Monday, March 28, 2011

Tempe House - San Bernadino

Two groups of people in the world know and appreciate tempe (pronounced "tem-pay"): vegans and Indonesians. The former have adopted what the latter has eaten for centuries. And as well they should. Tempe is a great meat-substitute, a soybean product that, unlike tofu, has the satisfying chew somewhere between a mushroom and a dense piece of meatloaf.

Though you can buy tempe frozen at most Asian markets, the best tempe is fresh. But to make it yourself is a dicey proposition. Though not as daunting as attempting to recreate Parmigiano Reggiano, tempe-making requires careful planning and the right set of conditions. Few even try. Tempe is, above all, temperamental. The climate has to be right before you can attempt the endeavor. To get the fermentation process going, it likes hot and humid surroundings similar to the balmy tropics from where the delicacy originated.

A good way to judge is to see if the room is comfortable for you. If it is, it is likely too cold and too dry for the spores of the fungus Rhizopus oligosporus that will to turn your soybeans into tempe. If a white fur develops, it would indicate the fungus spores have flourished and did its job.

But even before this, there's the laborious job of prepping the soy. You have to hull each bean, then cook them, acidulate them, add the specific kind of starter, stuff the whole thing in an aerated bag before you can let nature do its work. Since the process is left to the whims and fickle nature of microbes, it is fraught with pitfalls. If you don't know what to look for or what tempe should taste like (tangy but smooth), there's always the danger that your hours of labor will result in something that might make you sick.

Until now, there hasn't been a local producer of real Indonesian tempe so that you don't have to go through the trouble. Since it opened sometime last year, Tempe House is the only one of its kind I know of. Unfortunately for anyone reading this who isn't in the Inland Empire, to get to Tempe House takes at least an hour's drive almost to Palm Springs. But once you do find it in a deserted strip mall in a desolate part of town, you'll discover them selling the delicacy for $1 each--a bargain, if you don't consider the cost in gas. Each satchel is ready for what ever your culinary plans may be. The simplest way to enjoy them is soaked in garlic water and salt, then deep fried.

Of course, you can also just sample some of what the Tempe House has on offer in their turo-turo style set-up of ready-made dishes. They don't all have tempe in them, but there are more than a few that do.

The beef rendang has no tempe, but it is slow-cooked to tenderness, as sweet as it is coated in a reduced and intense spice paste. They have gudeg, the famous Yogjakarta sugary stew made of young jackfruit cooked with hard boiled eggs. You could get both as a $7 two-item combo that includes any rice (plain, turmeric-colored to yellow, or flavored with coconut-milk), piled to ample portions enough for two.

The kitchen prepares other things to order, like the ketoprak, tangles of rice noodle, tofu and rice cake drenched in a peanut sauce that you can request to be as scorching as you like. They have krecek sapi in baggies, a kind of chicharron made from cow hide and tapioca flour. Other items feature things wrapped in a sticky gooey substances, some fried and savory with tempe, other steamed and sweet with jackfruit and banana. And of course, there's tempe itself, covered in a crunchy batter and paired with a Thai chili garnish that is to be eaten in concert with it like a pickle.

Another item only available for order on some days is thick soup with tripe called soto, which on this trip is too heavy on the coconut milk and has bits of tendon too chewy to eat.

For dessert, there's tape (tah-pay), fermented cassava root that's actually mildly alcoholic, tangy and slightly sweet, served either in its unadulterated form or whirred up to bits in an icy slush with rose syrup and condensed milk.

Yes, we tried all these things. Since we didn't have to make the tempe, and we came all this way, we kinda had to.

Tempe House
24984 Third St.,
San Bernardino, CA 92410
(Closed Saturday)

Alessa - Laguna Beach


At 12:38 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Wow, Edwin, I only know the brown, cubed tempe in plastic containers. I wish this resto was open a few years ago when I travelled to San Berdo for a 2-week training and the locals took me to the same Chinese resto and Alfredo's Pizza & Pasta several times each.

I'd like to try the ketoprak. Do you know if Toko Rame has it? The rendang at Tempe doesn't look as dry as Warung Pojok's. I've had to pay extra 'cause WP doesn't give you too much. This is when I miss Susie's Deli's homestyle cooking.

Unfortunately, with gas prices and no planned road trips, I'll just fill up and be satisfied with staring at your great pictures. Thank you for the food lessons, Edwin. You've helped me step outside the box and try different dishes when we eat out. Terima Kasih...

At 2:56 PM, Anonymous JB said...

Why is it that Indonesian settlers are attracted to murderously hot lands along earthquake fault lines

We need an Indonesian resto or turo-turo in the breezy, gabacho section of Costa Mesa, even if it doesn't remind native entrepreneurs of the mother archipelago.

Funny how when you "try all these things," you can't do the trademark Monster Munching quartet of images, and have to revert to a Brady Bunch-style tic-tac-toe split. If it's made better, I'd go for a bowl of soto [Alice] with beef rendang [Marcia] and a crunchy tempe roll [Peter].

At 8:11 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


They also have those browned crispy strips of tempe you might have seen in the past. And yes, Toko Rame does indeed have ketoprak. Think of it as gado gado without all those pesky vegetables!

Here's a blurry video of ketoprak being made by a Jakarta street vendor:

But yes, I would not advise anyone to actually drive to San Bernadino unless you really want to stock up on the raw tempe. Not worth the gas and mileage for the ketoprak alone, especially if you're close enough to Toko Rame!


Brady Bunch! *Slapping hand on head* That's how I should've approached my 9 grid collage. Genius!

I was even thinking of numbering it, but you hit it right on the head. Damn you! Why didn't I think of that?! :-)

But yes, if I ever make the trip again, I'd hit up Marcia and Carol!

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At 11:53 AM, Blogger Will said...

Looking forward to trying this. I could be wrong, but I think Simpang Asia used to make their own; at the least, I think they sell one made by a place in Pomona.

At 9:48 PM, Anonymous John said...

You can find here varous tempeh recipes.

At 7:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

do they sell their tempe online? and ship to canada?


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