I am very delighted to share this inspiring and funny interview with you! Reading Sandra's story of growing up in Bavaria, her relationship to Indonesia and opening her own Indonesian tapas restaurant, fills my heart with so much joy! This interview is for everyone who wants to get inspired starting their soul business, who's interested in a personal story growing up with two cultures or who simply loves the Indonesian cuisine :)
Both of your parents are from Indonesia - How was it like for you to grow up in Germany?
Yeah, both of my parents are from central and east Java. They moved to Germany when they were still super young, moved around the country and settled eventually in lower Bavaria, Deggendorf. That’s where I was born. Hardcore Germany.
Growing up in this little town was both amazing and challenging at the same time. We were one of the first Asian families in the place. That means that everyone knows you. For the good and the bad.
I literally could write a book about all the strange, and funny and sometimes very confusing encounters. I do get it though. It really must have been confusing for everyone involved, since my sister and me, obviously have an Asian look, speak the Bavarian dialect with our friends, would wear traditional dirndls and then go home and eat Nasi Goreng with Sambal. Back then, this was simply not the normal, but I really hope that someday it will be.
What is your relationship to Indonesia now? Did you ever regret not growing up there?
I simply love Indonesia. As long as I can remember we would go back and forth between those two countries and I also visited a school and worked for a bit on Java and Bali.
It’s the place that I share some of my most vivid child hood memories with. The minute you step out of the airport you breath thick air, smelling of spices, tobacco plants and here the humming of big city noise. That minute, I always get an instant flashback of showering with buckets, going spearfishing with my uncle, cooking on fire wood in the backyard. But also going shopping in Surabayas fancy malls and gaining 10 kg at every visit.
You just cannot say no to all the “offerings” of your family. I have a family tree book that weighs 1 kg. On my grandmas 99 birthday we had to split the grandchildren into two groups since they wouldn’t fit into one photo.
Of course I have wondered often how my life would have turned out if I grew up there. But as much I love Indonesia, I really do love Germany too. So I would never trade one for another. And since I grew up with both cultures, I luckily never had to.
Since I grew up with both cultures, I never had to choose.
With Mata Hari you bring Indonesian cuisine to Germany – can you share a bit about the background?
I basically grew up in a kitchen. My mom is a fantastic chef and already had her first restaurant when I was born. The Java restaurant was my second living room and I kind of inherited the passion for good and exciting food. By the time I was doing my A-Levels, we opened her second place together and worked together for a while.
But as much as I loved our place, I was also drawn to see the world, just experience more and study. Back then, my ideal situation of a job was to work in fancy office of a skyscraper in Hongkong with a super long complicated manager title. That changed a lot throughout the years.
I love doing things with my hands, work with food and bond with people.
After my last job in consulting, I realized that I need to find something that really serves my personality. And I love doing things with my hands, work with food and bond with people. I wanna dream big and try out new things, so a new restaurant and my own business was somehow just the natural next step. And then? I just quit my job and kinda jumped in. Good that my parents, my husband Ben and amazing friends are just as crazy as I am. They support me at every step of the way.
We first started with a pop up restaurant to test our new concept of serving tapas instead of big dishes. That way you can experience a huge range of flavours and share it with friends and family. It was quite a success, so we opened our own place quickly after that. What a ride, but worth every second of it.
I was so excited the time I sat in a taxi late at night and for the first time, didn’t give the driver an address but just said the name of my own restaurant. It was so cool to realize that there is actually a real place I created. A place that shows all the beautiful things that I love and that Indonesia has to offer. Might sound very cheezy, but for me the restaurant is somehow a way to reconnect and bring the magic the islands had on me, since I was a child.
What would you recommend people who would like to open a restaurant and/or want to work within the Indonesian food-industry?
I think restaurant business is so hard and so beautiful at the same time. It definitely can drive you crazy. But as difficult as it can be, for me, connecting with people through food is one of the best things ever. Cause everyone can relate to food. It suddenly brings back memories, may take you on a journey and experience something new. Maybe even pushes you out of your comfort zone.
I think there is still a huge potential out there to develop new ideas and businesses related to Indonesian food. It is still very unknown in Europe but has tons to offer. I would totally love to see more small businesses popping up.
On your website it says you use a holistic way of cooking – what do you mean by this?
We are trying to reduce our ecological footprint as much as possible. Meaning that we are for example cooking with green electricity, through our provider Greenpeace Energy. Both food and drinks are carefully picked, so that we support rather small business that believe in the same values we do.
For instance, our coffee comes from Sumatra, through the Cologne based Heilandt roastery. Every cup of coffee supports the orang utan project, which promotes ecological cultivation and stop deforestation.
We are also more and more promoting plant based dishes, trying to cook in such a way that as little as possible will be wasted and use sustainable packaging, like the reusable bowls of vytal or even banana leaves for special occasions. We are not perfect of course and there is still lots to improve, but we always try to be better.
Maybe in the near or far future, we can cultivate or get our own Indonesian spices here in Germany. That would be a big dream.
How did you experience 2020 in gastronomy?
It certainly was a tough and exhausting year. No doubt about that. Especially because we opened right before the pandemic. But I have the most amazing and fantastic returning guests and then I remind myself that it can be so much worse.
I think its crucial to try and stay positive and inspired. And only focus on the things that you can actually change! Reduce your expenses and work on or do things that you would normally not have the time for. Anything else is not in your hands anyway.
You joined the initiative #veganuary – what is it about?
We joined Veganuary since I wanted to show people how tasty and easy it can be to cook 100 % plant based meals. Veganuary encourages people to try out a vegan diet throughout the month January. I think it’s a great initiative to try to reduce meat consumption and raise awareness.
In our dishes, we always try to make the veggies the star of the dish.
I wanted to join in, as I think that the variety around vegan and sustainable foods are still quite limited in Germany. They often lack spices and are just trying to substitute meat, instead of trying to shift the focus to the vegetable itself. In our dishes, we always try to make the veggies the star of the dish.
So we posted some Indonesian inspired vegan recipes on our website and hope to dare some people to try it out.
We are currently also working on our own Mama Hari brand and online shop to make vegan and organic Asian products more accessible. Available soon!
What do you wish for the future? For yourself, Matahari and the world?
I wish that more and more people will discover Indonesian food. Especially Indonesian plant based foods and get as excited about it as I do. Hopefully both my brand Mama Hari and my restaurant Mata Hari can play a crucial role in this process. And of course I want world peace and more love for animals. Who doesn’t? ☺
Location: Limburger Str. 19 | 50672 Cologne
Share this blog post:
More about Indonesian food
- Indonesian food at home: Indojunkie's cookbook