February 22, 2024

Food Art

Moments of Making, One Bite at a Time

A Decade Later, NY Indonesian Food Bazaar Is as Vital as Ever

5 min read

At a folding table at an Elmhurst church, Fefe Anggono ladles out a jackfruit stew made with steamed tempeh, coconut milk, chiles, cabbage, and bamboo shoots. Her booth, Taste of Surabaya, is located inside of New York Indonesian Food Bazaar, a monthly food festival in Queens, that hit its decade mark this year.

Across the auditorium, there’s Dapur The Tio’s — also called the Tio’s Kitchen. Nurhayati Tios Sumarto assembles es dodger, an Indonesian beverage. Pink coconut milk cascades over black glutinous rice with chunks of avocado into a plastic cold brew-style cup. Though she serves plenty of savory items, her booth is a gelatinous paradise also serving the pandan drink called es dawet ayu.

“I try and tell each of the vendors to have their own specialty,” says Anggono, who in addition to running her booth named after her hometown, is also the festival’s showrunner. There are some overlaps but for the most part, everyone has their lane. “To keep people coming back we need a little bit of everything.” Walk left and find chicken satay, or right and there’s nasi gudeg. One stall offers snake fruit, which gets its name from its reptilian-like shell, otherwise rare in New York.

Home-style Indonesian food of all varieties is available here.

Anggono, who previously ran a restaurant on Long Island, opened the Indonesian Food Bazaar in a Woodside church before relocating eight years ago to the St. James Episcopal Church in Elmhurst. There are other Indonesian food festivals in New York, but Anggono’s just might be the longest-running. It is certainly the most well-known.

Once a month, the room fills up with Indonesians looking for a taste of home, as well as New Yorkers looking for a culinary experience most restaurants can’t approximate. It’s more than a lunch stop; it’s also a place to stock up on ingredients in bulk or frozen packages for the week. Most dishes, many of which are halal or vegetarian, hover in the $5 range. The only problem is, that there is often more to choose from than one can eat in a sitting. A guiding rule: Bring friends.

Sami Naim, a neighborhood regular, said he had been coming to the festival for the past five years, even before his children were born. Now, it’s a staple family activity and a way for them to connect with his spouse’s Indonesian heritage. The intergenerational ties also pulled Shayna Dunkelman, a musician living in Long Island City, to bring her parents so that her Indonesian mother could eat lontong sayur and petai, the dishes she missed most.

Over the years, the festival has received boosts, notably from a New York Times profile, and more recently, from TikTok. Still, the majority visit from word-of-mouth. Anggono estimates almost 75 percent of attendees are non-Indonesian. “That’s been my goal to introduce Indonesian cuisine to non-Indonesian people, and in that way, it’s been a big success,” says Anggono. Others like Justin Linds, a research fellow in food humanities at the New York Botanical Garden, had traveled all the way from Fort Greene for a taste of something he “couldn’t find in his neighborhood.”

A guiding rule: Bring friends and family to try a bunch of dishes from a few different stalls.

NY Indonesian Food Bazaar is entirely women-run; most of the vendors are mothers, and some bring their families to help (Anggono’s husband, Trimulyono Hadiwidjaja, also from Surabaya, aids her).

“They are housewives, but they love to cook even if they don’t have the resources or manpower or funding to open a restaurant,” she says, adding that it can be a creative platform as much as a place where women get to call the shots on their own. “That’s why they join us, you know, trying to survive. It’s a little bit of a part-time job, otherwise, they might do house cleaning or nannying or something like that,” she says.

The Indonesian bazaar is still a much scrappier upstart than other Queens food festivals like the Queens Night Market. Vendors pay Anggono $150 for the season (or $200 if they want to do a one-off event), prices that haven’t changed since pre-COVID.

Anggono sees her role, however pushy, as resource-sharing, encouraging vendors to brand themselves through social media (almost none have websites), putting out catering business cards, and helping several get their food handler’s license, “not only for my festival, but so they can go off and do other things, too.”

She has also helped with citizenship. As the Times 2020 profile pointed out, the food events in places of worship — common across New York — also provide respite from the regular policing of street vendors. Other food bazaars like the outdoor Latin American one at Corona Plaza have not been so lucky.

Nurhayati Tios  Sumarto at her booth.

Nurhayati Tios Sumarto at her booth.

Es dawet ayu, a gelatinous pandan drink.

Es dawet ayu, a gelatinous pandan drink.

During COVID, Elmhurst became an epicenter. But things have been bouncing back: so much so, that Anggono’s marking her decade in business with expansion. Soon, Anggono hopes she will be adding a night market in Long Island City (she’s searching for a space); she said the choice to pursue it was related to certain fans and vendors of the market asking for one. “I want to create a place where people can sell or eat food after their work,” she says.

She’s also planning events in Manhattan as well as cooking classes. In the meantime, she’s gearing up for her next Indonesian Food Bazaar in Elmhurst on December 9.

Between the money she pays for the space and cleaning fees, she doesn’t have much left for herself. “It’s about giving a chance to the other women to make money, and I can do my things with the catering side business,” she says.

Most items hover in the $5 range.

Sami Naim, a neighborhood regular, said he had been coming to the festival for the past five years, even before his children were born. Now, it’s a staple family activity.

Sami Naim, a neighborhood regular, said he had been coming to the festival for the past five years. Now, it’s a staple family activity.


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