A taste of the Big Durian
“Indonesia huh? You going there to eat?”
The hairdresser chuckled at the thought.
I smiled and mentioned Mount Bromo, but not before admitting my excitement about the spicy cuisine. Nasi – rice – was perhaps the first word I learned in Bahasa Indonesia. This was followed by ayam and sapi – chicken and beef, cumi (squid), udang (shrimp), timun (cucumber) and eventually, terong (eggplant). Months ahead of the trip, Bama had told me about sambal, traditional chilli sauce with an untold number of variations.
I learn (albeit the hard way) that a tall glass of es kelapa – coconut water, with slivers of the fruit and shaved ice – is the perfect antidote for a mouth on fire. Then there’s jus alpukat, avocado juice paired with condensed milk, a smooth and subtle blend with a dash of chocolate syrup.
Bama introduces me to sate ayam Blora, tender chicken skewers in a fragrant peanut sauce with sambal, a recipe from a town in Central Java. Tahu telor, native to Semarang, is one of my favourite Indonesian dishes. I would describe it as a crispy tofu omelette, with a topping of beansprouts, shredded cabbage and chopped scallion, all served in a liberal helping of sweet soy sauce – kecap manis – and peanuts.
Before the six-hour journey to Bromo, we fill up on nasi uduk for breakfast, a bargain at only 7,000 rupiah (less than one US dollar). Over a bed of white rice, it’s an assortment of chilli egg, peanut sambal bihun (rice vermicelli), and tempe bacem – fermented soybean braised in kecap manis.
For those with a sweet tooth, Yogyakarta specialty nasi gudeg features young jackfruit, slow-cooked in coconut milk and sprinkled with shreds of fried garlic. The one I tried also had tofu, egg, spicy krecek (beef skin) and tender pieces of chicken in coconut milk.
Javanese dish nasi rames is a feast in itself – it includes spicy tofu, crispy fried chicken, sambal goreng (chilli potato), chunks of beef, krecek, and slivers of tempe cooked in kecap manis, rounded off with Indonesia’s ubiquitous shrimp crackers – kerupuk udang.