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Friday, May 27, 2011

Food Glorious Food (Indonesian style)

Anyone that know's me, know's I like my food. Yes I can be picky at times and at others downright confusing (I love cheese but I can't stand anything with cooked or melted cheese) but I'm always up for trying new and unusual things.

Back in the days in Thailand, before travelling to Jakarta, I went hill trekking and managed to try both rat and water buffalo. I also tried deep fried crickets too which, after a few beers, are not overly dissimilar to pork scratchings if you take the legs and general cricket shape into account.

The food I've tried here in Indonesia has been of tremendous variety. Simple dishes with complex flavours made by carefully combining herbs and spices and other ingredients to combine into what can only be described as a taste sensation. And I'm not talking about 5 Star restaurants. You get this same attention to detail even from the street vendors and roadside waroengs. The biggest complaint I hear levelled against Indonesian food is "everything is fried" and whilst this is not entirely true, alot of the food can be fried..........let me introduce you;


From top to bottom of these pictures we have:-
1. Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice)
This is a staple part of the Indonesian diet and possibly the most versatile meal on the list. This meal can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner or just as a snack. I've seen this dish prepared in a matter of seconds as long as the ingredients are ready to go. Here's the recipe and method from my local lunchtime waroeng, Wong Solo.
Basically you add some oil, garlic and salt to a hot wok and lightly stir in an egg. Next is added a little chicken stock and some thick soy sauce called kecap (pronounced ketchup but not to be confused with the tomato sauce variety) and to this is added a portion of steamed rice. This is stir fried and has pieces of cooked chicken and, depending on your taste, chopped birds eye chillies* are added. Now it's just about combining the ingredients. If this is served as a take-away then it is scooped onto a piece of banana leaf and topped with fried shallots, chopped pickled vegetables and, as is my preference, shredded cabbage. Finally garnished with prawn crackers called krupuk, the cost of this lunch is RP12,000 or about 80p in English money or $1.20 US.
The picture show's the more traditional "eat-in" service of the dish straight out of a bowl mould and topped with a fried egg and garnished with cucumber and tomato but, in my opinion, the dish I've described from Waroeng Wong Solo's is the best Nasi Goreng I've had since I've been here.
* The chillies are usually optional although in some dishes are already present. Indonesian preference is usually towards spicy. If you require your meal "spicy free" then the expression tidak pedas should immediately be in your vocabulary. Asking for something pedas usually ends up in vindaloo++ proportions of spicy heat! It should be born in mind that very little food here is ever entirely without being a little spicy.

2. Mie Goreng (Fried Noodles)
It's difficult to tell just which is more popular here, Rice or Noodles. I'd have to say that on reflection it would be noodles. Indonesians eat noodles in so many ways from the amazing variety of pot noodles and dried noodles found in supermarkets that with a little hot water, reconstitute themselves into great snacks (or in the case of cash strapped teachers, possibly a staple diet) to angel hair noodles or udon noodles.
This picture show's the most traditional way to eat them. Stir-fried with some vegetables and some stock and of course, the prerequisite chillies!

3. Gado-Gado (Vegetable Salad)
Possibly the least appetising dish from the pictures, I agree, but don't let that fool you. Gado-Gado can be translated into English as "jumble" and basically that's what this is. A jumble of steamed vegetables coated in peanut sauce (and chillies) and usually served with plain steamed rice or Lontong, a compacted rice cake.

4. Soto Betawi Ayam (Chicken Soup)
The fourth picture down is a great soup made with coconut milk, chicken and vegetables. It also has these weird egg crackers which don't taste particularly nice on their own, but once soaked in the soup give it another texture altogether.

5. Sate Kambing (Barbecued Goat Skewers)
There are many types of sate, quite possibly the more popular one is chicken, but this goat sate is more complex. The chicken version is barbecued then coated in a spicy peanut sauce and served on rice. The goat version is barbecued but then served with a sauce of sweet soy, chopped chillies, shredded cabbage, tomato, sliced shallots and lime juice.

6. Iga Bakar (Grilled Beef Ribs)
Pork isn't entirely off the menu in Indonesia but with the majority of the population being Muslim there are only select places that you find it. This dish does away with the need for pork ribs. The ribs you get in the waroengs and restaurants are usually huge and often served with something called Sambal*. Don't oder if you don't like fat. whilst there is alot of meat on the ribs, there is also some fat too. I'm a big fan of the taste of flame grilled beef fat but I understand it's not to everyone's taste.
* Sambal - Initially there are two types of sambal, matang (cooked) or mentah (raw). but the varieties don't stop there......
Sambal terasi
Possibly the most common style of sambal with a strong flavour coming from red and green chillies, shrimp paste, sugar, salt, and lime juice
Sambal asam
This is similar to sambal terasi but with the addition of a tamarind concentrate.
Sambal kacang
A mixture of chillies with garlic, shallots, sugar, salt, crushed fried peanuts and water.
Sambal bajak
Chilies fried with oil, garlic, candlenuts, this is a darker and richer sambal.
Sambal pencit
Take some sambal terasi and add shredded young mango. Pencit means young mango in Indonesian.
Sambal lado ijo
This is a Padang speciality- the sambal is green, not red and is made from green tomatoes, green chilies, shallots and spices and then stir fried.

The list goes on and is seemingly endless!

7. Bebek Goreng (Fried Duck) above
There are many Chinese restaurants here that serve great duck but this dish, found in waroengs and roadside restaurants is simple. Fried bits of duck served with a salad of raw cabbage leaves, mint leaves, tomato cucumber and a hot and spicy green chilli sambal.

No list of Indonesian food, no matter how short or how long, should miss the local delicacy(?) that is Durian. New York is called the Big Apple because everyone wants to take a bite out of it. Jakarta has earned the international moniker of "The Big Durian". Let me tell you durians stink. A ripe open durian smells like the inside of a 3 year old running shoe that's been left to go damp and moldy in some outhouse. Even Indonesians themselves are divided with a significant percentage not liking it either.
This does not stop shopkeepers and supermarkets from placing the display right at the front of the store where you can smell it from a considerable distance (aprox 2 miles). How this attracts customers rather than repels them is beyond me. It would have the same invitational appeal as a rotting warthog carcase displayed in the window.
The list of things made from this disgusting fruit includes iced smoothies, ice cream and even a sambal! Whilst durian flavoured candy is also available.
All i can say've been warned!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Customary Confusion #1

One of the things that never fails to bring a smile to my face every day is the differences in Asian and Western customs. I know there are huge disparities around the globe such as the "ok" sign being acceptable in some places whilst not in others, but in Indonesia there are some great ones. I do hope my Indonesian friends and colleagues wont mind me poking a little fun at this area as I'm sure many of our customs seem strange to them and I'm absolutely positive that a trip to the west would bring about the same perplexion (probably with our attitude to beaurecracy in particular!).

Let's begin with the nose. Bule, as westerners are commonly referred to, have generally bigger noses than our Asian brothers and sisters. This in itself can be cause for much hilarity, pointing or staring depending on your situation. The customary divide is that we Westerners do tend to refrain from inspecting the contents of our noses at regular and often public occasions.
My father once taught me a small rhyme as a kid;
"you can pick your friends,
and you can pick your nose,
but you can't pick your friend's nose"
Now admittedly even in Asia I have never seen anyone picking another person's nose, but the acceptability of the second line of the rhyme is extraordinary. Were it ever considered as an Olympic event, The Gold would indeed come to Indonesia I feel.
In particular, students of all ages quite happily sit in class "raiding the snotbox" and to say this is off-putting when explaining the formula for passive voice is an understatement. However, this behaviour is not limited to students. No sir, no indeedy. I have been physically stood in front of policemen, immigration officials and much more frighteningly, waiters, who all believe this is an acceptable past-time.
The thing that makes this slightly more confusing is that it is considered rude to blow your nose in public. The use of a handkerchief or tissue is frowned upon!

The customs in this area are not only confusing, but if you don't have your wits about you they can be downright dangerous and I should point out that there is no test of driving ability in Indonesia. As long as you can afford the cost of the driving licence (Rp300,000 for Indonesians, Rp500,000 for Bule) that is sufficient to get you onto the road.
Consider two lanes of traffic. As in the UK, Indonesians drive on the left hand side of the road. Most of the time! Quite often you will encounter a bicycle or a motorbike and extraordinarily at times a car or a truck, coming at you on your side of the road. The reaction to this in the UK would be hand gestures, shouting at the other driver (window up or down optional depending on level of frustration) or liberal use of the horn and flashing of beam headlights.
These responses highlight other customary differences. Firstly, Indonesians rarely show anger. I have heard stories from other drivers where people have been knocked off of bikes, picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and depending on the state of said bike walked or ridden off. Once even with a smile and a wave! Hence any show of anger is treated with confusion. (NB. There isn't really any insurance here either. Rather the common acceptance is that the biggest vehicle must be at fault and therefore stands any costs)
Secondly, the horn and beam lights. here these are used purely to let other drivers know you're in the vicinity or that you have no intention of stopping. Angry use of these two accessories purely causes yet more confusion and a long, single blast of the horn would make most people assume it's just broken.
Finally, as I mentioned at the beginning of this posting hand signals have different meanings here to the point that you'll probably end up complementing the other person hehehe.
My point of view on this subject comes from having held bike and car licences for the last year, regularly riding a motorbike around the area an also having an amazing view of the main road from the smoking area on the first floor of our building.
Do not be tempted to adopt any highway code that you use in your own country. Giving way to traffic at roundabouts and junctions seems more instinctive than controlled by rules and certain vehicles such as angkots (cheap minibus taxis), taxis and ojeks (motorbike taxis) seem to be a law unto themselves.
Tip: drive as if you're the only person on the road and have major difficulty parking and you'll fit in nicely.

As a Brit, I'm used to the different cultural values of this custom. In Spain, "Manjana time" is the standard where whatever it is you're waiting for will happen soon. Probably.
Depending on exactly what it is you're waiting for, this laissez-faire attitude is usually pretty funny. Most people experience it in a holiday context so are usually more relaxed and accepting. In a working capacity it must be more frustrating.
We Brits are usually less forgiving when something at work needs to be done. It's part of our DNA make up. We're just raised that way.
Our reaction is impatience and this shows in a few ways. This could be despairing or exasperated looks generally looking for what it is you're waiting for.It could escalate to finger tapping or grinding of teeth or possibly starting a random argument with some innocent bystander. These usually occur before the final "flipping out" stage which can also be referred to as "losing it". Quite often in this situation a "messenger gets shot" as the impatient person finally "goes off the deep end".
Any time spent in Indonesia quickly leads you to the realisation that time as a concept is arbitrary. Certain things you'd expect to be expedited quite quickly, usually aren't.
1. Getting your passport stamped on arrival back from Singapore with a new visa. (relatively long. Depending on just how many times one guy can look at every page of your passport without ever making eye contact with you in person)
2. Getting an Indonesian mate to help you sort out finance on a new motorbike. (never-ending. Currently I've been waiting nearly 5 months for this to arrive and the list of excuses recently went from laughable to just sad)
3. From choosing a new shirt to leaving the shop with your purchase. Way longer than you'd think!
4. Waiting for some teenage students to get to class. Hmmmmm.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

First week of May 2011

So my birthday week has arrived and looking ahead it's going to be a fun week.

Today isn't actually the best start as I've got a bit of a cold, you know that type of cold that isn't full blown feeling crap, rather it's the type of cold that means you can't actually taste anything, you have to blow your nose every 2 minutes, the air conditioning makes you feel cold, but the minute you turn it off you sweat buckets and basically you can think of a thousand places you'd rather be than at work.....ah well, some panadol capsules and writing myself a memo to say "man up and get on with it" should do the trick...

It's currently 11.25 on Monday morning the 2nd of May and I'm waiting for a group of parents to turn up to talk about their children's next steps. This is a class of kids who've completed our Trailblazer levels but are a little to young (in maturity stakes as well as physical years) to move to the Real English levels. The meeting was supposed to start at 11.00 and the complete lack of respect it shows to arrange a meeting and then to not turn up, to not even bother calling is remarkable.

I have an illness issue this week in other terms too. Two of my Indonesian teachers are off with Chicken Pox. It's actually a curious form of Chicken Pox as both called me after the initial diagnosis to say that they'd be off for two days. Having personally been unfortunate enough to have had Chicken Pox as an adult I feel huge sympathy for both Inge and Haryo but what doctor worth a medical degree can suggest two days rest as a cure for the Pox?? The incubation period alone is 12 days and it only stops being infectious after the scabs from the spots heal over. Anyway, Inge will be off for at least another week and Haryo thinks he'll be back next monday......we'll see. I guess it's one of the perils of working in a school that you expose yourself to all manner of bugs and diseases.

The upshot of this is that with Jacob, one of our native English speaking teachers having to return home due to epilepsy and Widi, one of our non-native teachers taking a new job as a translator, we're pretty short on teachers. Paul Hutchens is also on holiday this week and I'll be going to Singapore on Thursday with Emma Winfield, another of our teachers to do a "visa run". With this being the situation, we've actually had to borrow two non-native teachers from other schools so I'm waiting to welcome Angel and Puput.

In a small side note, I've just noticed the death of Osama Bin Laden on the BBC website.

Looking forward to the rest of the week, on Thursday i'll be flying to Singapore. Usually our visas are extended within the country once we have them, but recent issues in the Indonesian government have seen some problems with this process. Anyway, owing to other Indonesian govenment problems over the taxing of International movies, no new movies are currently being released anywhere in the country! This means that impending blockbusters such as Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern and X Men - First Class (to name just the superhero blockbusters) won't be seen. On Thursday, on landing in Singapore, I'll take the MRT to Orchard Road and go and see Thor and I'm as excited as a kid at Christmas!

Thursday 5th is also Emma's birthday so I guess a couple of beers may be consumed as well!

Bringing us swiftly to Saturday the 7th and my own birthday. With Emma's and mine being so close together we decided to host a joint party and invite just about everyone we know. The Singapore trip before it gives us the chance to get some spirits as well.

So what with all of the teaching issues this week, I'm going to use the more relaxed times to recover.......

til next time.........