Friday, 18 May 2012

Indonesia so far... part 1

So, it's been over two weeks now that I've been in Jakarta, Indonesia. I've got many stories to tell you, but where do I begin?

It's been wonderful spending time with my family and seeing relatives that I have not seen in years and some I finally met for the first time. I almost forget that I have a huge family. My mom's side of the family, most of them lives in Bandung, the capital of West Java, about three or four or five hours away from Jakarta; depending on the traffic. She has 4 sisters and 5 brothers. And just from that side of the family, I have almost, if not over 30 cousins, several nieces and nephews. I really need to do a proper count.

My dad is the 7th child out of the 9 children... But I'll tell you the details later. Anyway, I have this idea to create a family tree which I think is much needed... For me anyway. Can anybody recommend any good app or software for this? Thank you.

This must have been the longest I've been in Jakarta. It's a weird feeling, everything is familiar, but I feel like a stranger. Maybe that's because I have not lived in Indonesia for almost ten years now. Or perhaps that's just because Jakarta is not my hometown and I don't know the area well. Medan in North Sumatra is. It's about 2 hours flight away from Jakarta and is my next destination as soon as I'm done with all the business here.

I must appear different as well or too tourist-like. For some reasons, when I go to a shop or approach a taxi driver, people start talking to me in English or ask if I could speak Indonesian. Maybe that's just the norm now. I don't know.

Anyway, now to the all important business, the food! What else? Ah, I've been treated to so many delicious foods here; traditional dishes that I love and some new favourites too. I couldn't put everything into one post (or it's gonna be a really long post), so I'm gonna break it down to several posts. Here are some of them...

Walking down the streets of Jakarta... err... that's a lie... it's too hot to walk around here. Everybody drives, either a car or a motorcycle, and that's why the traffic is just a nightmare. Seriously. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is, anywhere you go in Jakarta, you'll find plenty street-vendors selling ketoprak. This particular one consists of tofu, bean sprouts, green beans and rice noodles. The sauce is made from ground peanuts, palm sugar, garlic, sweet soy sauce, chilli (optional), seasonings and a little water to thin it slightly. No ketoprak is complete without kerupuk (crackers) and a little extra drizzle of sweet soy sauce. Actually, throughout the island of Java and Sumatra, you'll find many versions of ketoprak. They will be called under a different name and the ingredients will vary slightly, but the idea is pretty much the same.

Sate kambing or mutton satay is another street-food I love. They are grilled to order on a charcoal grill to add smokiness and flavour. Very often you'll have the option to choose between a peanut sauce or sweet soy sauce to accompany the satay... Being somewhat indecisive when it comes to food, I asked for both! The more the merrier, I say. The satay is then topped with crispy shallots, picked shallots and sliced spring onions. Beautiful.

Empek-empek / Pempek originates from Palembang in South Sumatra. But you can find it all over Indonesia. There are many different kinds of pempek, but they are essentially fish cakes with tapioca added to make the dough. One of the most famous is pempek kapal selam (literally translated: submarine pempek), which reminds me of Scotch eggs. Because it is made from a chicken egg wrapped in the pempek dough and then deep fried. The one pictured below is pempek lenjer. When still whole, it is shaped like a sausage and then it's thinly sliced, mixed with beaten eggs and fried like an omelette.

Pempek is often served with noddles and sliced cucumbers and most importantly the dark vinegar-y sauce which I adore. It just gives tang and freshness to the dish. However, be careful, the sauce can also be spicy. I mean like crazy. So watch for the label or ask for the mild one.

There is another version of fish cake, called otak-otak which can also be found in other parts of South East Asia, like Malaysia and Singapore. Translated into Malay and Bahasa Indonesia, otak means brain, yet otak-otak has nothing to do with brains. So, don't be scared of this dish. Otak-otak is often wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed or grilled. The one I had below is steamed and then fried. Just steaming it, don't do it for me. Then topped with fresh shallots, spring onions and dark vinegar, like pempek above.

Five hours drive outside Bandung in West Java, you'll get to the town of Kuningan which is famous for its tofu, tahu Kuningan. Here, I saw the tofu making process and it is fascinating. No, I haven't planned to make my own tofu now. Not yet anyway. The tofu is then deep fried... oh, yeah... deep fried. These little mouthfuls are so good when still warm. I like it just by itself, but if you like it spicy, ask for the birds eye chilli. They are tiny, but they pack a punch.

That's for now... the eating continues...