Thom, Charmaine and Fleur outside the Molino Jabonero. SUR
A touch of the exotic spices up a small inland village in Malaga province

A touch of the exotic spices up a small inland village in Malaga province

A Dutch family with an interesting heritage start a new life in Villanueva del Trabuco by opening an Indonesian-style restaurant

Denise Bush

Villanueva del Trabuco

Friday, 1 September 2023, 11:14


Tucked away in the beautiful countryside to the north of Malaga, sheltering below an impressive mountain range, is the sprawling village of Villanueva del Trabuco.

It has much in common with many rural locations in Andalucía, predominately agricultural with an unassuming populace made up of mainly Spanish with a smattering of other nationalities mixed in. However, it has now become a little more exotic with the opening of an Indonesian restaurant in an old mill in the heart of the countryside.

It was here that, only a few months ago, Charmaine Kohlbrugge, her daughter Fleur Der Meer and her daughter's partner, Thom De Jong, decided to relocate from Alkmaar in the Netherlands. Charmaine admits that her main reason was to find "a warmer climate".

Her father was a soldier in the Knil, the Dutch army, stationed in Jakarta, Java. during the Second World War, and her mother was a teacher of Indonesian descent.

His story alone is one that could be made into a film. Captured by the Japanese during the occupation, he was loaded onto a ship with thousands of other prisoners of war which was then torpedoed by the British. The Japanese were able to rescue only a few hundred men and took them to a camp in Sumatra. After his release, he returned to Java and continued to serve in the army. However this was a time of great unrest and bloodshed in the country; the Japanese had promised the Indonesians independence and believing the Dutch would regain control, Indonesian separatists began targeting the Indo-European population.

The family decided to return to the Netherlands and safety in 1958, when Charmaine was just two years old.

Although relocated in the Netherlands, her family continued to enjoy Indonesian-style cuisine and Charmaine learned the recipes and techniques from her mother. Her daughter, Fleur, also enjoyed cooking and worked in restaurant kitchens, including a Spanish-style tapas bar, while she was taking hospitality and business studies at college.

The family had visited Andalucía on various occasions and loved the area so they decided to take a big step and move to Spain to open an Indonesian-style restaurant.

Charmaine had seen an advertisement for Molino Jabonero, an old olive mill that had been converted into a restaurant in Villanueva del Trabuco, so they headed there first to take a look, their original idea being to stay just three months to look around. The idyllic location and the rustic old mill close to a small stream was perfect for what they had in mind.

Contracts signed, they had just seven weeks to move over, bringing two horses and two cats with them. Thom, who worked in the Netherlands as a student guidance counsellor, came too to be 'front of house'.

All agree that the move has been a massive culture shock: first and foremost has been the language, followed by the Spanish way of doing things. The licences, food hygiene and health and safety courses have all been completed in record time and the trio say they that have been helped enormously by the Dutch, English and Spanish in the village.

Another headache was designing a menu that would appeal to all tastes, with some 'low heat' options for those who like less spicy food. The menu changes regularly but at the moment there are mouthwatering dishes such as satay pork, spicy steamed beef and chicken in coconut and lemon sauce among many others. There are also vegetarian dishes and all are served with rice or potatoes. Desserts feature the traditional Dutch apple pie as well as a luxurious chocolate mousse.

Charmaine, Fleur and Thom may have only been in business for only four weeks but they already have great plans for the future with a menu that will change weekly and include Indonesian specialities. They are also looking into having a live music night and celebrating Halloween and Christmas by offering a special menu to attract group bookings. And when asked about how they were liking the 'warmer' climate, I think Thom spoke for us all, "I really like this climate because life is spent more outside. But the 40 degrees can be too much for me sometimes!"

Find them on Facebook. Mesón Molino Jabonero

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