Sort-of Secret: Java Bali Kitchen, a delivery service and pop-up specializing in Indonesian dishes
Unable to find the tastes of home in Toronto, Zulfikar Fahd decided to do something about it
The sort-of secret: Java Bali Kitchen, an Indonesian ghost kitchen turned pop-up
You may have heard of it if: You’ve ever used the Cookin app
But you probably haven’t tried it because: This is the first dine-in location
Toronto has one of the best food scenes in the world—you can find birria tacos from Mexico, momos from Tibet, omakase-style sushi from Japan and beef tibs from Ethiopia. But it’s not so easy to find Indonesian food. At least, that’s what Zulfikar Fahd, the founder and chef of Java Bali Kitchen, thought when he first moved here. “I wanted something authentically Indonesian, but I couldn’t find it,” says Fahd, who came to Canada in 2018 as a queer refugee from Indonesia, where same-sex relationships are criminalized and LGBTQ+ people are persecuted.
As he was having trouble finding the flavours of Java, where he grew up, Fahd also started fantasizing about opening a restaurant where he could serve the kind of food he craved. That’s when he came across the app Cookin, a delivery service that allows home chefs to sell their dishes. Last October, Fahd took the plunge, signing up on the app as Java Bali Kitchen to sell classic Javanese dishes.
It was an instant success. After just three months, he moved out of his home kitchen and into an industrial one to keep up with the demand. He was cooking an average of 40 meals a day and often reached his limit of 60. And he had attracted a legion of loyal regulars. “I felt like I had become part of a community,” he says. “It gave me a real connection to the city.”
Some of Fahd’s first fans were Jeanne Chai and David Burga, the owners of Kiss My Pans, a Singaporean cheese shop and restaurant in Little Italy. When Fahd first opened, the couple posted about Java Bali Kitchen on Instagram, which helped the business grow quickly, and the three quickly became friends. Now, Chai and Burga are hosting Fahd in their space—for the month of August, Java Bali Kitchen will be serving dinner on weeknights in the Kiss My Pans dining room.
Fahd’s menu is mini but mighty. “I try to refresh it every season, especially because there is so much Indonesian food—I want to try a lot of things,” he explains. “But my menu for this pop-up is a combination of my past menus and things I plan on doing for future menus.”
One standout dish is the soto ayam, or chicken soup ($21). According to Fahd, everybody in Indonesia has their own version of chicken soup. His recipe, based on his grandmother’s, is made with lemongrass, ginger and turmeric, and comes with shredded chicken, a boiled egg and thin rice noodles. Despite the hot summer weather, it’s bright and refreshing.
Another popular dish is the sate maranggi, or sweet beef satay skewers slathered with a sticky-sweet sauce to keep the meat juicy. On the side: house-made peanut sauce and sweet soy sauce for dipping ($12 for three, $21 served as a plate with rice). A heartier must-try is the hawker-style nasi goreng ($21, $18 without meat), a fried rice dish with veggies and eggs that’s sweet, spicy and a little bit tangy thanks to the combination of sweet Javanese soy sauce, galangal, fish oil, shrimp paste and white pepper. It’s a delicious flavour bomb that pairs well with the crunchy shrimp chips that come on the side for scooping. To wash it all down, Fahd serves up a boozy rum-based coco pandan cocktail ($14) and refreshing jasmine iced tea ($4.50).
While his time at Kiss my Pans is coming to an end, Fahd says that this is just the beginning for Java Bali Kitchen. He’s still selling on Cookin—but only when the pop-up isn’t busy, which is rare these days. Given its popularity over the past few weeks, it’s likely that this isn’t the last place Fahd will pop up.