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Makassar: Or One of the Most Uncomfortable Meals of My Life

Living abroad is full of awkward and uncomfortable experiences, it’s part of what makes life memorable — at least when you get a bit of hindsight. Here’s the back story: To get to Tana Toraja (see previous posts) from Jakarta, you have to fly to Makassar. Makassar is the provincial capital of South Sulawesi and it’s a giant Indonesian port city and oddly has what has got to be one of the nicest airports in all of Indonesia. On our first stop there, Chloe and I arrived late and left early the next morning for Toraja. On the way back, we arrived early and had a day to see the “sights” of Makassar. The night bus from Tana Toraja to Makassar was eight hours worth of chilling A/C along curving roads. I didn’t sleep much. We were both sleep-deprived and somewhat moody — a perfect combination.

We decided to visit Fort Rotterdam, an old fort that the Dutch used during their colonial power days. Within 5 minutes of leaving our hotel, we saw a group of 50 students in the distance. As soon as they spotted us, they began running in our direction, screaming and laughing. Usually, I have no issue chatting with Indonesian students. A popular activity teachers assign in Indonesia is for students to go to tourist spots and interview foreigners to practice their English. They ask the typical: Where are you from? Why are you here? What do you think of my country? They also always want a photo with you, perhaps to show their teacher they did not make up the answers. The group that surrounded Chloe and I wasn’t interested in practicing English and just wanted some quick photos. I was exhausted and this felt like an invasion of my space and my time. We walked briskly to the fort to avoid other groups.


Fort Rotterdam is nicely restored thanks to a partnership with the Netherlands. We walked the fort in about 10 minutes. There were two museums, but we peaked inside and they looked poorly labeled and curated so we decided to avoid the additional fee. At this point, we decided to drink some coconut juice at a roadside stall across the street. At the stall a man decided to sit next to us and then he started complaining about Makassar, how he missed home and how he wanted to be our friend. We’d both had it, so we excused ourselves and left.


Our flight was leaving around 8, so we decided to have an early dinner. The problem? It was Ramadan, so almost every restaurant was shuttered until the the fast is broken around 6 p.m. On our previous night in Makassar we had had a delicious seafood dinner at Lae Lae (Jalan Datu Musseng 8), so we headed there around 5 p.m. Lae Lae is a giant seafood restaurant that serves fresh fish grilled to perfection. As you walk into the restaurant you walk by coolers and point and pick your fish for grilling.

Grill It

Lae Lae was open, and since we were both hungry and didn’t want to take our chances with airport offerings, we ordered. As we sat down at the long banquet tables in the restaurant, the seats around us began to fill up with families.


Since Lae Lae was serving food, we decided to eat, especially since we noticed that other families were ordering food as well. But as soon as we started eating, it felt like a couple hundred heads turned and all eyes were focused on us. As food arrived at the tables for other customers, no one began eating, instead they stared at the food and the clock waiting for break fast. We were also the only foreigners in a restaurant with seating capacity for around 200 people.


Then a couple sat down directly across from us. I kept eating because I was hungry and because I do not observe Ramadan, but I felt so uncomfortable. The man in the couple began staring us down. Was I offending people? I really did not mean to offend anyone. We would have avoided ordering if we thought other people wouldn’t be eating. Chloe and I both slowed our eating and looked uncomfortably at each other. I kept turning over questions in my mind: How do Christians and other religious minorities feel during Ramadan in Indonesia? Were people angry at us? Chloe summed her her feelings about this too, click here (post is titled ‘Home’).

Topped Off

Before we knew it, the fast was broken and everyone around us was eating, but I no longer felt hungry.

Sweet n Sour

Whenever you live abroad, even if you’ve been there for some time, speak the language, you experience those moments when you feel completely alien. For better or for worse, these moments remind you that you always have more to learn.

Cooler 2

Cooler 1

On our way out of the restaurant we passed a table stacked high with delicious mangoes. The smell was intoxicating and we watched as the city came alive with food vendors clogging sidewalks.


One Kilo

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Definitely a culture-clash story you have here, but you survived it. Indonesians are lovely people so they’ll forgive you. I lived in Indonesia for two years, on Java, and wish I could go back again for a while, but the world is big and there are so many places to see and enjoy! Still, Indonesia gave me many happy memories, and I still cook and eat the food now and again. Happy travels!

    January 17, 2013
    • Yes, I did survive! I also have been cooking a lot of Indonesian food since leaving. I have been to two very good Indonesian restaurants in the US and it’s always fun to practice bahasa and chat with the owners. Hope you get back to Indonesia some day on a trip.

      January 17, 2013
  2. This has been an issue and ongoing debate even among Muslims in Indonesia. In big cities, i.e. Jakarta, it’s totally fine having people eating during Ramadan. But normally restaurants would put curtains on their windows. As a matter of fact I observe Ramadan but there were times when I went to restaurants with my friends during the fasting month. At first they felt awkward and they were afraid that they would offend me. But knowing me they knew there’s nothing to worry about. In some parts of Indonesia people are more open-minded about this. But as with other issue, it has been and will always be subject to public debate. My suggestion: always do a little research about how conservative/tolerant local people are. As with Makassar, it has always been associated with mild conservatism although not as staunch as the people of Aceh where they practice strict Sharia law.

    January 18, 2013
    • Thanks for your comment, Bama. While living in Jakarta, I felt it was easier to get by during Ramadan with curtains in many restaurants, not the case in Makassar in many restaurants. My co-workers in Jakarta also told all the bule workers not to worry, they wouldn’t be offended if we ate at our desks (which usually happens in a news room environment).

      January 22, 2013
  3. Thanks for the post. It was fun to read. I live in Indonesia (and have lived elsewhere in the Muslim world) and yes, you don’t eat in public until Buka Puasa. Jakarta may be different (I note the comments above) but generally speaking, a good rule is do what the natives do. Even if they won’t when they’re in your country. Bali – where I live – is still (just) predominantly Hindu rather than Muslim. But the same rules apply, in their different ways, over both religions.

    January 19, 2013
    • Thanks for reading. I found living in Jakarta during Ramadan to be fairly easy because of curtains in restaurants (as mentioned above) and coworkers approaching me and other foreign colleagues and informing us to feel free to eat at our desks as we all normally did.

      Makassar was hard to read because I didn’t see curtains up in restaurants we passed during the day and there were people eating inside them and people who stopped to have es kelapa muda with us on the street. Traveling in Indonesia is an adventure and you always learn something new.

      January 22, 2013
  4. I went to the Makassar airport like 5 years ago when it was first built. It was empty and understaffed. The guy handing out the visas, had to fill ours out by hand. The security guards were so surprised to see us they wanted to search our bags for the fun of it, and chit chat with us. Also I noticed that fort Rotterdam is looking much better these days.
    Great post, it reminded me of the time when I decided to take my then girlfriend (now wife) on a wild journey through Sulawesi.

    January 22, 2013
    • Sounds like the airport has changed quite a bit! Thanks for reading.

      January 23, 2013
  5. Hahahaha… I can only imagine your uncomfortable face being stared at during your dinner. The fact is that the Indonesians understand that your foreign and that you can eat whenever you want, it’s just they can’t help themselves to stare. It’s just a culture thing :D
    But it’s good to hear that you got something good out of it.

    January 30, 2013
    • Ha, I got used to the staring and the photos. I started joking with people if they wanted a photo with me, they would need to pay me Rp50,000. That always got a shocked look and then we’d laugh together.

      January 31, 2013
  6. The order to close down eating establishment during Ramadan is unfair and has no base in our national laws. It’s actually easier in Kuala Lumpur, where the restaurants don’t even feel the need to cover their windows and those who are not fasting can eat and drink as they would outside of the Holy Month. The revelation was an embarrassing one for me as an Indonesian because Malaysia is supposed to be the strict Islamic country and Indonesia is the free-spirited secular sister.

    To be fair, though, it really depends on where you are in Indonesia. I didn’t have any problem eating in Ramadan when I lived in Bandung, but I guess Makassar is a bit different. But as you probably know by now, we can be severe with our fellow countrymen but foreigners can do just about anything in Indonesia. I agree with mumun there, I think those people simply couldn’t help but to stare but they didn’t mean you any harm.

    August 28, 2014
  7. Reblogged this on Fun Travelling around the world and commented:
    i really like this post about seafood in makassar …

    March 25, 2015

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