Aug. 27 (Jakarta Globe) I experienced my first Ramadan fast this week, along with millions of others around the world, although mine was only for a day and not a month. I was fortunate to have been invited to break my fast in good company with great food and stunning city views at the Ritz-Carlton Jakarta, Pacific Place.
Throughout Ramadan, the Ritz-Carlton is serving a buka puasa (breaking of the fast) buffet, featuring Ramadan specialities and Middle Eastern dishes. Working with guest chef Hany Mounir from the Ritz-Carlton Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, the kitchen team had prepared an abundance of dishes with which to break the day's fast.
I arrived with a Muslim friend and colleague shortly before magrib (dusk) and we were barely seated when the call to evening prayer began, indicating time to break the fast. My friend Novia had informed me that most people break their fast initially with something sweet and I knew that dates are a popular treat during Ramadan so was not surprised to find plates of dates placed on each table, ready for hungry guests. We were also offered hot tea as we were seated, not usually a favorite drink of mine but, with the addition of sugar — another aberration for me — the perfect refresher after more than 12 hours without food or drink.
A table at the restaurant entrance also held more dates of different type and origin, small pastries and sweets for those who preferred them to fruit and kolak – an Indonesian dessert based around palm sugar and coconut milk, with pandanus leaf for flavor.
The Ritz-Carlton has decorated its restaurant with a Middle Eastern flavor for the Ramadan season, with sheer flowing draperies, Moorish lanterns and some staff in Morocco-inspired garments. The theme is picked up in the Middle eastern dishes, which included lentil soup, a whole baked white snapper flavored with Eastern spices, prawn shish kebab, majboos rice, chicken shawarma, kebbeh and assorted mezze on the evening we dined. Also on offer were a good number of Indonesian dishes, Indian options, a well-stocked salad bar where staff would toss greens to order and a carvery offering roasted ribeye beef — one of the most popular choices on the night — and marmalade barbecued chicken.
The buffet contained a cornucopia of seafood as well, which I took full advantage of. Executive chef Sean MacDougall said it was a deliberate choice to include a good selection from the sea, as it isn't something locals necessarily eat often. And a good selection it was. I started with fresh oysters, prawns and smoked salmon, sampling both the regular and mustard varieties with accompanying shredded horseradish and capers. I then moved on to a selection of items in tiny tasting dishes — Thai prawn salad with featured a prawn on a bed of spicy carrot salad; slices of tuna lightly seared so only the edges were cooked, leaving the center red and moist, and served with a wasabi-based sauce; and fresh Vietnamese-style spring rolls with crisp vegetables and clean spicy flavors (I returned for seconds of those and the oysters). Novia opted for the sushi, which she recommended, and I was also tempted by the salmon sashimi with a teriyaki dressing.
The seafood selection also included, in addition to those already mentioned, a Mediterranean seafood stew and an Indian fish curry. It's quite likely there were more as I didn't have room for the Indonesian dishes, which covered two buffet stations on their own.
There was also an extensive selection of juices, teas and traditional drinks available, although I wanted only water after my initial cup of tea, to rehydrate after my fast.
We did leave a little room for more sweets at the end of our meal, although not enough room to even begin to sample the vast selection. We both chose refreshing sorbets to round off our dinner and I added strawberries coated in chocolate from a fountain. The baklava, tiramisu, custards and other choices all looked delicious, but neither of us needed any more to eat.
The meal would have been enjoyable at any time with its myriad of choices, but I appreciated each distinctive dish even more after having spent the day in anticipation while I fasted.