Tasting Unique Local Foods

“Doing” Indonesia and touring towns on larger islands like Sumatra, Kalimantan, Java, Bali and Sulawesi, you may be curious to taste some of the local foods. Our archipelago has numerous local specialties which are famous in other regions, but unfortunately unknown to those passing through. Well, let us “do” some places as gastronome and epicurean el supremo Suryatini N. Ganie explains.

Sumatra has been since days gone by one of the ports of call for foreign envoys, and therefore many foods have foreign overtones.

The kari Aceh, now one of the signature foods of the region, combined with taste enhancers like lemon grass, is not the same as curries in their place of origin India.

To ease the hot taste one can have a sip of a cucumber drink called Ii boh timon, made of peeled, finely scraped or cubed local cucumber, water, sugar and lime juice and a lot of ice cubes.

In the hilly regions of Brastagi near Medan there are numerous interesting and healthy fruits. Take the markisa (passiflora edulis), which grows abundantly in North Sumatra.

Today the fruit is made into refreshing, quality syrups, mostly served at festive events. The green-orange colored jeruk Medan is worth trying. So is the Chinese overtoned noodle dish mi Medan and the sweet bika ambon Medan.

The fermented dough is mostly added with tuak, a strong drink of Tapanuli and the result is a beehive-like soft cake.

Jakarta needs an explanation of its own because of its various styles of food. A must is the nasi uduk which is made differently in some areas and eaten as a breakfast, like the nasi uduk Slipi with a touch of cinnamon.

Going to Bogor, a green city with the world famous Botanical Garden, just have a taste of the asinan bogor, a variety of vegetables in a sweet, sour and rather hot brine. Special round and crispy reddish krupuk mi is crushed over the vegetables.

Bandung, the capital of West Java, is a worthwhile culinary visit.
Its specialties are the soupy soto dishes and a crisply fried oncom made from the sediment of tofu. Bandung’s tofu is also a remarkable bite especially when eaten with hot chili or made into light soups.

Going eastward to Central Java there are the telur asin, salted duck eggs in Brebes, a northern coastal town, which is considered the best because the brine is made with seawater.

In Kalimantan, we stop in Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan with its floating market. Worth to taste is the soto Banjar and the bika kentang, a sweet made from potatoes. Not to be forgotten are the rattan shoots, prepared into a sourish dish.

Visiting West Kalimantan’s capital Pontianak is one of the most exiting experiences because there you can walk across the equator at midnight, as my hostess and I did.

After the visit to the equator we did an early morning tasting of some local foods, among others the gangsa with a variety of flavors, from sour to sweet and pungent hot.

In Bali, champignons or straw mushrooms are numerous and the Balinese make a steamed dish of it called pepes jamur. Don’t forget the nasi Bali should you have the chance to visit the Island of the Gods, but one must have a good appetite because though Balinese are mostly slender, they like to eat a lot of their traditional fare.

Next stop is Makassar. Have the sate Makassar and sop konro, a soup made of ribs and don’t forget their sambal, hot and appetizing.

Last is Maluku. So much to see and to enjoy the hospitality of the locals. Their sweet koyabu is simple but satisfying. A big tour but still only a small bite of the archipelago’s delicacies!

Suryatini N. Ganie