"Black soup," the fellow called it. At a recent Masjid Al-Hikmah bazaar, he and two friends were sharing a bowl of a Javanese favorite called nasi rawon, a beef soup bolstered with rice (nasi). Another rendition I spotted shortly thereafter was served with rice on the side. The ingredient that lends the dish its dark color and nutty richness is kluwak, or kluwek, the fermented nuts of the kepayang tree. These nuts, along with numerous seasonings, are sauteed to form a thick black gravy (the rawon), which becomes the base for the soup.
Kluwak, however, is difficult to source in New York, at least in commercial quantities. The chef of Masak (now closed) would have preferred to use buah keluak, the more common name in Singapore and Malaysia, to braise his pork shoulder, but he was disappointed in the quality available in local markets; he employed black garlic instead. K.F. Seetoh of Makansutra renown maintains that the best substitute is unsweetened baking chocolate, with 100 percent cacao. Perhaps the chef who prepared this nasi rawon has her own stash of kluwak. You can ask her yourself, if you can spot the soup at a future bazaar; look for an unmarked pot on the simmer at the back of a stall.
If there's one qualm I have about the bazaars behind Masjid Al-Hikmah, it's the heat. Not the spicy heat of chili peppers in a made-to-order gado-gado (three out of a possible five chilis is plenty) or the fire licking at skewers of satay, soon to be dressed with homemade peanut sauce. The bazaars are held during the warmer months on the small parking lot behind the mosque, and even a score of tented canopies can offer only just so much shade. A wise way to beat the heat is to arrive on the early side, say, around 11:00. As at most bazaars, this also enables you to enjoy the widest and freshest selection of food, some (but not all) of which you can see in my slideshow.
Indonesian food bazaar
Masjid Al-Hikmah, 48-01 31st Ave. (at 48th St.), Astoria, Queens
Periodically, on a weekend, during the warmer months