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Borneo Day 4: Monday, July 24, 2017

Craig teaching class

Craig Hendrick teaching a class at SMAN 1 Mandastana.

Craig and I had taught for about three hours this morning, sharing details about our schools and home states with the English classes at SMAN 1 in Mandastana. We were grateful for the chance to rest and cool off a little in the faculty room, which has fans blowing. Nazar had some work to do, so we had some sealed plastic cups of water (which are popular here) and some green cakes and talked about how the day went.

Fish on ice

Lunch on ice!

Even though school wasn’t yet over, Nazar told us that he was on special assignment with us this week and didn’t have to teach his afternoon classes. We loaded into his car as the students went to noontime prayers in the school mosque and to lunch, and he drove us to find lunch ourselves. We stopped at a green building just off the main road between Banjarmasin and Central Kalimantan. It was an open-air restaurant that specialized in grilled fish.

Grilled fish

Grilled fish and vegetables with sambal sauce.

Different types of fish were on display on ice in buckets in the front, and we picked one for each of us. They put the fish on grills and served it to us with various types of salads, and vegetables, such as cucumbers. The fish was very good, but Craig and I hadn’t known there would be so many side dishes, so we had chosen fish that were too large for us to finish. Nazar took the leftovers home. So far, he has paid for all of our meals, and we insisted that we should pay for our fair share. He said we could treat him to American food the next day, and that we would also pay for everyone’s trip to Loksado on Friday. I know he is receiving a stipend, just as we are, for his expenses, but I hope we are not being too much of a burden on him.

Galum trees

Natural vegetation in the area of Banjarmasin. This is fairly swampy ground, part of the Barito River estuary. The trees here are called galam trees and are useful for building house foundations because the wood stays strong in wet conditions.

Before the fish arrived, Nazar took us over to the side of the restaurant where we could look out across the undeveloped land beyond. It is swampy land, with low-lying bushes and studded with trees growing up about 20 feet. He said these are galum trees, which are quite useful for the foundations of houses when people can’t afford ironwood or concrete. Galum trees are cut into logs, which I’ve seen stacked along the road, and are good at absorbing water and remaining strong under wet conditions, because that is what they grow in naturally.

Galum wood

Stacks of galum wood beside the main road.

Nazar drove us further along the highway toward central Kalimantan. We entered a town along the Barito River and drove to a park on the riverside. Banjarese longboats were pulled up to the pavilion on the river, and we watched as large barges navigated up and down the river, carrying coal from the mines further north and east in the Meratus Mountains. It was peaceful, and reminded me of Hannibal, Missouri on the Mississippi River and the riverboat we rode there. There is something relaxing and unhurried about a river town; it moves to the flow of the river and never hurries or stops, but just keeps rolling along. I found myself humming “Old Man River” in my mind as we watched the boats.

Barge on Barito River

A barge on the Barito River, which is the main artery of transportation for goods in central Kalimantan.

We drove back to Banjarmasin over another bridge across the Barito River and back to the main road. I’m beginning to recognize the houses and businesses we pass, the rice fields about ready for harvest, and the small towns and mosques. I’ll talk about rice farming later, but I enjoyed the chance to see more of the country life.

Family boats on Barito River

Family long boats on the Barito River.

As we traveled, we passed a number of yellow freight trucks, which Nazar said were carrying palm nuts to the processing plant. There is a large palm plantation near here, where a number of farmers sold their land and now work for the plantation. At least no rain forest was cut down to make way for the palm trees.

Blue barge

Blue barge near Banjarmasin.

We drove back to the city and Nazar dropped us off at the hotel. We went to our rooms, and I showered and laid down to rest and take a nap. I needed it. Craig got supper at the hotel, but I wasn’t hungry enough. I’ve been having trouble with my intestines being a bit backed up since coming to Indonesia, and my appetite has suffered. I ate some of my snacks instead and uploaded photos.

Gas station

Gas stations are rare, as they take up quite a bit of real estate and must be built up above the level of the fields. So along roads such as Jalan A. Yani, small stands sell bottles of gasoline in different colors for the type of fuel (regular or diesel) and octane level.

Although we weren’t looking for supper, Craig and I decided to do a little exploring at the end of the day. We walked across the bridge over the Martapura to a small open-air market on the other side.

Preparing for Independence Day

A stand in the Banjarmasin market selling patriot bunting in Indonesian red and white, preparing for Independence Day.

It was past sunset, and the stalls were closing up for the night. There were the usual stalls and carts doing business, including a cart selling bakso and fried tofu. Indonesian Independence Day is coming up on August 17 and many stalls were selling red and white bunting and flags. We didn’t stay out long, but circled back around past a mosque as the evening call to prayers rang out. We walked back to the bridge and returned to the hotel as sunset faded into twilight.

Cap stempel marketplace

Marketplace in Banjarmasin at twilight. For some reason, this is the district for buying cap (signature chops) and stempel (stamps).

Sidestreet at twilight

Open air market at twilight.

Masjid

The Masjid Noor mosque, which was broadcasting the evening call to prayers as we walked past.

Unloading garlic

Unloading bags of garlic in the open air market in Banjarmasin.

Marketplace at twilight

Open air market in Banjarmasin near the Martapura River, across from our hotel.

Bakso street vendor

A street vendor making and selling bakso from his cart in the open air market.

Sunset over Banjarmasin

Sunset over Banjarmasin

 

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Borneo Day 3: Sunday, July 23, 2017

Popular spot

Water taxis unloading at a popular spot on the Martapura River. We were to eat here for lunch.

Nazar, his wife, and daughters picked us up at the hotel at 11:30. We drove along ever more narrow streets leading out of the city toward the northeast. I noticed we were paralleling the Martapura River, which we had just traveled on earlier that morning to visit the floating market of Lok Baintan.

Soto bang amat place

Our restaurant for lunch, specialing in soto bang amat, a type of soto (stew) popular in southern Kalimantan (Borneo).

Nazar was a bit cryptic about where he was taking us, saying it was a surprise. We were on a kind of frontage road leading along the river; I had seen motorcycles and bicycles traveling along this road while on the river. Then I realized where we were heading – to the very restaurant I had noticed this morning where water taxis were dropping boatloads of people off and smoke was rising from grills.

Soto bang amat

Soto bang amat. It is a stew with chicken, boiled egg, noodles, vegetables, rice, and lime. Very delicious!

This restaurant is famous as the best place to get soto bang amat, a type of stew with rice and noodles, boiled egg, and other ingredients. Each region of Indonesia has its own style of soto, and which is best is a hotly contested argument. We each got steaming bowls while another band playing traditional music entertained us. The restaurant was crowded and the sota bang amat was good. I tried not to think of what the “other ingredients” might be and just enjoy the experience, and found I quite liked it. Grills were smoking, cooking up skewers of meat which we didn’t try but which had quite a tantalizing odor.

Craig and David with band

Craig Hendrick and David Black with a traditional band at the restaurant.

After the meal we posed for photos with the band, then picked up the car and headed back through Banjarmasin to our next destination: a major bridge across the Barito River.

Nazar's family

Nazar’s family (except his son, who was practicing for the Indonesian Independence Day celebration).

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Borneo Day 1: Friday, July 21, 2017

Wong Solo delivers

Wong Solo delivers. And it is guaranteed to be halal.

We rested for about an hour as Nazar went and picked up his two daughters and son, then came back for us at the hotel. The two oldest sat in the very back of the car, Craig and I in the middle seats, and Nazar and his wife holding the youngest on her lap up front. I am still trying to get used to drivers sitting on the right side of the car and driving on the left side of the roads, but at least the traffic here is nowhere are bad as Jakarta.

We drove back toward the Sabilal Muhtadin mosque and stopped at – you guessed it – a Wong Solo restaurant nearby. Since I was showing so much interest in taking photos, Nazar thought we ought to try one out. They are a kind of Indonesian fast food place, and are about as representative of Indonesian food as McDonalds is representative of American food. The menu has a number of pan-Indonesian dishes such as nasi goreng (fried rice) and ayam goreng (fried chicken), which is what I ordered.

While we were waiting for our food, we went over our schedules for the coming week. Nazar told us on the way from the airport that he had a surprise for us, and the surprise was that he was working out a trip to Loksado on Friday where we could go rafting on a river in the rain forest in the Meratus Mountains and see the Dayak people. It would be a long day, and he had to work out the price with our driver and guide, but Craig and I agreed to pay for all of us whatever the cost would be. I knew it would be much cheaper than anything I could negotiate on TripAdvisor or Viator or other online service, and that we would get a better guide. He had seen the sign about the free trips to Lok Baintan in the hotel lobby and had worked out a trip for the four of us on Sunday morning. Tomorrow we would be going to see the Cempaka diamond mines. This left us four days to be at the school and teach classes. He also wanted to be sure we didn’t over do it and had worked out to get us back to the hotel by about 5:00 each day, given we aren’t used to the heat or humidity.

Hidden Wong Solo

A sign for Wong Solo. This must be Han’s long lost brother. The sign also advertises  ayam bakar (grilled chicken) and ayam penyet (some other type of chicken). And of course, they have ayam goreng (fried chicken).

The food was good. My fried chicken was tasty, served with steamed rice and sambal sauce. I also had a strawberry drink that was kind of like an Italian soda. We tried to talk with his children in English and the few phrases of Indonesian we know. The youngest daughter is about five and not in school yet. The middle child is a daughter of about 14, a bit shy at first and not too sure of her English. Nazar’s son is the oldest at 17 and has pretty good English skills. He won’t be able to join us for many of our adventures because he has been chosen to represent his school in the citywide Indonesian Independence Day celebrations on Aug. 17, and has practices every day. This is quite an honor.

After the meal we got back in the car and drove back to the hotel. I spent the balance of the evening settling in and uploading and cleaning up photos.

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Jakarta Day 5: Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sederhana restaurant exterior

Sederhana, a western Sumatra restaurant chain. We ate lunch there.

After our visit to SMAN 8 Jakarta, we boarded the bus and traveled to a western Sumatran restaurant. Along the way, we passed through several districts with businesses that seemed to specialize in one particular type of goods. There was the office supply district, selling office chairs and filing cabinets, among other things. There was the car repair district with shops and auto parts stores. And there was even a very small handicapped equipment district. I’m not sure what the advantage would be to congregate similar businesses in the same areas – perhaps it would be for customers, since if you know you need office supplies, then there is a particular area of the city where you go to find them. You don’t have to run around the whole city going from store to store. But I can’t figure out how this would be an advantage to the stores themselves. It would lead to increased competition and lower prices and less profits. Maybe concentrating customers more than makes up for increased competition.

Sumatran food

West Sumatran food is served in a series of small bowls and you only pay for what you eat. Any unused dishes go back in the warming oven for other customers.

We wound up back on the same loop we were this morning, wondering if we would be eating at Wong Solo after all. Instead, we stopped at an interestingly designed restaurant I had noticed this morning, called Sederhana. It had the steeply pitched roof corners of west Sumatran architecture, and Dewi explained this was the style of food of her native area.

We managed to find a place where the bus could pull over enough for us to get out and walk in. We sat at two long tables as the waiters brought out a large assortment of small dishes, all with different types of food. The style of eating here is somewhat like a buffet, but all the dishes are brought to your table and you pick the ones you want to eat and pay for only those. The ones not touched will be stacked back under the heat lamps for the next customers. So it was important that we not pick little bits from many dishes – we had to eat all of one dish before starting another of the same food.

West Sumatran dishes

Close up of Sumatran dishes, ranging from sliced cucumber to spicy chicken and curried fish.

It was pretty spicy stuff, but delicious. There was chicken in various sauces ranging from spicy roasted chicken with sambal to chicken in curry sauce. There was tasty beef rendang, grilled fish, vegetables cooked in coconut milk, and many more. I tried a variety, and liked some more than others. I’m not a big fan of curry, but can eat it if I need to. We had drinks such as Stroberi Fanta or bottled water, some dessert-like dishes such as flan or gelatin, and many more. We passed things around and tried to finish all the dishes we started.

Bailarung Hotel

The Bailarung Hotel in Jakarta. The top floor is designed with traditional western Sumatran architecture.

The bus managed to park by the restaurant, so we boarded again and headed toward the new downtown area and U.S. Consulate for our next stop.

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Jakarta Day 3: Monday, July 17, 2017

Leko restaurant

The restaurant we ate at in the Grand Mall.

In the evening on my third day in Jakarta, Indonesia, we traveled back to the Grand Mall of Jakarta to eat supper at an Indonesian restaurant called Léko. Dewi, our in-country representative, knew the owners (a former student of hers, I believe) and ordered a variety of Indonesian dishes and drinks for us to try. They ranged from savory beef ribs to extremely spicy chicken with a hot sambal sauce. One of my favorites was a grilled fish – it wasn’t too spicy and was very tasty, especially the skin.

Waiting for bus by hotel

Our group, waiting for the bus outside the hotel.

I asked Dewi if the durian fruit smoothie was good and she said I had to try it, as did two other teachers sitting with me. Durian is considered the “king of fruits” in southeast Asia, and grows up to 30 cm long and can weigh up to 3 kg. Its name derives from the spiky protuberances that grow on the husk.

Durian_in_black

Inside the durian fruit

What I didn’t know is that people have differing reactions to the smell and taste of the fruit. Some people find it has a pleasant aroma. Others find that it smells of rotten onions, body odor, or other worse things. It is known to attract flies. It is banned from some hotels and businesses. I tried it and found it interesting at first, then it got stronger and more unpleasant the further down I sipped. It tasted to me like three-week old unwashed repeatedly used gym socks. Not that I’ve ever tasted gym socks, but you know what I mean.

I tried another teacher’s cendol, which was OK – kind of a sweet green been mixed with coconut milk. The lychee smoothie (sometimes spelled litchie or lici in Bahasa Indonesia) was good but sweet. But I couldn’t finish the durian fruit smoothie, and after the meal, the taste lingered; every time I burped or hiccupped, there it was again.

Durian fruit

Es durian, or ice durian. Not something I’m going to try.  It even smells bad just to walk past it. Now, if it was passion fruit slush, I’d be all over it, sketchy ice or not.

I’m not here to eat only American foods and drink American drinks. I’m here to experience Indonesian culture and to learn. An adventure of this sort requires the willingness to try new things, knowing that sometimes the result can be unpleasant. I know I won’t like everything I try. But so far I’ve enjoyed the food and loved the drinks. Now I know I’m one of those people that have a bad reaction to durian fruit. Sometimes knowledge comes at a price.

After dinner we had an hour for shopping. I’m not much of a shopper, unless it’s for souvenirs or gifts, and all the shops I saw here were decidedly Western. Even the posters and mannequins were of Americans or Europeans and the prices expensive. So I watched the people, trying to see if I could understand why this mall was so popular. I noticed that not many Indonesians had bags for purchases – oh, some had smaller items they had bought, but nothing really big or expensive. The downstairs grocery stores selling western food items and the restaurants seemed busy, but there didn’t seem to be as much purchasing as one would see in an American mall.

Group at Leko

The group of us at the Leko restaurant.

So do the Indonesians come here to be seen and hang out? Certainly to an extent – they were dressed much more nicely than most Americans would be at a shopping mall. But to my eyes there was something more than merely hanging out. What could be the purpose of building such a monument to Western styles and products?

 

I asked Dewi and was expecting something profound, something that would give me insight into the Indonesian soul. But I found it was for the same reason many Americans go to a mall: they like to window shop. In other words, they like to see the products and imagine what it would be like to have them; they visualize a future time when they can afford them. They’re just like us in this respect. Although I’ve never understood the attraction of shopping without buying (since I’m of the “I came, I saw, I bought, I left” – mentality – a real Veni, Vidi, Vici type of person), it speaks to my central research question that there is fundamentally no difference between the types of aspirations Indonesians and Americans have, and how the shopping mall is an expression of an ideal of what our lives can be like. The Western dominated media seen around the world has imposed our vision of the good life on Indonesians as well as Americans. I just hope that Indonesia doesn’t lose what is uniquely good about itself in the quest to become like the rest of the world.

Ancient and modern

A western Sumatran style of architecture. Notice the many tangled electric lines. It’s like this throughout the city.

As a final note to the day, I thought about how some societies have built walls to keep others out, be they the Great Wall of China or the border patrols of the United States or the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea or unspoken rules that keep some types of people out of sight. Some walls, such as immigration restrictions and tariffs, are social instead of physical. Some are based on the fear of others and their “foreign ways.” This shopping mall represents the opposite; a kind of homogeneity of styles and cultures. There were many women dressed in western fashions, others wearing hijabs or even full burkhas, but all acting and shopping and laughing just like any crowd in a shopping mall in the United States. We can build walls of fashion or laws or customs and try to hide away from others, or hide others away from us, but we are more alike than not, more similar in beliefs and aspirations than we realize. I do not feel like a stranger or a foreigner here. I may not yet speak the language well, but I am learning and I feel a part of a common humanity in this city half way around the world.

Feed a man a fish

Feed a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.

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Jakarta Day 2: Sunday, July 16, 2017

Garuda pancasila

The Indonesian flag, with the golden Garuda holding the motto “Unity in Diversity” (old Javanese – Different but One). The five symbols in the shield are the Pancasila.

Now that we were all in Jakarta, we were ready to begin the final training for our field experiences at various schools across Indonesia. We spent the morning in a conference room at the Le Meridién Hotel learning about Indonesian customs and culture.

Dewi led our discussion. She began with a brief history of Indonesia, including the discoveries of Java Man, events leading up to Indonesian independence in 1945, and the governments of Sukarno and Soeharto. When the economy tanked in 1997, Soeharto was forced to step down and Indonesia has been a representative democracy ever since. She discussed the philosophy of Pancasila and the emblem of Indonesia, the Garuda bird with the shield divided into five sections representing the five principles of Pancasila: 1 – The Star, representing a unity of belief in one God (there are five recognized religions in Indonesia: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, and Protestant Christianity – of course, some of these five are polytheistic, such as Hinduism, so I’m not sure how the “one God” aspect works); 2 – The Gold Chain, representing a just and civilized humanity; 3 – The Banyan Tree, representing different roots growing into a common national unity; 4 – The Bull, representing a democracy based on the inherent wisdom of unanimity arising from deliberation among popular representatives; and 5 – The Rice and Cotton, representing social justice for all Indonesians.

We had a break with some tasty juices (pineapple and mango) and fried banana fritters and cookies.

Provinces-of-Indonesia-Map copy

The provinces (states) of Indonesia. They are divided into Regencies (counties) and Districts.

After the break, Dewi went on about some of the customs and the many diverse cultures around the islands. She is originally from western Sumatra but now teaches in Jambi, which is in eastern Sumatra. The major islands of Indonesia (Borneo, Java, and Sumatra) are called the Greater Sunda Islands and are large enough to have many cultures and dialects on the same island. Western Sumatra has unique food, architecture, and customs compared with eastern Sumatra or the more conservative Muslims of Aceh in northern Sumatra. Some ethnic groups or tribes live in the deep interior and have unique languages and customs.

A villager wearing traditional costume jumps over a stone

The tradition of jumping the stone on Nias Island. To prove one’s manhood, you get a running start and vault off of a foot stone and over the top. There is no soft bar that falls when you hit it. Just hard stone.

I checked out a video from our local library about traveling in Indonesia, which also covered some of these ethnic groups. One group on Nias Island off the west coast of Sumatra have a kind of high jump tradition to test one’s arriving at manhood – you get a running start, vault off of a standing stone, and must clear a hurdle about six feet high. Dewi and the video both spoke of other ethnic groups, such as the Toraja of Sulawesi who have houses shaped like the hulls of boats and don’t burry their dead for a year, the Betawi of Java with the traditional black “Soeharto” hat (I’ve got to get one of these) and who have the Ondel-ondel puppets, the saman dance of Aceh province, or the plate dance of West Sumatra, where they break the plates at the end and jump on them barefoot, the kecak dance of Bali, the wayang puppets of Yogyakarta, and other traditions.

There are perhaps 200 or more dialects throughout Indonesia, and Bahasa Indonesia has become the official language as a way of unifying all these cultures together. Most people speak and read it as well as their local dialect and some English or other international language. Teachers wear a khaki tan uniform on Mondays and Tuesdays, black pants and white shirts with ties on Wednesdays, local batik patterns on Thursdays, and more casual clothing on Fridays and Saturdays. School goes six days per week, although Saturdays are more for activities and clubs.

Dewi ended by talking about different Indonesian foods, such as beef rendang (a spicy beef dish from Sumatra), nasi goreng (fried rice), satay padang (rice cakes with sauce), soto (a noodle and rice stew), and bakso (meatball soup). She spoke of cendol, a drink made from sweet green beans and coconut, as well as other favorites. I expect to have the chance to try all of these over the next three weeks.

Beef rendang

Beef rendang, a spicy and savory dish from western Sumatra.

We would learn more particulars about the Indonesian education system tomorrow, but for now, our training was done for the day.

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Jakarta Day 2: Sunday, July 16, 2017

Trania

A mango-coconut-lime smoothie, or what I prefer to call “Tronia.” This is my obscure Star Trek reference for the day . . .

Now that I am in Jakarta my blog posts will be a bit different. I am actually writing up all of the posts as one document, which I will continue to edit throughout my journey before starting to post them. I am trying to write them as much “in the moment” as I can to retain how I feel about each experience, yet some days I am skipping over to get other moments of deeper feeling written before my memories fade. I want to retain as much of a chronological order as possible for these posts, so that you won’t be confused, so I am waiting to post them until they are all done. But although largely in order of what happened each day, they will become more topical as events reinforce each other. Some small details that aren’t enough to discuss on one day may add up to more important ideas later. So I’m not writing them in order, but will post them in order. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to you, but it will work for me.

So my first topic is the relationship between food and feeling “at home” in a country. I am all for trying out Indonesian dishes, within reason. I’m not about to eat something from a roadside stall where I can’t be sure of how hygienic it is, but if I’m reasonably sure it is safe, I’ll try it. But I also know that eating unfamiliar food for a long time can do more than test one’s intestinal fortitude. It can lead to major feelings of homesickness. On my LDS mission to southern Taiwan, my parents would send occasional care packages from home. I always requested foods such as buttermilk powder and maple flavoring that I couldn’t get in Taiwan, so that I could cook buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup. I really missed good pancakes, for some reason. All the other ingredients I could find, but not those two. Eating food from home from time to time helped me accept being a stranger in a strange land.

And of all meals, breakfast seems to be the one I missed the most. Yes, I enjoyed the occasional sou bing you tyau (long scones like churros wrapped in a sesame bun and dipped into sweetened soy bean milk) or mantou (steamed bread) or even syi fan (runny rice), yet I still came back to pancakes with maple syrup as often as I could get the ingredients. I became a great pancake cook, even though I had never really made them at home. It’s funny what you miss, and how a little home comfort food can help you feel better.

Breakfast

The breakfast buffet at the La Meridien Hotel. They have a little bit of everything, and it is all good. I especially liked the smoothies.

The Le Meridién Hotel has an excellent buffet for breakfast. On my first morning in Jakarta, after not sleeping as long as I had hoped (I woke up about 4:00 because my body thought it should be daytime), I wandered downstairs to the buffet at 6:30. It was good to shower and feel refreshed, but a good breakfast also helped with the psychological stresses of jet lag. I appreciated that the buffet included Indonesian and American foods (as well as some Chinese, Japanese, and other nationalities) so that I could try new things as I wanted but still have some comfort foods from home. There were pancakes and waffles (with maple syrup), an egg bar, pastries and donuts, and an array of more exotic choices. I tried many small samples to see what was good.

The mango-coconut-lime smoothie was excellent, and looked to me like Tronia from the Star Trek episode The Corbomite Maneuver. When I sent a picture of it to Becca, she posted it on Facebook and said anyone who could understand the reference deserved extra points. Terry Bruning, my old mission companion, said it looked like a drink a kid named Clint Howard might serve. Kudos to Terry for knowing it was Clint Howard who played Blayloc in the episode. He wins the obscure Star Trek reference prize for today!

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