From Bali to Us highlights Indonesian cuisine

by Francesca Chapman
Posted 12/7/23

In Chestnut Hill, the holiday season’s hottest ticket is dinner at From Bali to Us.

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From Bali to Us highlights Indonesian cuisine


Never mind “The Nutcracker'' or the Christmas light show at Macy’s.  In Chestnut Hill, the holiday season’s hottest ticket is dinner at From Bali to Us, Laura Cohn’s annual pop-up store offering art and handcrafts from across Indonesia. 

The dinner is planned for this weekend at Cohn’s shop at 8514 Germantown Avenue – and the 35-seat evening sold out quickly. 

Cohn, the Mt. Airy-based batik artist who sells her own work alongside a dazzling array of Indonesian crafts and accessories, was delighted by how fast her shoppers pounced on the available seats for the dinner.

“Had I known that people would not have a problem spending $75 for dinner, I would have planned two,” she joked. 

Yet the price tag is modest by fine-dining standards. It will provide diners with a multi-course meal by James Beard award-nominated chef Diana Widjojo, who worked at her family Indonesian restaurant Hardena, in South Philadelphia, before launching her catering and pop-up operation, Rice & Sambal. 

Widjojo’s business is named for two key elements of Indonesian cuisine: rice, always on the table, and sambal, a classic chili-sauce accompaniment.

Rice & Sambal “do these really lovely, fancy pop-up dinners. And she’s very conscientious about the ingredients she’s using, they’re all organic,” Cohn said. Befitting the cuisine of the thousands of islands that comprise Indonesia, the menu will be “leaning toward pescatarian,” she added. “And we’ll have conversations about the food with people as we serve.” 

Events like the upcoming meal at From Bali to Us have been a highlight of Nadine Kolowrat’s holiday season for more than a decade.

“The dinners are always amazing and sell out fast — the quality of the cooking is top-notch, but what wows me most is that each features a palate and ingredients and a style of presentation that are very unlike anything you’d find in the U.S. if you’re not Indonesian,” the Wynnewood resident said. 

“It’s a magnet for people who are adventurous about food as well as other things … I always meet someone fascinating.”

By day, From Balis to Us is filled with Indonesian artworks large and small, from large sculptures and voluminous textiles to flowing tops and scarves, pocket-sized toys, jewelry and gifts that have appealed to shoppers for 27 holiday seasons. Cohn plans a “magical” conversion of the space for the dinner, with numerous tables and twinkling lights among the artworks.  

Dubbed an evening of “Passion & Spice,” the dinner is part of Cohn’s longtime mission “to build bridges between here and Indonesia, with a calendar of events throughout the season,” she said. “We really try to offer a full gamut to stimulate all the senses.” Most of the events are free of charge.

Earlier this season From Bali to Us offered a cooking demonstration highlighting the cuisine of Indonesia’s Madura Island; a standing-room only talk from a Philadelphia woman who studied the orangutans of Borneo; regional music and dancing on the first Stag and Doe night; and a documentary screening about Jakarta street musicians. 

The final event of the year is slated for Friday, Dec. 15 – a talk with author and photographer Brian C. Arnold about his recent book, “A History of Photography in Indonesia.”      

From Bali to Us remains open through Dec. 24, offering not only holiday gifts but a window into another part of the world. 

“Laura has a clear passion for showcasing Indonesian cultural events that plunge us into life there – well, as much as possible while still staying in Chestnut Hill,” said customer Kolowrat. “And as our world grows smaller and McDonald’s and big box stores are popping up everywhere, I am drawn to places and cultures that represent other value systems and ways of living. 

“Now, I can’t wait to visit” Indonesia, she said.