Indonesian "Cuisine"
on Solo Diaries (Indonesia), 25/Jul/2009 08:03, 34 days ago
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It seems that Indonesian‘cuisine’ really boils down to a few simple concepts, and you will soon see why that statement is a lame attempt at a pun…Foods stuffed with other Foods:All of the other VSO volunteers will know what I’m talking about here. It’s highly unusual to locate a bun, roll, pastry, or any kind of baked product that doesn’t have some kind of ‘surprise’ inside it. This surprise could be ridiculously sweet, painfully spicy, or completely tasteless. It could be meat, fruit, vegetable, or some kindof gelatin. Either way, one finds oneself trying to locate a place to get rid of the offending ‘cuisine.’ I encountered the strangest example of this just today, when I was served a small pastry product that had the consistency of a honey glazed donut, minus the sweetness. This pastry was drizzled with chocolate sauce and grated cheese. (Chocolate and cheese go surprisingly well together as I discovered in Jogja as I ordered fried bananas with chocolate and cheese as a dessert one night – delicious!) When I attempted to lift this pastry I realized that it was split, and appeared to havesome kind of custard inside. I managed to lift it up without too much of the custard coming out, and took a bite. I immediately regretted this as it turns out that concealed within the custard was a piece of sausage not unlike those little wiener units you can get in a can. Yes, this one little piece of food contained:- Pastry- Cheese- Chocolate- Custard- And of all things,SAUSAGEI cannot over-emphasize how strange this was; I don’t know if it was a dessert, appetizer, some kind of composite designed for efficient consumption of both, or something designed for Russian cosmonauts. I managed to ‘squeeze out’ the piece of sausage and finish the rest of the pastry, but only because I was REALLY hungry.Boiling:Contrary to popular belief I am a huge fan of vegetables. I will eat almost any veggie provided that it’s a) raw and b) not an onion. I lose quite a bit of interest once most of them are cooked. Unfortunately this doesn’t really fly in Indonesia. Vegetables are never – repeat, NEVER – eaten raw here. Instead they are boiled until they are almost non-existent. Once a veggie is deemed edible inIndonesia, it would be something I would throw out at home. Carrots are soft; slimy and sweet, cauliflower is basically destroyed; spinach becomes essentially green water. But wait, it gets worse. In Solo, veggies are boiled with – and I am not making this up, despite my predilection to exaggerate – SUGAR. Yes, again with the sugar. I can’t believe this isn’t an entire nation of diabetics. As a result I have found myself eating far fewer veggies than at home, and choosing to eat by myself in my room more often than I would otherwise. I imagine an Indonesian would try to boil my peanutbutter& jam sandwich before letting me eat it; I have to eat alone or I will starve to death.Frying, Frying and more Frying:Not exactly healthy, and I never dreamed in a million years that I would complain about this, but anything that isn’t boiled in Indonesia is fried. In palm oil. For a very long time. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the fried foods at home, despite the shame spiral I enter after eating them. But for some reason, in Indonesia fried foods just feel much less healthy. Perhaps it’s the strange ‘batter’ thatmost foods are surrounded by. I managed to eat a fried egg the other night that appeared to be battered. I can’t imagine it was particularly good for me but the other items available to me were so foreign (or completely over-boiled or had so much chilli they were literally on fire) that I was leftwith few options.Rice:I think I have adequately covered this particular topic, but fear I will be arrested if the Indonesian blog authorities (you think I’m kidding but I have no doubt they exist) somehow discover I created an entry on cuisine without mentioning it. Ah yes, rice glorious rice and all that…Drinks with Gelatin:In North America we have‘bubble tea’ which I’m kind ofhoping is a trend that has died and gone away while I’ve been in Asia. This is basically a small chunk of spherical gelatin inside a sweet beverage. At least if I remember correctly from the single time I tried it that is what it is. Well in Indonesia there are random gelatinous chunks of material in many drinks (and foods for that matter). I assumethis is some uber-scientific means of getting a hyper-concentrated dose of sugar as quickly as possible – kind of like an Advil LiquiGel, but not for a headache. They tend to be bright pink, and hang out menacingly in the bottom of any random beverage container. Oh by the way – these containersare often clear plastic bags, not unlike Ziplocs. I once ordered a Coke which came in, not surprisingly, a Coke bottle – but the clerk poured it into one of these Ziplocs, inserted a straw and handed it to me. Destroying the carbonation of the beverage was bad enough, but how was I supposed to put this drink down anywhere? I was stunned.Utensils:In most places in Indonesia if I’m not mistaken, they don’t use knives… or forks, actually. And on the island of Java, they use none. For the most part, in a traditional Javanese restaurant, food is eaten with your hands. Or rather, your right hand, which presents a challenge for a leftie like me. Your left hand is reservedfor more, ahem …sanitary… activities. Yes the fork (if any) is used only to push food onto a spoon (if any). Even noodles. Everything with a spoon. It can make for a very messy meal, especially when one attempts to do this with a hand that happens to not be your dominant hand. I feel like Forrest Gump at every single meal. You try eating a stringy piece of boiled spinach with a spoon!So, in closing, I have lost about 15 pounds since arriving in Indonesia (that’s about 7 kilos for you metric-type readers) and I proudly thought it was because of my dedication to the gym. I think in hindsight it’s really just because the food ain’t that great! Now I know why there are no Indonesian restaurants in Toronto.