Imagine this: it’s 1993, there’s only a handful of Indonesian restaurants in Sydney and, like most Sydneysiders, you barely know the cuisine apart from fried rice and packet mee goreng. You’re walking down a suburban Randwick street and you spot a small, curtained restaurant advertising ‘Indonesian Padang Take Away Food’. You walk in to find Indonesian students and young families each with plates of rice flanked by brown stews, fried fish and boiled eggs drowned in chilli paste.
There’s no menu to speak of aside from a few items listed on the wall. Everyone else just approaches a counter lined with bains-marie and points at what they want. You see corn fritters, rendang and many more curries of all different meats and colours, and you think it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Decades later, hardly anything has changed at Ria Sari. There may be a few more Indonesian restaurants around town, even a few doing the same bain-marie version of Padang food (traditionally, all the food would be laid out on the table and you’d literally help yourself to), but nowhere will you find one quite this old school. You’ll likely get served by the owners, eat among the current generation of Indonesian students and leave without spending more than $15.