Nasi goreng is Indonesia’s national dish but I’ve lived here for ten months and only eaten it a handful of times and only ordered it twice. The archipelago’s culinary creations comprise so much more than fried rice! The vertiginous variety required diligent study when I arrived in Bandung, and as a series of dot points in my Tulisan Indonesia folder titled Lunch Fails attests, I got off to a slightly queasy start:
- Ceker ayam – Chicken feet. Not my best birthday lunch.
- Kikil – I’m all for the Nose to Tail movement but I had to politely turn down the Friday office lunch of cow feet curry.
- Kerupuk banjur – Precarious stack of white and pink prawn crackers smothered in sate sauce.
- Gudeg – Bulging, oil-soaked brown paper package of sweet jackfruit and coconut milk curry (speciality of Yogya) with rice, beef skin, tofu and buntil (glistening dark green golf ball of shredded coconut and little salty fish wrapped in papaya leaves and boiled in coconut milk).
I wrote about my first (and last) encounter with ceker ayam in my first group email: “Hope this finds you in fine spirits and with a stomach more settled than mine. I just tried ceker ayam for the first time. Chicken feet. Just a regular work lunch cook up in the kitchenette (I didn’t tell my new colleagues it was my birthday – I didn’t want to make a fuss). I’m extremely adventurous with food but I doubt it will become a fav.” The kerupuk banjur I ordered on day five at work when a couple of colleagues invited me to lunch. I told them I felt like something light. Gudeg I’d had once before in Canberra. Concocted by kitchen wizard Nicholas Combe (someone once said he could make even dust delicious) and former Yogya resident, it was aromatic, velvety and light. This incarnation, bought when I was scouting out the warung around my workplace on a humid tail-end of monsoon day, left me feeling hot and heavy.
There’ve been no additions to Lunch Fails since February 20. Instead I have half-finished lists of Indonesia’s refreshing and entertaining iced drinks and intriguing fermented foods, musings on Bandung’s burgeoning cafe culture, a little ditty about my goal to try every soto (soup) in Java, scribblings on scrumptious stink beans and sticky, banana leaf-wrapped traditional sweets, a patchy piece on three-nights-in-a-row-worthy Manadonese cuisine and a rambling effusion about my new-found fixation with all things porcine. I’ve been meaning to publish a piece on My Favourite Indonesian Foods for months now, but where, dear readers, to begin?
To answer this culinary conundrum I turned to the great Julie Andrews and decided to start at the very beginning.
Some notes about my A-Z:
It contains no pork dishes as I intend to post a separate piece about my favourite porcine cuisine. Although Indonesia is the world’s largest Islamic country I’ve devoured more pork here than I reckon I have throughout my entire life in Australia, and not a strip of bacon might I add.
I have developed a deep love for the fiery flavours of Manado, capital of North Sulawesi, which is renowned for its lavish use of spices and unorthodox meat choices (fruit bat anyone?). So far it is my absolute favourite fare of the archipelago (though I’m yet to try the bat) and soon I will be traipsing around Sulawesi’s northernmost tip tasting, snapping and typing away for a separate story.
I took all the photos bar a few, which were expertly snapped by my beautiful friend Aisah Wolfard. Thank you Ais for sharing your rich knowledge and love of Sundanese cuisine, and for all the fantastic kitchen tango and wondrous weekends at Rumah Wolfard. We WILL write that Sundanese recipe book one day! Udah Makan?
A hearty hatur nuhun to my colleague Dian, my most attentive teacher of tastes! Whenever Dian discovered I was yet to try a Sundanese speciality there it would be waiting for me on my desk the next day. She would always offer whatever was in her lunchbox – “Julz, mau coba? Coba Julz!” – and when we were on work trips would take me on culinary adventures to hunt local delicacies. I have Dian to blame for my emping addiction, and to thank deeply for her boundless enthusiasm, generosity, and all the sweet little surprises.
Nuhun pisan to my counterpart Atik who put up with my erratic cravings and sat patiently and diplomatically through numerous food photo sessions. Only once did she enquire, “Julz, why do you take the same photo again and again and again?”
Finally to my darling C, my fellow food fiend without whom there’d be no A-Z: never stop your mad spontaneity.
Selamat membaca, happy reading, and selamat makan, happy eating!