Ramayani

Escape from the tempeh of doom: (clockwise from bottom) string beans and tofu in coconut curry, hard-boiled egg topped with red pepper and onion, tofu in sweet red bell pepper sauce, corn fritter, peanut fritter, peanuts; (center) coconut rice topped with omelet strips and fried onion

Escape from the tempeh of doom: Vegetarian nasi uduk

Egg-streme tofu: tahu telor

Egg-streme tofu: Tahu telor

Tempeh, that bitter staple of contemporary Western veganism, is adopted from Indonesian cuisine. Curious to see whether it’s better in its original culinary context, and generally curious about this East Asian cuisine—not nearly as common in Los Angeles as its regional counterparts—we visited Ramayani (1777 Westwood Blvd., just north of Santa Monica Blvd.), a homey, family-run eatery whose menu clearly notes not just the vegetarian dishes but also the most popular ones. We started with tahu telor, diced tofu deep-fried in egg batter to form a crispy soufflé good for dipping in Ramayani’s proprietary hot sauce, a mixture of chili, vinegar, salt, and sugar, or its thick, slightly sweet soy sauce. Though billed as an appetizer, it could easily be a meal in itself. As if that weren’t enough, we had also ordered sayur lodeh, an enormous bowl of what the menu accurately describes as “a luscious coconut milk soup,” with vegetables including squash, zucchini, carrot, baby corn, string beans, red bell pepper, and cabbage. The centerpiece of our meal, however, was the vegetarian version of nasi uduk, a platter of many different tasty items that included string beans and spongy fried tofu in a slightly sweet coconut curry; a hard-boiled egg sliced in half and topped with red pepper and onion; tofu in a sweet red bell pepper sauce that tasted like barbecue; a chewy corn fritter reminiscent of an Indian pakora; another fritter, like crisp, savory peanut brittle; a dish of salty, spicy roasted peanuts; and coconut rice sprinkled with omelet strips and fried onion. We also were served rujak, a salad of shredded cabbage and cucumber slices with a superb, slightly spicy peanut sauce. As for our tempeh (listed on the menu here as tempe goreng), it led us to concede that though Ramayani’s crispy fried strips are the best possible non-disguised rendition, a cultured soy cake, however nutritious, is always going to be hard to love (even if the hot sauce helps). Still, as the rest of our dinner demonstrated, there is much more to Indonesian cuisine than this much-maligned ingredient, and at Ramayani vegetarians can stuff themselves very nicely without ever touching it.

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