968. Dinner is the busiest time and if you are a little late, the menus are likely to have run out.
Rumah Makan Ayam Taliwang I was the first restaurant in Mataram. It was called Ayam Taliwang because the founders, the late H.A. Murad and his wife, Salmah, came from Kampung Karang Taliwang, Cakranegara on Lombok island.
Despite the growing presence of fast-food chicken restaurants in Mataram, Alwi, Murad's son who runs the restaurant business, doesn't worry about his competitors.
Unlike fast-food outlets or other ayam taliwang restaurants, Rumah Makan Ayam Taliwang I only serves ayam kampung (local free-range chicken) and uses no preservatives.
Ayam kampung, indeed, has a different taste. Its flesh is more delicious and sweeter than broiler chicken though you must really use your teeth since it is not as tender. Ayam kampung is leaner and smaller than the broiler chicken. So if you are really hungry, one portion of ayam taliwang may not be enough.
The restaurant also accepts orders from outside Mataram. Some loyal restaurant-goers order the food to take with them as far away as Malaysia and China. No additives are used in restaurant food and all ingredients used to make the accompanying dishes such as pelecing kangkung (kangkung drizzled with tangy tomato sambal) and beberok terong (cooked eggplant with fresh chopped onion and chili sauce), are fresh.
The dishes available in Ayam Taliwang I restaurant, such as ayam taliwang, rawon (dark beef soup), kare (curry), sop kikil , pelecing kangkung and beberok terong are very hot and spicy.
Ayam taliwang is served either roasted or fried. Ayam pelecing (spicy grilled chicken) is roasted or fried, while ayam plalah is cooked in chilli sauce and thick coconut milk. Ayam pelecing is the hottest of the lot as the chicken is showered with hot chilli sauce.
If you are not used to hot and spicy cuisine, you should be careful because this food will burn your tongue and make you perspire. Ayam taliwang is usually served with pelecing kangkung or beberok terong and both are very hot.
One portion of roast or grilled chicken costs Rp 15,000 (US$ 1.50).
Despite the prices, which are a bit steep for such restaurants, people keep coming. They are drawn by the delicious aroma and taste of the authentic dishes at Ayam Taliwang.
Ibu Salmah, Alwi's mother, formulated all the ingredients in the recipes. The formula has been passed down from one generation to another.
""Now my wife has learned it from my mother,"" Alwi said. According to him, taliwang food is said to have originated from Sasak kings and nobility.
To make the spices used daily by the restaurant they use five kilograms of fresh chilli, one kilogram of dried chilli, three kilograms of cabe rawit (small green chili) and 50 coconuts.
The 75-year-old woman is assisted by Alwi's wife and another 12 staff members in the preparation of the ingredients. In the morning, the kitchen is busy. Everything is prepared traditionally. They use a traditional spice grinder instead of a modern blender to pound the ingredients and use firewood to fuel the stove to cook the spices.
The spice mixture is cooked in the morning and then brought to the restaurant before noon. The restaurants use the cooked spices until night. Alwi said that special dishes that need fresh ingredients like beberok terong are made as soon as visitors place an order.