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
Just before 5:30pm, we find ourselves in the middle of a restaurant packed with patrons. At the next table, more than 15 university students load up on white rice and a rich assortment of main dishes. Some stir their ice-cold drinks in anticipation of the coming feast. It is the perfect representation of a scene that my father described from the days before I was born, when my parents lived in Kuala Lumpur. Read more
Shortly before my trip to Palembang, a curious coworker asked me why I wanted to go there. At first I struggled to come up with a decent answer. I could have mentioned the city’s long history, and how it was once the capital of a powerful maritime empire. Or I might have told her about the traditional textiles known as songket, woven with delicate strands of shimmering gold thread. Instead I latched onto something she could relate to as a Hong Konger: “The fishballs [fishcakes] there are very famous,” I replied. Read more
“They call me ‘goat’ because I pick from all the plants but don’t know how to grow them.” Iluh says this, laughing, as we stand beside a tall green hedge behind the kitchen. It is a slow afternoon at Sarinbuana Eco Lodge, hidden in the shadow of Bali’s second-highest peak, and Bama and I are on an impromptu tour of the gardens. Read more
On Joo Chiat Road, it feels as though we are walking through a cross-section of Singaporean society. Within the covered arcades of its painted shophouses, Bama and I duck into Chinese-owned fruit and home ware stalls, past a Muslim-themed restaurant, and a fashion store stocked with hijabs and full-length dresses. Across the road, we are tempted by the display case at Sha Zah – an Indian confectionary selling baked snacks and flaky curry puffs. Read more
“Congratulations!” Bama smiled, his eyes lighting up as he spoke. “You’re officially Indonesian.”
But there was no revocation of passports, no oath of citizenship to a new country. I had simply confessed my newfound love of ikan asin, a humble assortment of dried fish that crackled with each bite. Served with roasted peanuts, the sweet-savoury combination was so enticing that I truthfully told Bama, “I could just have it with rice.” Through these words I had unknowingly echoed the exact sentiment shared by thousands – if not millions – of diners across his native archipelago. Read more
Bli Komang turns to me and laughs. I am sitting beside him, sweat trickling down my face, inside a dimly lit warung on a main road in Sanur. Outside there is little to distinguish the restaurant from others save a baby blue sign proclaiming “HANDAYANI”, its bolded letters above a photo cutout of babi guling, Balinese suckling pig.
The old man hovers over our table and grins, lowering his voice to almost a whisper. “Order the Singapore noodles,” he admonishes, “It’s the best.”
Long a staple of Hong Kong’s ubiquitous cha chaan teng – those small teahouses and diners serving generous portions of comfort food – Singapore noodles are in fact a Cantonese creation. It is something of a misnomer; gastronomes would be hard pressed to find this exact dish in the Southeast Asian city-state, so famous for its street food. Read more
From the comfort of my seat I watched as our waitress carried a clear plastic bag of chillies into the kitchen, presumably to be chopped up and used in the sauce for our homemade ayam taliwang. As we came down from our three-day trek on Mount Rinjani, during which we were fed vast quantities of banana pancakes, spaghetti, and even a burger with fries, Bama was excited about the prospect of returning to the rich flavours of Indonesian fare. “I’ve been craving something spicy!”