Dining at the Roa

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MORE often than not, a staple meal for those living in Asia will include steamed rice that is usually served with oily portions of proteins and vegetables. But, there are those who suffer allergic reactions to these two basic ingredients. One such person is celebrated couture designer Jovian Mandagie.

“It only started after I finished high school. I always ended up having gastritis if I had rice or food that is cooked with oil. I had to minimise my consumption of rice and oil and prepare food that is either steamed or boiled. Also, I like to eat healthy because I don’t get to go to the gym often,” Mandagie explained.

Hence, at the launch of Roa — his first Malaysian restaurant — Mandagie included his everyday lunch dish: steamed chicken breast with Roa Saos and special Manado Dabu-Dabu to begin the five-course meal at the Manadonese-based eatery.

For those who are wondering, Roa (garfish in English), is the smallest species of the swordfish and, according to Mandagie, this fish can only be found in Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi of Indonesia.

“That was the inspiration for the name of my restaurant and also because I am a quarter Manadonese,” the 28-year-old said with a smile.

The Roa Saos, which could initially be mistaken for meat floss or fried onions, is actually made from the swordfish, which has been fried, shredded and blended with chillies, shallots and tomatoes. Presented in an earthy colour, it tasted good even on its own. But when it was eaten with the chicken and the Dabu-Dabu, it was clear why Mandagie made this a must-have lunch condiment.

As for the starter, the stellar part of the dish was the Manado Dabu-Dabu. The Roa Saos served merely as a complement to the Dabu-Dabu. The Dabu-Dabu is a mixture of chopped chilies, shallots, tomatoes, seasoned with salt and sugar. All of the chopped and diced spices are then mixed with fresh lemon juice, similar to the Mexican salsa.

“Personally, I like the Dabu-Dabu sauce because it is refreshing and its tangy taste keeps me awake,” he adds with a chuckle.

Moving on to the appetiser course, it was the Tinutuan — a traditional Manadonese porridge served with Roa Saos. The rice porridge that came mixed with various vegetables such as spinach, kangkung, corn and lentils tasted odd. I reckon if there were more corn kernels in the porridge, it would have been easier to stomach. Personally, I felt that the taste of lentils stewed in the broth overpowered everything else in that dish and I daresay my co-diners agreed since there were many unfinished bowls of porridge left on the table.

The Kuah Asam Marlin was the soup of the day. Simply put, it was a bowl filled with awesome flavours and it offered hope for the rest of the course. The cubed fish was perfectly cooked and had absorbed all the flavours from the broth. Tasting almost like tom yum, the broth was lighter and not as sweet or spicy. The bold flavours of the soup came from the humble tomatoes, lemon juice, spring onions, basil and shallots. Everyone could be seen tilting their bowls to savour the very last drop of the soup.

The main course was a four-in-one dish consisting of the Roa Saos, Ayam Rica-Rica, Sapi Bumbu Sate Garo and Udang Woku. It was served with steamed white rice that was thoughtfully wrapped in a banana leaf — the same way the local pulut udang is served.

Mandagie and his wife Nina Sabrina. Photo by Roa

The word rica means chilli or spicy in Manadonese. But the chicken was not as spicy as one would imagine it to be. Besides chillies, the other ingredients for this dish include lemongrass, pandan leaf, basil, shallots, garlic, onions and spring onions. The chicken was deep fried but seasoned well. It had right amount of fieriness and was served with the Roa Saos. The combination was superb.

The Sapi Bumbu Sate Garo, which is beef satay, was delectable, especially with the rich and nutty peanut sauce that accompanied it. While this dish was not served on a skewer, the pieces were tender and a pleasure to the taste buds. Beef is not an easy meat to cook. For this dish it is marinated first in traditional Manado spices — shallots, bay leaf, coriander, and garlic — before being sautéed in peanut oil. After the meat is cooked, corn starch is added to thicken the liquid in the dish that finally results in a nutty sauce.

Prawns, unless cooked as butter prawns, should be shelled when served. When the Udang Woku came along, the head and whiskers of the prawns were intact and it made the experience a little messy for me. But, the broth that the prawn came in had hints of ginger, turmeric and basil. My dinner companion who was unperturbed by the presentation of the Udang Woku, said that it was spicy but the mixture of basil and the turmeric balanced it out.

The last course was of course a sweet one. The desserts were Kue Kuk and Klappertart. The Kue Kuk is similar to the local Nyonya kueh angku. Just like the angku, the Kue Kuk is mung bean paste wrapped in a orange, but thicker, glutinous wrap, which made the dessert difficult to savour.

The Klappertart, which Mandagie said was his favourite Manado dessert, was confusing. The dish that was served to patrons looked messy, for the lack of a better word. The plate looked like two dollops of creamy white substance that were nonchalantly scooped on and one of these scoops was vanilla ice-cream that was supposed to accompany the Klappertart.

A Klappertart, I later discovered, is a famous Manado dessert that is made from creamy coconut milk pudding, sugar, milk and butter as well as coconut flesh and juice. The added ingredients for this occasion were raisins and cinnamon.  It did not taste good because both dollops were mushed together and somehow the cinnamon did not elevate the taste of the Klappertart.

The Edge Financial Daily caught up with Mandagie after the meal. He said that having a restaurant was not only a long-time dream but also because he would much rather entertain his clients and friends in a restaurant that he could call his own and one that would serve his dishes.

“Just like the clothes I design, I have a hand in everything in this restaurant, from the menu and the ingredients to the ambience. Another thing is that Manadonese cuisine is very broad; therefore I had to be very selective when I brought it over to Malaysia. I wanted it to fit in the culture,” he said.

As a man who is always pushing boundaries, Mandagie has done the same with the restaurant. Saying that though he wanted have a 1960s feel for the ambience, he “wanted to break the norm” by allowing patrons to feel “cosy and warm” while enjoying quality Manadonese food.

I daresay that with the transparent light bulbs, vintage frames hanging from the walls and antique tables and chairs, patrons would find Roa a “cosy and warm” place to dine either on date night or even a family night out.

From left to right:
Tinutuan – Rice porridge that has a mixture of vegetables, corn and lentils. Photo by Roa
Kue Kuk – Similar to the local Nyonya kueh angku. Photo by Carmel Dominic
Mandagie’s special starter – A mix of steamed chicken, Roa Saos and Dabu-Dabu. Photo by Carmel Dominic

Roa by Jovian Mandagie is located in 1A, Jalan Kristal K 7/K, Seksyen 7, Shah Alam. It is open seven days a week between 8am and midnight. For details, call (03) 5524 4486.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 29, 2014.