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Fire and Faux-Pas in Surabaya

Surabaya is Indonesia’s second largest city and was important during the independence movement. It was also the city we based ourselves out of when climbing and exploring the Mount Bromo area. To me, Surabaya felt like a mix of several Indonesian cities: Jakarta, Jogja and Bandung. While still a large city, Surabaya was much more laid-back and the rhythm seemed much slower compared to Jakarta. It also seemed more conservative than Jakarta — I noticed many more women wearing long skirts.

After the long ride from the airport (costing about Rp 90,000 almost $10), Chloe and I were starving. A Surabaya food specialty is sate klopo — meat (beef) grilled on a stick with shredded coconut and peanut sauce dip. It was so delicious that we had it twice. In our huger-crazed wandering, we accidentally stumbled on a sate place on a wonderful tree-lined, shady street and it was packed, so we decided to give it a try. Turns out Ibu Asih (Jalan Walikota Mustajab No. 36) is a well-known sate restaurant that has been written up in Indonesian media. Two portions of sate with rice or lontong, rice that has been wrapped in banana leaf and cooked, and drinks set us back a little over $4.

One remnant of the Dutch colonial era that I really love are old-school ice cream parlors. Zangrandi Ice Cream Palace (Jalan Yos Sudarso no. 15)  is on the side of a main road in Surabaya where back in the day a tram used to run. I’ve noticed an affinity for rum raisin flavor in Indonesia, which was tasty, but the real highlight was the coconut ice cream. Seriously, order the coconut.

I’m always up for a tour of quirky places. So when I heard that Surabaya was home to a cigarette museum owned by one of Indonesia’s wealthy business families, Sampoerna, I knew I had to visit.

“The strong smell of cloves hits the moment you open the stained-glass door at the House of Sampoerna Museum in Surabaya. Steeped in symbolism, this museum is more than just a homage to one of Indonesia’s self-made men and cigarette titans: Sampoerna’s tale is intertwined with Indonesian history given that all over the country packs of Dji Sam Doe are sold at roadside stalls and the crackle of burning kretek provides a comforting soundtrack to daily life.” For the rest of my travel piece in The Jakarta Globe about this museum, click here.

I loved the stained glass throughout the museum.

It was a bit odd to see cigarette packs displayed in glass cases.

On our last day in Surabaya, we decided to explore the Arab Quarter and Chinatown. Our Lonely Planet guide told us that Mesjid Ampel was the most sacred mosque in Surabaya and historically important because one of the wali songo who brought Islam to Indonesia was buried in the area. Lonely Planet described the interior of the mosque, but failed to mention a key detail. Chloe and I assumed we could enter the mosque because we had done so in Jakarta. About 30 seconds after entering we were ushered out by a man and a woman. They asked us if we were Muslim and we said, “no.” Turns out their mosque only allows Muslims to enter. So we apologized for our faux pas, then they apologized that we couldn’t see the inside and then we all smiled for several minutes, it was all very Javanese. After giving me a skirt that would cover my ankles, we visited the grave. I’m guessing not many foreigners visit this area.

After returning the skirt and apologizing again, we walked through the Arab market and then visited the Kong Co Kong Tik Cun Ong temple. I personally prefer the smaller Chinese temples of Jakarta, but it was interesting nonetheless. We were craving Chinese food, so we asked a man in the temple for a recommendation. He led us out of the temple and down the road that runs between the two temple buildings, about a 30 second walk, to a home marked no. 22. There was no sign, nothing to indicate that this was a restaurant that would serve some of the best noodles I have ever had. While we were there another man stepped in and sat down, he must be a regular because he never ordered, but a dish of noodles appeared before him. We sat in the living room of this home/restaurant and watched a rabbit hopping around the street and ate. It’s moments like these I know I won’t forget.

The best part of staying at Hotel Pavilijoen (Jalan Geteng Besar no. 94) in Surabaya was the seafood tent that appeared in front of the hotel every night. Delicious.

I’m back in Jakarta tonight after almost two weeks in clean, shiny, quiet America. It was wonderful being at home and spoiled by the people I love most. Jakarta welcomed me back with a massive traffic jam, but it’s good to be back and I am ready for more adventures. Stay tuned.

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