Growing up in Singapore, I was lucky to be surrounded by many foods that aren’t always easy to find or done well on this side of the world. That’s why I’m so delighted by Wajan Indonesian restaurant, which opened a few weeks ago at 47th & Burnside. Visiting Wajan is like taking a mini vacation to the other side of the world as the walls of the cafe are adorned with murals depicting a train station in Jakarta and Indonesian shadow puppet characters. Batik patterns and knickknacks from Indonesia can be found throughout the cafe. I’m visiting Indonesia for the first time later this year, and visiting Wajan feels like a little preview of what’s in store for me.
On the restaurant’s website, it explains that Wajan means “wok” and is also short for Warung Jajan, which means “food shop,” and chef and owner Feny plans to serve her favorite Indonesian dishes, from authentic street foods to home cooked meals. Wajan is one of two Indonesian restaurants that opened in Portland very recently (the other is Gado Gado, which I have yet to visit), and I am so impressed by their food. From gado gado to bubur ayam, many of Wajan’s Indonesian dishes can be made vegan, while remaining true to the traditional versions that I grew up with. The only thing that’s missing is nasi goreng, one of my favorites that my dad would buy from the hawker center. They plan to have nasi goreng soon though, and when they do, my heart (and stomach lol) will be happy to have one of my childhood foods within walking distance of my house.
Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options, as well as spice levels, are all clearly labeled on Wajan’s menu. Whenever I’ve ordered a dish that comes in a non-vegan and vegan version, the staff has always asked which one I want before I even mention the “V” word. Below are the vegan dishes that I’ve tried at Wajan Indonesian restaurant so far. You might find a few others on the menu as they are still in the process of expanding their offerings. Order a few plates to share with friends, and I guarantee you’re in for a real treat.
If static food photos aren’t enough for ya, check out my IGTV feature on Wajan.
While you peruse the menu and decide what to order, rujak serut is a refreshing salad to order off the snacks section. Normally made with shrimp paste, the vegan version features a mixture of fruits and veggies with a peanut sauce that packs a little heat. I also recommend the ungu cocktail, a pretty lilac purple cocktail made of gin, coconut whiskey, creme de violette, lime, and butterfly pea flower.
You can’t visit an Indonesian restaurant without ordering gado gado, and Wajan does this very well. This is a warm salad with steamed vegetables, tempeh, tofu, peanut sauce, fried shallots, and emping chips. The peanut sauce is delicious, and the tasty tempeh and tofu are both from local purveyors.
Wajan offers two Indonesian plates with rice accompanied by sides: nasi campur and nasi uduk. The dishes fairly similar and both feature fried seasoned tempeh, chili eggplant, grated coconut, a vegetable side, and crackers (krupuk vs emping). The tempeh has an excellent meaty texture, and the eggplant was very nicely done. The crackers remind me of those that grandmother would make on special occasions. If you want to sample a little of everything, these plates are the way to go.
Wajan offers two rotating curry dishes that can be made vegan: the spicier kari ayam green curry or the milder soto ayam medan yellow curry. On my visit, the yellow curry was available with vegetables and tofu was available. It was an enjoyable and well portioned curry dish, but not the strongest item on the menu. I’d be curious to see what the green curry is like.
When I was a kid, a bowl of porridge was a regular breakfast or lunch food. I have been craving the bubur ayam ever since I had it at Wajan. The vegan version of this savory porridge cooked in a turmeric broth comes topped with fried tofu, fried soy beans, fried shallots, scallions, and krupuk crackers. Incredibly comforting even in the summer heat. I will definitely be ordering this again on my next visit.