September 13, 2016 by Jools Stone
Today’s sermon is not entirely related to train travel. Instead we embark on a journey of derring do to Indonesia, not necessarily on the rails but certainly on the trail of fine food stuffs with which to cram your greedy, pot-bellied gullet.
The Indonesian islands do have a fair few train journeys worth discovering, especially on Java where you can take a trip for the capital of Jakharta to the pleasant cultural mecca of Yoge or onwards towards the port of Gillmanuk where you can then jump on a ferry bound for Bali. More on that here. But today’s lesson my children is less abut the how, and more about the why. So why do we travel then?
Some people travel on some spurious, indulgent journey of self-discovery ala Eat Pray Love, others seek to enlighten themselves, to expand their horizons by meeting new people, learn new languages and experience fresh pastures and foreign cultures. Others simply get bored of staring at the same four walls day after day.
Now most of these are all worthy pursuits of course, but let’s get real for a minute. If we’re honest, many of us travel largely to expand our waistlines and perhaps also our cooking repertoire, if we’re especially gifted in the kitchen. And there’s nowt wrong with that me old muckers.
So with that in mind, let us turn our attentions towards the tempting taste sensations that await us tantalisingly on distant shores, namely those of the Indonesian islands, since that’s what this post is supposed to be about, it seems like a good enough place to set our coordinates for and thusly set our collective sails.
Are you ready? Napkin primly tucked into your cravat? (What do you mean you don’t wear a cravat? Next you’ll be telling me you’ve mislaid your pocketsqaure) Tongue lolling at a suitably vulgar angle from your gizzard, distended belly readied for action and loins appropriately girded for the onslaught? Good, then we’ll begin.
Not for nothing has Indonesia ranked among the world’s top foodie destinations, according to CNN Travel at least who this year ranked Bali as one of its top 23 places for street food across the globe, where it jostles for elbow room at the world’s epicurean stage alongside such heavyweight culinary stalwarts as Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo, Marrakesh and my own personal favourite New Orleans.
As that piece points out, one of Bali’s most iconic dishes is babi guling, basically the Balinese version of suckling pig. Other typical Balinese dishes you might want to try include Lawar (a sort of crispy pancake of shredded vegetables, minced meat often seasoned with fresh blood, MWAH HA AHHAHHA. No, really. Oh do stop whimpering. Have you never had a sliver of black pudding in your life?) slow roasted duck and sate lembat, essentially Bali’s answer to satay, a lovely bit of barbequed meat served on a stick and seasoned with a prawn paste called matah.
Now this may sound strange but I actually discovered Indonesian food thousands of miles away on an InterRail trip through Europe when we stayed in Amsterdam. Of course if you know only a little about the Netherlands’ colonial history this probably won’t surprise you in the slightest. Amsterdam is widely renowned for being the world’s best place to sample Indonesian cuisine outside of Indonesia itself.
This is because the Dutch colonised Indonesia in the 19th century and duly set about pillaging its national larder, hook, line and sinker, if you forgive me for mixing my metaphors here. (You’re twisting my melon man)
Anyway, one of the city’s hotly tipped culinary highlights is the experience of rijsttafel or Rice Table in English. (incidentally, just why is it that we are so woeful at mastering other countries’ native tongues even when they are so geographically close to our own, especially when the Dutch do such a spiffing job at speaking English? Well that’s another post for another day perhaps.)
‘So just what is rijsttafel I hear you ask, as you bang your spoon rather impatiently on the table positively heaving under the weight of said produce? Well hold your clogs and adjust your strange little head-nappy (oh come on, we know you sport one of those too. All Dutchmen do. And that’s a stone cold, cast iron scientific fact.) to the most rakish angle possible for just one god darned second would you, as I’m getting to that.
So yes, rijsttafel. (and dear God please don’t make me type that pesky word again) It’s tasty, occasionally sweet, and often fairly spicy stuff heavily infused with a variety of spices and flavours, some of the key ones being coconut, palm and peanut.
Be warned rijsttafel (there the little beggar goes again.) is not for the faint hearted or weak gutted! You should expect an unholy volley of dishes (ours had at least 8 – 10 dishes, and all for just the two of us!)
Interestingly, the owner of the humble eatery where we sampled it in a remote residential corner of North Amsterdam told us that rice table is actually a Dutch construct, rather than an indigenous import. The Dutch simply took all of their favourite foods found on the different Indonesian islands and made one big feast from them.
If you’re the type of person who thinks themselves something of a fearless gastronomic adventurer who scoffs at durian fruit and sneers contemptuously at Hakarl (Icelandic rotted fermented shark meat) loves to drone on at dinner parties about how you simply must try this challenging little dish I sampled on the backstreets of Ulan Bator then you might fancy trying one of Indonesia’s most infamous dishes, Tempeh Bongkrek, which is made from the residue of homemade coconut milk and when contaminated is known to have caused numerous fatal cases of food poisoning.
Apparently when there was an especially virulent outbreak of cases in the 1930s in the Banyumas Province villagers attributed it to an angry ocean god wreaking revenge on locals. So don’t say I didn’t warn yah!
So there you have it. Indonesian food in a nutshell. Warning may contain nuts.
If you’re looking for a hotel on Bali or some other part of Indonesia then you could do a mighty lot worse than try Traveloka for size, and not only because the good folk there kindly supported this relentless stream of bibble. Well OK, mostly because they did, but hey, you’ve gotta somehow snag yourself a hotel room so why not start there capisce?
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