Restaurant Nonya Cuisine Indonésienne
By YP Contributor

Taste in Diversity

Take a trip to Indonesia, without ever leaving the Mile End. Specializing in Javanese cuisine as well as dishes from Bali and Sumatra, Ivan Wiharto has been offering up characteristically diverse Indonesian food since 2002 at his restaurant called Nonya.

“I grew up in a restaurant family,” he explains. “My mum had restaurants when I was a child and I always helped out after school. The name Nonya came from one of her restaurants in Jakarta. As she’s closed all her restaurants now, I like that the name lives on.”

Ivan went to school for restaurant and hotel management in Switzerland for five years. After visiting Montreal in 1998, he fell in love with the city and was determined to come back. He first opened the restaurant with his two sisters.

“The opening went better than expected,” he says. “We got good write-ups in the newspapers. I wasn’t sure how people would react, but we got a good reception.”

Nonya was only the second Indonesian restaurant to open in Montreal, and the first had closed many years prior. They were the only Indonesian restaurant in Montreal for nine years.

I still have a love-hate relationship with running a business here. - Ivan Wiharto, owner
Nonya - Indonesian cuisine, Rendang, Udang Bakar, Ayam Bakar, Bebek Goreng, Brochettes/Satay

Representing the Nation

Ivan estimates that the clients are 90% Quebecois, though they also get a lot of Dutch as Indonesian food is very popular in Amsterdam. Their Indonesian customers generally come via the Embassy and Nonya works with them for special events.

For a while a lot of Montrealers were travelling to South-East Asia and would stop in Indonesia at some point. They came to Nonya first for experience and information, and came back after, to tell them that their food was better than over there!

“It’s easier to get good quality ingredients in North America,” Ivan explains, “though the spices are harder to source. Sometimes my mother posts them to me, sometimes people visiting Indonesia will bring them back for us.”

“We’ve been working with one particular store in Chinatown for about twelve years. It’s easier to find things in the supermarkets now – lemon grass, lime leaves, ginger – since more people are cooking like this at home.”

Nonya started with the most popular, well-known Indonesian dishes, such as satays on skewers. Now, Ivan is a bit more open in terms of ingredients, embracing influences from China, India and Europe, while still keeping traditional Indonesian dishes on the menu.

“I had intended this to be a family-run restaurant but my sisters have since gone back to Indonesia. I got new partners so I can concentrate on the kitchen again. It’s hard to get Indonesian cooks. The distance is so far and there are language barriers to think of,” he explains. “It’s also hard to convince the government you need an Indonesian cook – especially when qualifications are not so common in Indonesia. People learn by doing.”

Nonya - Indonesian cuisine, Rendang, Udang Bakar, Ayam Bakar, Bebek Goreng, Brochettes/Satay

The Business of Change

Ivan tries to adjust to the changing fashions of dining. “People don’t go out as much for one big meal at the end of the day,” he says. “They go for more casual dining, smaller dishes, or hop between venues, so we now provide a fusion tapas menu.”

Having more occupied store fronts on Bernard Street and the in Mile End in general has helped foot traffic, the vibe, and has improved Nonya’s business. Their lovely terrace is one of its big draws during the summer months.

“I still have a love-hate relationship with running a business here,” Ivan confesses. “It’s very satisfying to serve people food, to have plates come back empty, to have people talk about the food. It makes the work fun. But the winters are hard, all the permits and the ups and downs are hard – I really thought after 13 years I’d be established or have gone bust, but still we have busy weeks and quiet weeks and new people coming in who had no idea we were here. It surprises me.”

Nonya - Indonesian cuisine, Rendang, Udang Bakar, Ayam Bakar, Bebek Goreng, Brochettes/Satay
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