Wherever we travel to, the wonderful people we meet sometimes become our family. In Indonesia I met a wonderful person and he and his family have become
my family. Halim his wife and daughters have taught me that family isn’t always blood. It’s about the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. the ones who would do anything to see you smile and support
and care for you no matter what. It takes more than a blood relation to make a family. “Terima kasih keluarga saya” So today I will share a bit about their wonderful country and its fantastic gastronomy which is one of the most vibrant
and colorful cuisines in the world, full of intensive flavor.
There is a lot to experience in Indonesia with much to enjoy and an awful lot to
learn. Indonesia is known as the country with many ancient cultures, court dances and mysterious shadow puppet plays. Indonesia is the country of many Hindu and Buddhist temples dating back to the 9th century or even earlier. And the country is also famous
for its breathtaking views of volcanoes, green rice paddies and buffaloes pulling heavy plows through the muddy fields. Too many foreign tourists equate Indonesia with Bali, a major tourist destination with its wide and relatively quiet beaches and its magical
dances. The Kecak dance is probably the most well-known, but there are many other dances featuring the good lion Barong and the witch Rangda. They all come with the accompaniment of the enchanting whirling and cascading sounds of bamboo and metal xylophones,
gongs and bamboo flutes of the gamelan orchestra on tropical moonlit nights. With the silhouettes of palm trees in the dark of the night, one cannot help but feel the presence of spirits, witches and gods all around. Yet, Indonesia, as part of the
Far East, is much more than Bali.
To some, Indonesia conjures up the scent of incense, mysterious practices, dark backstreets and some-thing we may all be looking for
individually: our Shangri-La. Indonesia is all that and much more. You may find your Shangri-La here (most likely you will because there are several five star Shangri-La hotels), the romance, the fiction, the dream. You may also find the mysticism and the
mystery that is associated with the Far East. But whatever you see and experience, Indonesia is a rapidly developing country.
Indonesia suffered heavily during the Asian monetary crisis that started in 1997. It precipitated the fall of the 32 years long suppressive
Soeharto regime in 1998, finally signaling the entry of Indonesia to the brotherhood of democratic nations. However, the change from a dictatorial regime to a democracy does not come automatically and it does not come easily. Indonesia has had more than a
fair share of bloodshed, security risks, and terror attacks. Yes, Indonesia is all of that and, fortunately, much more. Economically Indonesia remains one of the economic ‘powerhouses’ in the region. Its international standing is growing. The outcome
of the July 2014 general elections was challenged in court by the losing presidential candidate. The Constitutional Court’s verdict demonstrated that democracy in Indonesia has come a very long way since 1998.
Indonesia is a vast country. After China, India and the USA it is the fourth most populous country in the world with 238 million inhabitants,
according to the 2010 census (and an estimated 250 million only four years later). All of these individuals have more than 18,000 islands to live on, but in fact ‘only’ 6,000 are inhabited. So, most of the islands that belong to the Indonesian
archipelago are empty, simply because they are too small or lack the required resources to sustain human life.
Nevertheless, having lived on islands, big and small for more than a thousand years, it is easy to understand that the different ethnic groups
developed their cultures in different ways. With cultures come languages. Indonesia today has some 300 different languages, in addition to local dialects. Some languages are spoken in a very small area only: just a few municipalities or villages. With such
a diverse linguistic palette it would be unattainable to create anything that resembles a national identity if there would be no lingua franca or a national language. That language is called Indonesian or Bahasa Indonesia. The promotion of Bahasa Indonesia
as the national language became an important aspect of the struggle for independence. The origins of the Indonesian language lie not only in Sumatra, but also in Malaysia, where until this day it is called Malay. Malay and Indonesian have the same roots and
with some effort Malaysians and Indonesians can understand each other speaking their own languages. Yet, Malay and Bahasa Indonesia quickly develop in different ways.
Long before the struggle for independence, merchants and seafarers, sailing through
Southeast Asia used Malay as the language to communicate with people throughout what are now Malaysia, Sarawak, Singapore and Indonesia. For many years Malay was also the language, without much of a grammar, used by the Dutch colonizers to communicate with
their indigenous servants. They called it Passarmaleis, the Malay used in the markets. Meanwhile, during colonial times, the accepted language used by anyone who wanted to be someone was Dutch. However, for the growing group of intellectuals who envisioned
a free Indonesia, Dutch as the lingua franca was unacceptable. Instead they began developing Passarmaleis into a real language. Almost all Indonesians today speak Bahasa Indonesia.
The first accounts about highly developed civilizations in what is now Indonesia are from Chinese sources. The earliest mention diplomatic
ties between China and kings in the island of Java in the second century AD. Indonesia was once part of the huge kingdom of Sri Wijaya, which in the seventh century extended all the way to Burma and Siam (now Thailand). Other ancient kingdoms include Majapahit
(its kings reigning from 1293 to 1520), Mataram, and many more. The small Buddhist kingdom of Sailendra holds the credit for building the famous Borobudur ‘temple’ around 800. At the same time the competing kingdom of Boko, a Hindu relative of
King Sailendra, built the Prambanan temple complex at the village of Prambanan, just outside Jogjakarta.
The ancient kingdoms were not limited to Java. Touring the archipelago,
you will certainly come across artifacts of kingdoms in Sumatra, Bali, Sulawesi, Maluku and the Nusa Tenggara islands. Returning to this day and age, you will soon see the artifacts of the modern kingdom of economics; tall office buildings, banks, executive
apartments, shopping malls and condos dominating the skyline of Jakarta. Is this a developing country, you may wonder? Yes, Indonesia is developing: even during the global economic crises our annual economic growth continued to hover upward of 5 percent. Yet,
the first indications that Indonesia is not a country of only tall buildings and high per capita income are the numerous slums. If it were not for the banana trees and palm trees, they would certainly not look like a romantic tropical location.
As everyone knows I’m a food lover and adore tasting different gourmet from all the different countries
I visit and never miss the chance to try and enjoy local food. Indonesian food is well known internationally. It’s often compared to Thai or Malaysian food and in general it’s a feast that dazzles the senses with different colors, smells and flavors,
all in one meal. Many dishes are prepared with chili and Indonesian food is therefore generally spicy. However, there are numerous local variations on this theme and more and more restaurants, catering to the foreign public (especially in Jakarta and Bali)
adapt their recipes to the taste of their clientele. The staple food in most of Indonesia is rice. It’s a challenge to produce enough rice to keep up with the growing population, even though the most fertile irrigated rice fields (sawah) will yield up
to three harvests a year.
My dear brother Halim introduced me to the rich Indonesian gastronomy and also with him I have learned (after so many years of numerous visits
to China) how to really enjoy Chinese cuisine. I thank him so much for the lovely lunches and dinners I shared with him and in the company of his lovely family. I could fill this blog with descriptions of the many delicacies that I have tasted in Indonesia
chaperoned by Halim. From lovely soups, poultry, meat, fish and sea food, Indonesian cuisine often demonstrates complex flavour, acquired from certain ingredients and bamboo spices mixture. The dishes have rich flavours; most often described as savoury,
hot and spicy, and also combination of basic tastes such as sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Most of Indonesians favour hot and spicy food, thus sambal, Indonesian hot and spicy chili sauce with shrimp paste, is a staple condiment at all Indonesian tables. The
main Indonesian cooking methods are frying, grilling, roasting, dry roasting, sautéing, boiling and steaming.
On my first lunch out with Halim he took me to a very nice Chinese restaurant, somewhat near the international airport of Jakarta.
The amount and variety of the dishes was unbelievable (from that day on I used to say to him that we were only two for lunch) and they taste fantastic. Half way through the meal he said: “I have ordered something that I’m sure you will
really enjoy it’s a Chinese delicacy only served at the best Chinese tables”. Well !! when the dish arrived it looked to me like pheasant or a small turkey hen, I tasted it and said: “a bit tough but delicious,
what is it Halim.” he looked at me with that happy smile that he always carries and replied “ its roasted peacock”. At that moment a flash of my aunt Fernanda’s face appeared and
I could imagen what she would say to me: “ Antonio!!! Peacocks are God’s creatures and must not be eaten” In any case I did; I was a bit suspicious when placing the first fork full of dark turkey like meat in my mouth, but I have
to say: that it was good and tasty. I would say it taste closer to pheasant than turkey but very good none the less. In any case , I never told any of the older members of my family, about this or ever tried it again. Since that day we have tried a lot
of different dishes all wonderful always changing from Indonesian, to Chinese and sometimes western. As mentioned before if you have the chance to visit Indonesia, do try some of the thousand different dishes , its guaranteed you will enjoy.
simply "fried foods," gorengan are the most prolific snacks in all of Indonesia. Street carts typically offer crispy golden nuggets of tempe, cassava and tofu, as well as fried bananas, sweet potatoes, vegetables fritters made
from shredded carrot, cabbage and bean sprouts and fermented soybean cakes. Any kaki lima which serves an oil-stained news-wrapping gorengan topped with a handful of green chili.
Ikan bakar: Grilled
fish, plain and simple. But in a country with more than 17,000 islands, fish is bound to feature prominently. While squid and prawns have a place in Indonesian cuisine, ikan bakar gets a far better showing for a fleshy texture that is great for dipping. It
is usually marinated in the typical trove of spices and served with a soy and chili-based sauce.
Tahu gejrot: These clouds of golden, fried
tofu look like little packages behind the windows of the boxes from which they are sold. Tofu is a poor man's snack, but that also makes it prevalent. Menteng Plaza has a version of fluffy tofu steeped in sweet soy sauce and chili and served in a pestle and
Balado terong: The color of this dish is enough to set taste buds going. Nothing more than grilled purple eggplant topped with heaps of chili sauce made from dried shrimp paste (balacan), it calls for a
substantial portion of rice to even out the fire engine flavor.
of a spongy, thick crepe made with 10 times the lard, and you'll be somewhat close to imaging martabak.The sweet version looks more like a pancake filled with gooey chocolate, peanuts or cheese, while the savory one is made from crispy pulled pastry like filo
that is flattened in a wok as egg and minced meats are rapidly folded in. Served with pickled cucumber and a sweet and sour vinegar.
Pepes ikan: Pepes signifies the steaming of food in banana leaves, which gives it an earthy flavor that works well with the rich Manadonese spices (woku) it's coupled with. When matched with tuna the result is a dense, fiery
dish that holds its distinct flavors, but should be eaten gingerly.
Mie ayam: For this dish, bakmie is boiled in stock and topped with succulent slices of gravy-braised chicken. Chives and sambal add extra flavor -- but if it's done right little else is needed. Unlike most Indonesian cuisine, where
the secret is in the sauce, the clue to a good mie ayam is the perfect al dente noodle.Bakmi Orpha,
Ayam goreng: Traditional Indonesian fried chicken is simple to make, yet bursting with exotic flavors, transporting our tastebuds to the lush jungles and black-sand beaches of Bali. Ayam Goreng, literally translated to “chicken fried” in Indonesian,
is completely different than the breaded American version. A marinade of aromatic garlic, turmeric, and lemongrass infuse this dish with fresh tropical flavor, and just a few sizzling minutes in hot oil (traditionally coconut oil) keeps the chicken juicy,
finished with a perfect crisp on the outside. On the island of Bali, every family crafts their own variation of this recipe, experimenting with local spices to achieve the perfect tasty combination. Ayam goreng is traditionally enjoyed in dishes of fried rice,
tossed atop stir fried vegetables, or devoured fresh out of the skillet using your fingers. No matter which way you choose to eat Indonesian fried chicken, I can guarantee you will enjoy and will have you saying, “selamat makan!” (Happy eating!)