At its core, the story of Nora Haron’s newest project is a love story. The Oakland-based Indonesian-Singaporean chef tells Eater SF that the man she’s been seeing for the past two years, Diego, is of part Mexican descent. After an inspiring trip to Indonesia this past fall, the couple started cooking together — “making food babies,” as Haron puts it, that combined their respective cultures: a concha flavored with coconut oil and makrut lime, tamales filled wit beef rendang.
“IndoMex” is what Haron called these hybrid food creations. Or, as her boyfriend put it, after tasting that concha for the first time: “If you and I were bread twisted together, this was it.”
And so, fittingly, IndoMex is also the name of Haron’s new Sunday brunch pop-up that she’s doing in collaboration with Xingones (the Mexican pop-up that’s embedded inside the Fort Green sports bar in downtown Oakland). The pop-up, which will feature a whole menu of Indonesian-Mexican hybrid dishes, will launch on Sunday, August 23, and will be open for both takeout and outdoor dining every Sunday thereafter, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
IndoMex is also, among other things, a pandemic pivot. Haron, who grew up in Singapore and is of Indonesian-Indian descent, is probably best known as the chef-owner of Drip Line, her groundbreaking West Oakland California-Singaporean cafe that shuttered in 2018. But for the past year, she’s been the executive chef and a partner at San Francisco’s Local Kitchen, giving the former Italian spot’s menu a thorough Singaporean revamp while overseeing the food for an entire restaurant group.
Like so many of the restaurants in the SoMa/Rincon Hill area dependent on the local tech economy, Local Kitchen has suffered mightily during the coronavirus crisis, with nearby office workers staying at home and big tech company banquets canceled for the foreseeable future. As a result, Haron says, she hasn’t been taking a salary since March. In April, to generate a little bit of revenue, she started up a little takeout business once a week in Oakland, selling straightforward Singaporean, Indonesian, and Malaysian dishes — chicken rice, laksa, and nasi lemak (coconut milk rice). According to Haron, business was great for a while, but it eventually plateaued.
And so she started mixing in a few of the IndoMex dishes she’d been experimenting with at home: the beef rendang tamales. A fried chicken sandwich that used that Indonesian-inspired concha, whose crust Haron likens to serundeng (an Indonesian coconut topping), as the bread. A version of horchata made with Balinese black rice.
“Boom. It took off,” Haron says.
The new brunch collaboration with Xingones, more fully focused on the IndoMex fusion dishes, was the next logical step — especially since Xingones chef Mayra Velazquez, who will help develop the Mexican side of the menu, had worked for Haron at Drip Line.
More specifically brunch-oriented IndoMex dishes are in the works: There will be beef rendang chilaquiles. There will be pandan flan. There’s a new “sambal salsa” Haron has developed that’s made with Early Girl tomatoes, Fresno chiles, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, and coconut sugar — Haron says she plans to put that on everything. When you taste it, she says, you think, “This is sambal. No wait, this is salsa. No wait, it’s sambal.”
In addition, customers will be able to order a few of Haron’s staple Indonesian-Singaporean dishes — her chicken rice, her laksa, her nasi lemak.
When asked if IndoMex would wind up being something more long-lasting than a temporary pandemic pivot, Haron cites the difficulty of making any definitive long-term plans right now: “I’m just going to go with the flow.” Still, the chef says it’s not difficult for her to imagine a future when she’s running her own flagship Nora Haron Indonesian-Singaporean restaurant — one where an IndoMex brunch or dinner menu might be something she could feature once or twice a week.
IndoMex will launch on Sunday, August 23, and will be open for takeout and outdoor dining at Xingones, at 736 Washington Street in Oakland, every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Customers will be able to preorder up to a day in advance via Haron’s website.