Nusa Shares Indonesian Cuisine with Bay Area Farmers Markets
Selina Knowles, Communications Coordinator
May 20, 2022
Growing up in Indonesia, Jennifer Huang, owner of the bakery Nusa, vividly remembers her mother’s daily trips to a local outdoor market. When Jennifer went shopping with her mother, they would pick up fresh ingredients before heading home to cook that day’s meals. “I grew up around fresh, local food, and I think that’s something that sort of sticks with me,” says Jennifer.
Driven by a mission to introduce Indonesian cuisine to the Bay Area, Jennifer dedicated herself to learning how to make the cakes, pastries, and snacks that she grew fond of while growing up in South Sumatra. Nusa’s small-batch desserts and treats, which Jennifer now sells at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, pay homage to her cultural heritage.
Stepping up to fill a cuisine gap
When Jennifer immigrated to the United States as a teenager, she quickly noticed how difficult it was to find the comfort foods she had grown up with in her homeland. The familiar flavors and foods of her childhood were nowhere to be found in her new home.
This gap in the local culinary scene became a call to action to start her own business. “It started because I couldn’t find Indonesian desserts and snacks in the Bay Area,” she says, “I thought, ‘If I’m missing these kinds of desserts, I’m sure other people are, too. And so, I had to self-learn, and I went to culinary programs in community college as well as traveled back to Southeast Asia to get a little bit more training.”
After taking classes locally and abroad, Jennifer began introducing her desserts and snacks to customers through a private catering service in 2013. Due to increasing demands, she eventually outgrew her home kitchen, and in 2019, she applied to the La Cocina incubator program, where she further developed her business operations.
Last year, she popped up as 1000 Layer Bakery at La Cocina’s guest vendor booth at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, connecting with a broader customer base in San Francisco. La Cocina continues to be a source of support for Jennifer. She says, ”I usually go to them first if I have questions about business.”
In 2021, she rebranded 1000 Layer Bakery to Nusa, meaning “island” in Bahasa Indonesia. As she explains on Nusa’s website, “It represents our vision to introduce and broaden the appeal of Indonesian food to the San Francisco Bay Area that is rooted in the diversity and richness of ingredients, flavors, culture, and history of the 17,000 islands of Indonesia that transpire in our menu.”
Centering Indonesian ingredients and flavors
When you visit Nusa’s booth in the back plaza of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, you’re rewarded with a colorful display of enticing desserts, including creamy, coconut custard and fluffy, chiffon cake. Both are a tempting bright green that invites shoppers to wonder, often aloud, how they got their color.
That vibrant green color comes from pandan leaves, an ingredient that is commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine. Also known as screw pine, pandan leaves grow from a tropical plant and are used as a coloring agent that also adds an earthy, aromatic flavor. In baking, the ingredient is used similarly to vanilla. It can also be used to add a unique flavor to savory foods.
Cooking and baking with pandan is one way that Jennifer features cultural flavors and techniques. “We want to make sure we retain the classic Indonesian flavor, taste, and authenticity,” says Jennifer. She also uses traditional recipes, such as lapis legit, also known as spekkoek or the 1000 layer cake.
Commonly eaten on celebratory occasions in Indonesia, this cake’s origin is tied to the Dutch Republic’s (now the Netherlands) centuries-long colonial occupation of Indonesia from the early 1600s through 1930s. This fusion of Indonesian and Dutch cuisine can be found in centers of historic Dutch governance and trade, including parts of Sumatra, where Jennifer and her family are from.
Cooking with her mother as a child, Jennifer was introduced to the infamously intensive process of creating the 1000 layer cake, the namesake of her original bakery. “When she made the 1000 layer cake, I would separate the egg yolk from the egg whites,” recalls Jennifer. The fluffy, eggy cake is baked layer by layer, alternating in vanilla and spiced flavors, and comes together only with ample patience and care.
From pineapple tartlets to pandan coconut mochi, Nusa’s signature offerings are true labors of love, and sharing the foods that she has cherished since childhood with the farmers market community makes all the effort worthwhile. “I love sharing the food with people. That was really the intention when I started the business.” Jennifer says. “We would be very happy if people tried Indonesian desserts or food, which are not very well known.”
Nusa is currently looking for an experienced pastry chef to join their team. Find out more here.