05/09/2014 - 05/15/2014
One of the main reasons we chose to begin this leg of our trip in Indonesia is the connection that Abby and her family have to this country. Abby's parents lived in Cilacap on Java for 2 years and during that time Abby's oldest brother Rudy was adopted. He currently has family in Cilacap and Mojokerto, and it was a wonderful change of pace from over-touristy Bali to find ourselves in Mojokerto, visiting Rudy's sister Eva, her husband Irdi, and their children Aria (11) and Afia (8 months). We enjoyed driving around the area checking out some old archeological sites and chatting with our new friends. We truly experienced Indonesian hospitality first hand, meeting Irdi's parents and sister's family in the process. When we first met and started talking about our experiences in Indonesia so far, we mentioned that one way we enjoy learning about local cultures is through the food. Well, Eva and Irdi took that to heart, and made it their personal mission to introduce us to as many different kinds of local food as time allowed. That meant three large meals (sometimes 4) per day, with all variety of fruits and snacks to sample in between - we felt like Hansel and Gretel. Luckily, there was no ulterior motive to fattening us up other than good conversation, lots of laughs, and opportunities to understand some of the similarities and differences between our cultures and customs. And it was just awesome trying so many great dishes, at restaurants and food stalls that rarely (if ever) receive foreigners. Here are some of the highlights: Many of the following pics are courtesy of Google - being the only foreigners around makes it kind of lame to take pictures of your food...
Sate Gule Kambing:
Sate is just grilled meat on skewers common throughout Indonesia. Gule is a soup, in this case packed with goat innards. If that doesn't sound appetizing, think again. It is rich and spicy, and the hearts, livers, tripe and abundance of miscellaneous other goodies were slow cooked to the point of being soft, tender and delicious. This soup is served with a side of white rice and skewers of grilled goat with a spicy peanut sauce on the side.
Rawon, originally from the nearby city of Surabaya, is a thick black soup with rice, sprouts, green onions and cow tongue. The main spice comes from a black nut called Keluak. There are various variations, sometimes with boiled beef, sometimes ribs as the main meat. As with everything in Indonesia, served with spicy sambal on the side (ground chilis, garlic, and salt).
Eating rawon with my favorite krupuk
Telur asin is a Chinese invention whereby a duck egg is smoothed with sand paper and then packed in damp, salty charcoal for about two weeks. They are then boiled and added to various dishes, or eaten alone. Super salty but fantastic and one of our favorite snacks.
Grilled fish is a common staple at road side stands all over Indonesia. Eva and Irdi treated us at their favorite spot where we shared gourami, snapper, and grouper, generally rubbed with a sweet glaze or barbeque sauce. Many times the fish is served with Lalapan, which varies depending on region, but is always green vegetables. In the picture is what we've had in Java - raw green beans, cabbage, cucumbers, and a leaf that looks like mint but tastes like lemon. We ate ours with a side of Cap Cay, or sauteed vegetables and noodles in a typical Chinese food style white sauce.
Soto Ayam, or chicken soup is a staple everywhere in Indonesia, with sprouts, glass noodles, and fried onions with a yellow broth that pleasantly tends to coat the lips for awhile after. Accompanied by white rice and sambal of course. Less common but equally tasty is Soto Daging, which has beef instead of chicken.
Masakan Padang is a style of food from Sumatra - rich and spicy, with hundreds of different interesting recipes, often featuring coconut milk and spicy chilis, with many Indian and middle Eastern influences. These hole in the wall restaurants are literally everywhere in Indonesia, recognizable by the 10 to 20 large bowls of varying foods in the window, all of which are brought to the table and dramatically laid out in front of you upon arrival. The idea is to eat whatever you want, then they will return the uneaten food to the window and charge you for what you ate. Really interesting flavors and very delicious, but I couldn't help mentioning to Irdi that something like this could never exist in the US. Masakan Padang is one of Irdi's favorite dishes, so understandingly he wondered what I meant. Well, I told him, anyone could just sneeze on all the food and then it would go right back in the window. I may have done irreparable damage. Throughout the week he confessed to us that he couldn't stop thinking about the sneezing - he had never actually thought if it before and is totally spooked. We just hope he'll find a way to get over it because this food really is fantastic.
Nasi Pecel is Javanese, with assorted vegetable dishes arranged on a bed of white rice, topped with peanut sauce. A staple breakfast dish, usually included is fried tempeh which is a Javanese invention of soybeans, boiled, fermented, stuck together and fried. Of course no one would eat Pecel without a healthy dose of spicy sambal.
Perkedel is a side dish of mashed potatoes mixed with garlic and shallots, then fried into bite sized pieces. Can also include meat.
Krupuk are crispy, airy rice based chips, (think veggie straws consistency) usually flavored with shrimp or fish. Every warung, or small eatery has these out on the table individually wrapped in plastic or in big tubs. People help themselves and are charged at the end. Indonesians eat these with almost every meal. Here are a few of many varieties:
Bebek Goreng is fried duck, and Eva and Irdi took us to their favorite place, with was just a little shack on the side of the road. This was definitively the best duck either of us have ever eaten and one of our favorite meals so far in Indonesia. Nothing fancy here just good quality duck fried to a perfect crisp in palm oil, served with white rice and sambal. The only downside is that in Indonesia meals are eaten with your right hand, and the duck was so good we couldn't let it cool and burned our fingers. So worth it.
Gado-Gado is a bit similar to Nasi Pecel - streamed vegetables coated with a peanut sauce heavy on the chilis and garlic, with a bit of salt and sugar. The choice of vegetables is usually a bit more substantial than Pecel, like green beans, carrots, sprouts, cabbage, etc, and is always served with tofu, and sometimes tempeh.
Urap-Urap is another vegetarian dish, boiled vegetables rubbed with a paste of garlic, chilis, shredded coconut, ginger and lime zest. One of our favorites. Here is a photo of the Urap-Urap (L) and Gado-Gado (R) that we made ourselves under the instruction of some nice locals at our homestay back on Lombok.
Irdi had mentioned that his parents owned a restaurant and were eager to treat us to a meal there. After a few days in town we met his very generous parents, and gratefully accepted their invitation. Most of the restaurants we eat at are little hole in the wall places, often just a tarp covering some tables, or even just a pot of soup in the back of some guy's bicycle. The restaurant Irdi's family runs was a beautiful place with a standard tile dining room in front, and large secluded seating areas in back, surrounding a large pool full of fish that can be ordered fresh out if the water. We were served a huge spread of grilled snakehead fish and gourami, honey glazed free range chicken, and Sop Buntut, or oxtail soup. All the food was fantastic, but the Sop Buntut was the real surprise. It is a thin broth with carrots, shallots, and a large portion of oxtail. The meat is served on the bone, but doesn't stay there long, as it is soft and tender and just falls right off. You don't even need a fork or knife. Irdi said that after searching objectively, he can't find a better Sop Buntut than right here at home. We believe it.
Belut Goreng/Bakar is eel, served grilled or fried, with rice and sambal on the side. Nothing fancy here, just excellent finger food that would have weirded Abby out a year ago, but those days are long gone.
Lemper is small snack of sticky rice wrapped around shredded chicken or beef cooked in sugary coconut milk, wrapped in banana leaves. Delicious.
Lele Goreng is just good old fashioned fried catfish, which is just as good the catfish back home, fried up with the family on fishing trips. Well, actually, not nearly as good, but you know, home is where the heart is after all.
Making a Mojokerto specialty, onde-onde, in the largest frying wok I've ever seen. Sesame seed covered dough balls filled with cheese, chocolate, or...regular? This was the last stop on Hansel and Gretel's tour before heading out with our bags stuffed and arms overloaded with food for the road. Next up, climbing some mountains to hopefully counter attack the overload of oil, white rice, and msg!
Irdi's gracious family - we are wearing our gifts from his mom! So sweet
In front of the third largest Buddha statue in SE Asia
Posing with the bride and groom at a local wedding reception. We found out Indonesian weddings sometimes have thousands of people, and wedding crashing is completely normal! Just bring an empty envelope and pretend you know someone. In this case, however, Eva did know the couple.
Trying the super smelly durian fruit! Foreigners usually hate this stuff, but we think it's pretty good!