First bites: Tempe House Spicy Food

Last week, I stepped out of my food comfort zone, something I haven’t done in a long while.

Back in November, food critic David Cohen had written a review of the Tempe House Spicy Food Indonesian restaurant. I’d been wanting to try it since then.

I finally went last week.

The San Bernardino restaurant is similar to your typical Chinese take-out place, with the food displayed in a steam table.

There’s no real menu to speak of. You just step up to the counter and order.

And no, it has nothing to do with the city in Arizona. Tempe is the Indonesian spelling for tempeh, a fermented soybean-based protein cake, somewhat akin to tofu. Don’t worry, it tastes much better than my description makes it sound.

It’s a little daunting your first time there, but the employees are more than happy to let you sample what looks interesting to you.

A three-item combo is $8.

On my first visit, one entre I chose was labeled tahu tempe kecap. It appeared to have tofu, lontong (compressed rice rolled in a banana leaf and then sliced) and both red and green jalapeos in a soy sauce).

I also chose what I believe was called sayur lodeh (coconut milk-based jackfruit soup) and a piece of tempe goreng (battered and deep-fried tempeh).

You get rice with your combo. You also get garlic veggie chips, which I’ve since discovered are for sprinkling on your meal.

Again, there are no real menus to speak of, just Dymo-labeled trays of varying readability.

They also have chicken, beef, fish and more vegetarian dishes and soups.

The best thing is to ask if you’re unsure. Despite the slight language barrier, they’ll let you know what’s in a particular dish.

Canned sodas (and other pre-packaged beverages) are available, as well as a number of snacks like fried noodles, fruit in a spicy-sweet vinegar juice and garlic peanuts.

And how was the food? Delicious!

My favorite was the “tahu tempe kecap.” It had a great spice to it and was very satisfying. The jalapeos give up much of their heat to the sauce and are delicious by themselves or with the tofu. It’s spicy, but not unbearably so. I’d recommend this dish for first-timers.

The sayur lodeh was also very good. I’d never had jackfruit before, so I was a little apprehensive, but it turned out OK. It’s starchy and has a mild flavor, similar to eggplant or potato. I’m partial to coconut milk-based soups, anyway, and this was one of the more exotic ones I’ve had.

I also liked the tempe goreng. If you can imagine fish and chips-type fish, only with a slice of tempeh instead of fish, then you’re close. On a second, evening visit, they gave us three pieces of the tempe goreng to take with us. Yum!

So, if you’re tired of the same ol’ thing and want to try something exotic, don’t be afraid to try a little piece of Indonesia here in the Inland Empire.

If you want to go on your own food adventure, Tempe House Spicy Food is at 24984 Third St. (at Tippecanoe Avenue).