The gado gado at Willis Canteen is legendary. Look at the size of it, it’s like it’s been designed for marathon runners and strongman competitors. Certainly, it’s beyond the scope of the average human diet. But that’s just a bonus. The real kicker is the fact every gado gado at Willis Canteen is freshly made. While almost all the other Indonesian restaurants grind their peanuts, makrut lime, garlic, chilli, coconut and various other aromatics in a blender and haul the output into the fridge for later use, Willis Canteen does it by hand – for every single order.
The latter part may sound unnecessary because, why would you do that if you could just use a blender? Science. A blender finely cuts all the ingredients, counterintuitively leaving many of the cells intact, a mortar and pestle crushes every cell, releasing more flavour and aroma while maintaining some texture. That, coincidentally, is also the long answer to the question: why does Willis Canteen’s gado gado taste so much better than the others?
The only downside to this traditional practice is time. Unless you’ve called ahead or you’re eating at 10am, 3pm or any other off-peak time, expect to wait up to an hour. At least that’s how it used to be. Once, the Willis Canteen phones ran hot with orders, but they’ve since died down after many Indonesians objected to a statement one of the owners made about an Indonesian politician who’d been persecuted on religious grounds.
Of course, gado gado isn’t the only thing this tiny, back-alley restaurant does, it’s just the best thing. If there’s a big group of you, pair it with some Indonesian fish cakes, beef tongue sate skewers (in a thick turmeric sauce rather than peanut) and iga penyet, tenderised (literally whacked with a pestle) beef ribs with a lathering of sambal.