For about a year, Alhambra was home to a secret menu of food from Kalimanta, the Indonesian part of of Borneo. From the sign at Little London on Garfield, though, it would be hard to know that this was probably the only restaurant in Los Angeles dedicated to the cuisine of the Pacific island. Chef Phin Fung Then recently changed that, getting rid of the Little London sign and replacing it with one that says Borneo in big letters. The restaurant is not only food from Borneo, the sole island in the world that is divided between three countries (the others being Brunei and Malaysia). The chef is very specific that the cuisine served at his restaurant is Kalimantan, a Hakka Chinese take on the food of the region.
Little London Cafe's no-longer-secret menu makes it official: Alhambra is a hub for Indonesian food in LA 1.06.11
Little London Cafe's "secret" Indonesian-only menu was available in English Thursday morning, courtesy of The Los Angeles Times. The paper (after previous postings in Chowhownd) outed chef Phin Fung Then for creating what he says is the only menu dedicated to food from his native Indonesian Borneo, or Kalimanta, in the United States. Not only that, Then says his is the only restaurant with the specific Hakka Chinese take on the food of the region.
To help explain this cuisine, Then copied descriptions of the three items from the Times onto a sheet of white paper and inserted it in the older eclectic menu of teriyaki, fried fish, and traditional American fare. Granted the descriptions did not translate exactly. Here's item #1 from the new English-language menu: "a platter of three glorious variations on a theme of meat, served over rice, all sitting in a shallow pool of radiantly savory thin gravy. If you aren't Indonesian, they will offer to present the meat, rice and sauce separately, because they seem to believe this is what non-Indonesians want. Refuse. Fight for your right to have it Indonesian-style: all in one big, wet, soul-warming pile of chow."
This came in useful for a few non-Indonesian LA Times readers who showed up, but most of the customers at the late lunch crowd Thursday were fellow natives of Kalimantan. Then has been serving them since last February, from the menu that was only available until Indonesian.
This means the Alhambra Source was wrong in a feature last fall about an emerging Indonesian culinary center in the city. The article stated that with Wong Java on Valley Boulevard joining Indo Kitchen on Main Street, "there are now two Indonesian restaurants located in Alhambra. In addition, there are a few nearby shops that serves some Indonesian specialties, notably Sam's Nutrition Center in Monterey Park and Tip Top Mart in San Gabriel. Considering only a handful of Indonesian restaurants exist in all of Los Angeles County, the Western San Gabriel Valley could be seen as an emerging mini center for local Indonesian cuisine." The Source missed London Fish. With three restaurants the city could definitely be considered a culinary hub.
Which, as the Source previously reported, is only fitting: "Los Angeles County has the greatest number of Indonesians in the United States — at roughly 50,000 — and, according to the Indonesian Consulate, Alhambra is home to one of the largest concentrations. The local settlement consists mainly of Chinese Indonesians. Even though they are only about two percent of Indonesia’s population of roughly 245 million (it’s the worlds fourth most populous country), they are a disproportionate number of local immigrants. One reason is that Chinese Indonesians tend to be relatively affluent and many come to the United States to study."
That's the reason Tony Susanto, 31, and his wife May Ng, 28, came to the United States — but they said like many of their friends once here, they decided to stay. The food, though, has been a challenge. "When I eat in American restaurant I was lost," Susanto said. "This is not my food." The couple live in Tuscon, and after a weekend in Los Angeles, were picking up a stock of Kalimantan food to bring back with them. "This is our food," Susanto said with a satisfied smile. "We lived in Indonesia for 26 years."