Food in Pontianak: West Kalimantan

My hostess in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, was a very active lady. After a meeting until nearly 10 in the evening, she suggested a colleague and I take a sightseeing tour to visit places where traders sold the durian fruits that have made Pontianak famous. The thorny fruits, which Kalimantan elephants open in the jungle by stepping on it, are available in abundance. They are mostly sold in bundles of 10 or 15 pieces.

“Pontianak durians are the best durians in Indonesia,” my hostess declared while offering us some pits of cloyingly sweet, creamy, durian fruit flesh. Though I am not a durian aficionado, I must say Pontianak durians are really worth having a taste of, and I said as much to my hostess as Indonesia’s leading gastronome, Suryatini N. Ganie, explains.

Trying to open my door next morning, I had some difficulties because a small table had been placed near the door. On it were some durians with a small note saying “Just in case you’d like to have some more”. Well, Pontianak people are very hospitable and like their guests to feel at home in West Kalimantan by serving food they like.

So, please visit Pontianak and other regions in West Kalimantan. And actually, it is not only durian there. Situated along the largest rivers in Kalimantan, like the Kapuas River, and facing the South China sea, the foods there are not only West Kalimantan or Chinese-style dishes, but a variety from all over the world, all making their presence at the daily family table and forming an interesting melting pot of cooking styles.

For centuries other ethnic groups from nearby islands have contributed to the culinary heritage of today’s Pontianak foods.

West Kalimantan, especially Pontianak, was the seat of a dynasty that contributed much to the archipelago of Indonesia not only in politics and religion, but also in culinary sense.

One of the last sultans, Sultan Hamid, liked European foods prepared “a la Kalimantan”. One such food is called pindang daging masrani, a soupy dish prepared in the masrani, or Christian, style.

One of the regional snacks made from steamed glutinous rice is the lempar, which we call lemper on other islands. The lempar of West Kalimantan is stuffed with shrimp, like in Northern Sulawesi. In Java and Sumatra the filling is mostly beef or chicken.

Another dish with Javanese overtones is the gangsa derived from the Javanese cooking style “nggonso“, or stir-frying, that is also very popular in the Chinese kitchen.

The cooking style in Javanese kitchens is not strange in West Kalimantan, because the great statesman of the Kingdom of Majapahit in the 13th century, Gajah Mada, had very close ties with many potentates in that region.

After converting to Islam, many kingdoms adopted the Muslim cooking regulations. Pork was replaced by other meats when preparing Chinese-influenced dishes. One of the most popular chicken dishes of that region is named ayam Nangking, Nangking-style chicken.

Speaking about Chinese cooking, the West Kalimantan cooks prefer the fresh and quick stir-fry method of the Chinese rather than the longer cooking style of the people of West Sumatra.

Coconut milk sauces are also not very popular, because people there prefer Chinese soups like the misoa ayam, which is made using soft noodles called misoa. The dish is still served to the younger generation.

Local people in West Kalimantan are also very creative when using their local produce. The belimbing sayur, or sour fruit, which hangs in large clusters, is preserved and then used when preparing chicken or meat dishes. The sauce gives them a very interesting sweet and sour flavor. An example of those dishes is ayam manisan Pontianak. Munching on those fruits, which come in various flavors, is a favorite pastime for the rather sweet-toothed West Kalimantan people.