Merry's House of Chicken - West Covina
Go forth fellow Orange Countians, out of your comfy cul-de-sacs, to the equally quiet foothills of West Covina. There you will find the Southland's newest Indonesian restaurant, peddler of foods from the spicy archipelago and a fried chicken specialty that will result in more return trips north.
The chicken dish in question ayam goreng kremesan, which roughly translates to "fried chicken with crispy crumbly things"--a golden brown, half-bird deeply seeped of its marinade and showered with the granular crumbles of its disembodied crust. Think of this addictive substance also as a seasoning, because it is. This crisp rice-flour-based batter sings the same notes that the bird does, but concentrated in a molecular sense, a flavor present in every explosively crunchy, tempura-crossed-with-granola crumb.
This is the same kind of chicken that begat KFC-like empires in Indonesia, the least of which is called Ayam Goreng Suharti, arguably the closest thing Indonesia has to a homegrown Colonel Sanders.
Dollop each morsel of bird you tear off from the well-fried carcass (note: Indonesians prefer their chickens fried to the point of dryness) with the house-made sambal, an intensely sweet, and intensely hot chili and tomato paste inflected by the stinky, funky, umami-rich accents of terasi, Indonesia's indigenous fermented shrimp paste. Instantly, your lips numb, your tongue blazes, your brow begins to dampen. And yet you add more, and more, finishing the first saucer and asking for seconds. You admit to yourself that you can eat this homemade fire balm for days, your internal organs be damned.
Your tastebuds will not have fully recovered when you move on to the other dishes, like the nasi goreng petai, a fried rice dish with little bits of noodle, meat, chili, and most notoriously, petai beans (sator beans), a fragrant, nutty tropical legume with a lima-bean-like texture, and a propensity to make your pee smell worse than if you ate a whole bushel of asparagus.
And since you're already drenched head to toe in your own perspiration, Merry Istiowati--the Surabaya native who, by the way, opened this ode to the poultry (and Indonesian cuisine) after closing 368 Noodle House so many years ago--makes an estimable nasi bungkus, banana-leaf-wrapped-rice, which is what a take-out meal would look like if drive-thrus existed in the jungle. But be warned: this is a dish as piercingly hot and sweat-inducing as noontime in the tropics.
Once you unfurl the butcher paper and leaf packaging, you see a green-chili sambal waiting furtively, nay, dangerously in one corner. A hard boiled egg is stewed in more chili. A piece of beef rendang is covered with its cooked-down brown seasoning paste. On top of the pile, a turmeric-colored chicken leg and a spoonful of curried vegetable provides the only non-spicy reprieve. All are heaped into a football-mound of rice which has taken on the vanilla-like perfume of its botanical container.
It's about then you thank Merry's House of Chicken for supplying an ample amount of sweat-blotting napkins in a convenient basket next to the kecap manis.
Merry's House of Chicken
2550 E Amar Rd., Ste A5
West Covina, CA 91792
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