Bellflower’s best (and only) Indonesian from the District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
The only wind swirling around outside Toko Rame belongs to the 91 Freeway. It’s a hot rush of exhaust that shoots down to the restaurant after each passing car. But without a proper breeze, Toko Rame’s Indonesian cuisine isn’t always an obvious choice for a pre-summer meal, one stewed with spices that are bound to flush out even more sweat. But the restaurant does well in even our driest days; the place is built for the heat.
Like all of the best strip-mall eateries, Toko Rame is a family affair, staffed by smiling women swaddled in hijabs and waited on by the family’s young son—a necessary link in the effort to familiarize those unfamiliar with Indonesian food. That’s actually not that tough of a task, though, as there’s a geographical continuity with Indonesian cuisine—one already known to anyone who has eaten the dishes of Thailand, India or the Philippines.
Still, Toko Rame’s family food eats as distinctly as any. Even an order of lumpia, the Chinese import familiar for all fans of Filipino food, is served at a higher level. Toko Rame’s lumpia look less like the usual spring roll cigars and more like crisp little wallets, with the delicate dough folded over to keep the contents safe inside. It’s more than just looks, though—Toko Rame’s lumpia are never soggy, but also never so crisp that they shatter on each bite. And the accompanying dipping sauce—a sweet substance peppered with chili flakes—is as good as it gets, far better than any of the bottled sauces so often dumped alongside the fried rolls.
Appetizers aside, the best and most popular way to dine at Toko Rame is with the nasi bungkus. The dish is fitted for on-the-go appetites: rice, chicken, beef rendang, tofu and a hardboiled egg all piled inside banana leaves and wrapped up for what’s close to pocket-like portability. But the miracle of nasi bungkus isn’t just in its convenience; every element of the dish remains distinct, barely touched by the taste of the banana leaves. That’s what makes nasi bungkus such an excellent meal—under every pocket of rice is something new, from a soft block of tofu to a square of beef easily turned to shreds with a single stroke of the fork.
Toko Rame’s long list of lontong is another complete option. Though nowhere near as mobile as the nasi bungkus, Toko Rame’s lontong tjap gomeh is just as filling. The dish is essentially a vegetable curry topped with more hunks of spicy chicken and another hardboiled egg. On the bottom, however, are gelatinous rice cakes squished together to give the dish some substance. While the bowl sits, the dense blocks grow even heavier as they soak up the curry, pairing perfectly with bites of the green beans and chicken tossed on top.
One of the restaurant’s most accessible offerings comes in the form of ayam bakar bulungan, the house barbeque chicken. Although the dish sounds about as simple as it gets, it’s really unlike any other barbecue chicken—more tender than what comes out of those Texas-sized slow-cookers and more flavorful than the usual slathering of gravy-thick barbecue sauce. Plus, the chicken is so soft that the pieces practically fall apart—gravity can pretty much carve them for you. The dish also benefits from a side of pickled vegetables that bite back against the chicken’s sweet glaze, creating the kind of balance unmatched by even the best Carolina barbeque.
Heat is a fluctuating factor at Toko Rame, but it’s never an overwhelming one, as the food is already accustomed to tougher tropical temperatures. Still, even if the spice does start to spread, the desserts quickly cool things down, with everything from a sweet avocado purée to fermented cassava ice ready to wipe out the heat. And although Toko Rame doesn’t look like it would be a regular refuge for the hotter days ahead (a tiny storefront barely able to contain its seven tables), the place works as one. Must be the Indonesian state of mind.
TOKO RAME 17155 BELLFLOWER BLVD | BELLFLOWER 90706 | 562.920.8002 | OPEN WED-SAT & TUES 11AM-8PM | SUN NOON-5PM | FOOD FOR TWO $15-30 | CASH ONLY