My Life in Food: Rahel Stephanie
My Life in Food: Rahel Stephanie

My Life in Food: Rahel Stephanie

Rahel Stephanie learned to create traditional Indonesian food for her friends before launching Spoons, one of the most popular supper clubs in London. Now, she hosts sell-out events across the capital and is a regular on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. Here, Rahel shares her favourite restaurants, entertaining tips and the one meal she always goes back to.
By Sherri Andrew

My earliest food memory is eating a packet of Indomie instant noodles. I used to obsess over them so my mum only let me have them once a week. It was a treat I’d always look forward to. I’d have it for breakfast while watching a TV show, eating it as slowly as I could to savour every last second, before having to wait another week to tuck in again. This must have started when I was about four years old and continued for the rest of my childhood.

The first dish I learned to cook was rum balls. I must have been around four and I remember it being an easy three-ingredient no-bake recipe with crushed Marie biscuits, condensed chocolate milk and chocolate sprinkles. It gets mixed together and rolled into little balls. It was a fun weekend activity – my mum even came to my kindergarten class once to do a demonstration and gave my classmates rum ball certificates to take home.

Now, my signature dish is Pandan Berry Blondies. They’re a Spoons favourite, with fudgy slices of pandan lovingly swirled with tangy berries. At the beginning of the first lockdown, my partner Tom came home with a whole bucket of foraged blackberries. He asked me to turn them into a cake. I had lots of pandan to hand, and the recipe was born. Over a year later, it’s still a Spoons bestseller. But it’s a secret recipe I'll never reveal…

My most visited restaurant is Everest Curry King in Lewisham, one of my favourite neighbourhood spots. It’s a an unpretentious, canteen-style Sri Lankan restaurant and I’m so lucky to have them as a local. My go-to dishes include crab curry from the specials board, as well as their kottu rotti. All the dishes I’ve tried are beautifully vibrant and flavourful. Plus, they don’t hold back on the spice – unless you ask them to – which I really appreciate as an Indonesian!

If I had to choose a favourite restaurant, it would have to be Kaieteur Kitchen, a Guyanese spot in Elephant and Castle. The food is delicious but what keeps me coming back is Aunty Faye who runs the joint. She always serves up dishes full of love, passion and warmth, resulting in some of the most soulful plates of food.

For date night, I love Tianjin Dumpling in Peckham. They hand make all the soup dumplings to order ­­­– YOU CAN'T GET BETTER VALUE in London.

I haven’t been to lots of new openings recently, but I’ve really been enjoying London’s pop-ups. I always look forward to NYC-based Has Dac Biet at Oranj, which serves small Vietnamese dishes. I’ve been a big fan for ages, so it was a pleasure to finally experience it myself.

P.Franco is a lovely bar. I’ve been going to the Clapton spot for years – they’ve always got a stunning selection of low intervention wines and the staff are so friendly. Whether you're there for a date or hanging out with friends, the intimate atmosphere never fails. I love a chilled sparkling red wine, it’s versatile, refreshing and always hits the spot.

For date night, I love Tianjin Dumpling in Peckham. They hand make all the soup dumplings to order ­­­– you can't get better value in London, and it doesn’t hurt that Uncle Yunga who runs it is the sweetest guy. It’s perfect followed by a movie next door at Peckhamplex.

Three Uncles is the place I’ve ordered the most takeaways from. They serve up consistently good Cantonese roast meats, which take me right back to the hawker centres of Singapore, where I spent a lot of my childhood.

One restaurant I recently discovered on holiday was Soi38 in Melbourne. Located off a main street in an above-ground parking space, it’s hidden in plain sight. As you approach, you’ll notice a crowd of diners and smell the aromas from their fragrant broths. It serves some of the best Thai food I've had, with an extensive menu of dishes you'll rarely find dining in London-based establishments. A highlight was the tom yum hot pot with egg yolk, and the oyster ceviche topped with spicy sauce and fried shallots.

In November, my friend Prinka took me on an unforgettable culinary journey through Gianyar in Bali. We went on a gastronomic adventure, starting at 8.30am with a delicious grilled chicken rice platter and tuak, a refreshing palm wine. We then explored several spots to savour lawar, a Balinese specialty consisting of vegetables, spiced grated coconut, and an array of minced meats or ceviches. Our day finsihed with a delightful dessert of klepon, glutinous rice balls filled with palm sugar and coated in freshly shaved coconut.

paola vivas

One of my favourite things to do on a Sunday is to go for dim sum with a big group of loved ones. We gather around a big round table and SHARE DISHES SPUN AROUND A LAZY SUSAN while we catch up.

One of my biggest inspirations, Sri Owen is a London-based Indonesian chef. Having published the first Indonesian cookbook written in the English language, she provides extensive context which I also strive to communicate through my own cooking. She also covers a range of Indonesian dishes across the archipelago, giving a wide range of regions the representation they deserve.

My go-to comfort food is Indomie fried noodles. My family home would always have a whole kitchen cabinet filled with packs and packs, and it’s a habit I’ve taken into adulthood. It’s also my favourite hangover treat. After a long day at work, I love a rice cooker meal. My rice cooker comes with a steaming basket, so I’d have the rice cooking in the bottom, and maybe a salmon fillet steaming away in the basket. I’d serve it with some homemade sambal (I’m never without a jar in the fridge) and blanched vegetables on the side, sprinkled with furikake or crispy fried shallots. I can’t believe I spent my first few years in London without a rice cooker. My kind friend Lois gifted me her old one, which I exchanged for a Spoons pandan cake. Best swap ever.

My last meal would start with a platter of 'gorengan', Indonesian fried battered snacks or fritters. Corn fritters, banana fritters, fried stuffed tofu, fermented cassava fritters, tempe fritters and everything else a street vendor has to offer. Served with Kewpie mayo and a selection of sambals. The main would definitely be a big Indonesian spread with unlimited rice, ayam goreng kremes, sayur singkong, sambal teri kacang, saksang, arsik, dali ni horbo, sayur asin kuah bening, udang balado petai, kerupuk, kering tempe – the list goes on. Dessert would also be Indonesian, with martabak manis komplit, a thick pancake with a chewy, honeycomb interior, stuffed with chocolate, crushed peanuts, condensed milk and cheese. This is genuinely my favourite sweet dish in the world, and something I will never get tired of. I have a big sweet tooth, so if I could add another thing here it would be tiramisu. It's been my favourite cake for as long as I can remember. Make that a matcha tiramisu.

One of my favourite things to do on a Sunday is to go for dim sum with a big group of loved ones. We gather around a big round table and share dishes spun around a Lazy Susan while we catch up. I also love cooking an Indonesian spread for friends to be shared family-style. Makan Tengah is an Indonesian communal way of dining, where a spread of dishes is placed across a dining table. I love having different kinds of textures, so I’d definitely include a saucier dish such as the tempe balado (fried tempe in a caramelised red sambal), some bakwan (corn fritters) for crunch, and a gulai labu (chayote curry) for creaminess. And of course, the meal wouldn’t be complete without jasmine rice.

There are so many restaurants I’d still like to visit, including Dapur Bali Mula on Bali's north coast. It’s been on my bucket list for a while and the kitchen is run by chef Jero Mangku Dalem Suci Gede Yudiawan, who is also a 'pemangku' or priest. He uses traditional, local ingredients and techniques, and prepares everything over wood-fire in a hand-built clay stove. His menu features dishes such as freshly caught fish marinaded in spices and cooked over fire in a bamboo tube. He also serves a selection of homemade arak (palm wine), which I'm excited to try.

The under-the-radar place everyone should know is Fed by Made. It’s a reservation-only restaurant in Seminyak, Bali, which is run by four friends, two of whom used to run pop-ups in Melbourne before they moved back to Bali to open their first bricks-and-mortar spot. Fed serves six-course set menus, which change biweekly and take their inspiration from restaurants all over the world, including Planque and Mangal II in London. Their approach is to reconceptualise contemporary cooking by incorporating Indonesian ingredients like lemongrass sausages, pork chops with green sambal, and raw fish with kecombrang torch ginger. For pudding, they’ve created a snake fruit crumble which is really special. They’ve also got a great natural wine list with some locally produced low-intervention wines. It’s one of the best eating experiences I’ve had.

My dream dinner guest is my younger sister, Becky. She's my best friend, yet we're so far away from each other. I don't feel like we'll ever get to spend enough time on this earth together, so I'd give anything to have dinner with her.

I’m excited to continue with my Spoons supper club and grow our community. I've got some really exciting ones planned through the year. In June I’ll also be hosting a panel talk and cooking at Ubud Food Festival in Bali, and I’ll be sticking around in Indonesia for about month ­– so I know I’m going to come back super inspired! I want to see Indonesian food represented correctly and I hope I can continue to be a part of that movement. Fundraising for marginalised communities back home is also close to my heart, and I’ll be planning another event with my friends at Eastern Margins and Baesianz later in the summer. We’ve done these events two years in a row and last year I cooked up Indonesian lunch boxes to about 300 people, raising almost £5,000 for trans communities in Indonesia.

For more food inspo and recipes, follow @Linda_From_Accounting and @EatWithSp00ns.

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