“I’ve never seen an Indonesian working so fast,” Bama says.
Night has fallen in Malang, East Java’s second-largest city, and we’ve joined a small crowd of hungry customers at Puthu Lanang, a portable stall at the covered entrance to a street just wide enough for motorbikes. A five-person assembly line is churning out traditional sweets at lightning speed, led by the mustachioed vendor who takes orders, gives change, heaps the morsels on banana leaf before dousing them in palm sugar syrup, and wraps it all while we look on in amazement. Read more
Inside a high-ceilinged, unfussy diner in central Vietnam, I waited hungrily for my lunch at a small table by the window. Nguyen Thi Loc – the 80-year-old “Banh Mi Queen” of Hoi An – was carefully preparing the next batch of made-to-order sandwiches with her daughter at a stand by the entrance. I’d made the pilgrimage to Nguyen’s stall outside the UNESCO-listed old town after reading a host of favorable reviews. Most recently, a childhood friend had paid a visit while on his honeymoon and raved about her banh mi. Read more
Arriving at Okayama station just before lunchtime, Bama and I are struck by the sheer volume of people passing through. Most lug a small suitcase for the long weekend; gaggles of students in uniform – the navy blue and white outfits we’ve seen in all those anime cartoons – throng the tiled corridor leading down to an outdoor plaza; suited-up businessmen and families with strollers crisscross our path. The unexpected aroma of Belgian waffles, freshly made on the griddle, wafts into our nostrils from a brightly lit stall. Turning right through a pair of sliding glass doors, we see gift boxes immaculately arranged by colour on the shelves of a department store, people lining up for lunch at a sushi bar, and a chain restaurant specialising in tonkatsu, the breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet perfected to an art by the Japanese. Read more
The word “serendipity” comes from Serendib, the old Arabic name for Sri Lanka, but for Bama and I our first few days on the island were quite the opposite. On arrival, I was sleep-deprived and recovering from illness; Bama was also tired from a series of long journeys, not to mention the stress of looking after a sick companion. Our first stop was the beach town of Hikkaduwa on the southwest coast, where an introduction to Sri Lankan cuisine came in a plate of devilled chicken – spicy, glazed with a sweet and sour marinade, and especially delicious when paired with fried rice. Read more
Olga is delighted when she learns I was recently in Goa. “I’m from Mumbai,” she says, “but a Goan Catholic.” I meet her by chance at a Hong Kong restaurant, and before it gets too busy with patrons, I declare my adoration for the food of her home state. There are two things I regret not doing in Panjim, Goa’s laid-back state capital: the first is that I didn’t stay longer, and the second, that I never joined a Goan cooking class. Read more
In a small restaurant down a nondescript Hong Kong street, I found myself with a group of friends discussing the merits of Indonesian cuisine. Three of us were quick to agree, but there was one dissenting voice. I looked on in horror as a friend wrinkled her nose and gave us a disapproving frown. “I think it all tastes the same.” Read more
Imagine an island seven degrees south of the equator, blessed with rich volcanic soil, where broad coastal plains rise to the hills and a chain of mystical 3,000-metre peaks. An island roughly the size of Greece, of sprawling cities, endless rice fields, and raw, otherworldly landscapes where you might find boiling lakes and plumes of steam billowing from the earth. This island is known as Java, and it is a food-lover’s paradise. Read more
Before embarking on a two-week jaunt around Myanmar last month, I knew virtually nothing about the food. It does not have the global standing of Thai or Vietnamese cuisine; the only anecdote I had heard was a negative review from my own father, who had once travelled there on business. What I found was in fact delicious (my father can be a fussy eater after all), and introduced me to some surprising flavours. Read more
It’s too late when I notice my pot of duck stew boiling over. In those split seconds between Bama’s warning and the time it takes for me to put down the camera, the damage has already been done.
Quick as a flash, Pearly Kee rushes over to turn down the heat. By now the excess liquid is bubbling and steaming on the hob, with a minor cascade dripping down the drawers and pooling on the floor tiles. “Too much water,” she says. The embarrassment must be evident on my face, because Pearly is telling me not to worry while she wipes down the mess. Read more
If we only believe the sensationalism of Fox News, CNN America and other media outlets, Indonesia is the kind of country a lot of people might want to avoid. Historically, it has made world headlines for all the wrong reasons – plane crashes, violent protests, terrorist bombings and large-scale natural disasters. Read more