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Culinary Treats: Bandung, West Java

“Buy me some brownies”, or “Why don’t you dine at so-and-so restaurant”, or “Get me some bolen“: These are some familiar words you might hear from friends and relatives when they learn you are going on a trip to Bandung. Similarly, when someone from Bandung visits friends or relatives in other cities, he or she will most often than not take foods unique to Bandung along as a treat, like keripik oncom (crispy thin chips made from fermented soybeans), bolen (banana-filled pastry) or batagor (fried dim sum).

Bandung, which is located some 140 kilometers south east of Jakarta, boasts a rich and seemingly inexhaustible culinary wealth according to Juliana Harsianti.

Food lovers in Bandung have long come up with innovative gourmet surprises — ranging from steamed brownies or fried cassava with cheese, to a “recent” and popular culinary innovation; grilled sandwiches and burgers.

People are willing to queue for hours, even in the scorching sun, to get their hands on Bandung’s tasty treats. Take steamed brownies, for example. As there are a great number of buyers, customers often have to take a queuing number first and then join a queue, sometimes for hours, before they can finally buy the brownies.

People have even been known to leave home at midnight just to try the famous perkedel, or fried mince-meat balls. In short, people are willing to do just about anything to get their hands on some of Bandung’s delicacies.

The spreading popularity of these unique foods is inseparable from the role of domestic tourists in this city. Scores of people visit Bandung to enjoy the city’s cooler weather and shop at one of the many factory outlets. For Jakarta residents, Bandung can be reached in just 2 hours thanks to the Cipularang toll road.

According to Sienny Lauws, — a Bandung member of Jalansutra, a mailing-list for people fond of eating and exploring the culinary dishes of a particular region — the fact that many domestic tourists visit Bandung may indeed account for the great number of unique foods found in Bandung today.

“See, the domestic tourists are usually the same people and of course they will get bored easily if they see the same foods every time they come to Bandung. Especially if they come to Bandung often, like twice a month or even once a week,” she said.

Therefore, she said, those involved in Bandung’s food industry try to offer something new to continue to attract these tourists.
This is also the opinion of Suwita Antoro, who is in charge of operations at Bawean Cake Shop; a shop in Bandung constantly crowded with buyers that is a popular destination for tourists.

This cake shop constantly comes up with fresh ideas and introduces new varieties of cakes; sometimes by modifying their old recipes or by taking the suggestions and ideas of their customers.

“We have our own Malang layer cake, which has been our signature cake for a long time. However, to keep ideas fresh, we modified this layer cake and called it the Bawean Layer Cake. For this cake, we used new materials and introduced a new taste,” Suwita said.

Those wishing to offer a new taste sensation must first conduct surveys before they can come up with a product that will be popular among tourists. They must also take note of market trends. Take, The Kioz, for example. This grilled sandwich and burger outlet carried out a market survey before beginning operations.

“Before we opened The Kioz, we studied what the public liked and what was already available in the market,” said Marianawati, the operational manager of The Kioz.

In addition, just like Bawean Cake Shop, The Kioz also pays attention to input from its customers.

They also said domestic tourists, particularly those from Jakarta, contributed quite significantly; the two Bawean Cake Shops, located in Jl. Bawean and Jl. LL RE Martadinata respectively, are always crowded with visitors’ cars, which mostly bear Jakarta number plates.

On the weekends especially, most of the visitors to The Kioz, which is located in the front of a factory outlet that sells bags, are from Jakarta.

“I learned about some new foods, such as the crispy cheese cassava, from my friends in Jakarta,” said Sienny.

“Perhaps Bandung residents prefer to stay home on the weekends because the roads are crowded with tourists,” she added.

Bandung’s specialty foods, which the city has long been popular for, include a great variety of traditional snacks and cakes.

“Bandung is better known for creating snacks, rather than the main course. Snackfoods are far easier to take home from a trip than a meal,” said Sienny, who is known as the “sub-district head” of Jalansutra Bandung, owing to her vast knowledge of eateries in Bandung.

The scope of Bandung’s culinary wealth is a blessing to tourists and also to the local residents. Most people would agree that a trip to Bandung is not complete unless you try some of the city’s tasty treats.