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Posts from the ‘Yogyakarta’ Category

An Indonesian Short Story: Magical Burps

Before I continue writing about my travels in Ukraine, I wanted to go back to Indonesia. I’ve been thinking about Indonesia a lot this past week because an important presidential election was just held there and because I just went “back” to Indonesia after reading and reviewing Elizabeth Pisani’s book Indonesia, Etc. The presidential election isn’t quite over because both candidates claimed victory and the official counting won’t be finished for another 10 days. It’s a pivotal moment in Indonesia and all of that got me thinking about my first days there.

So here’s a short story I wrote some time ago about sambal and masuk angin. Enjoy.


Magical Burps

The burp caught me off guard. It was my second day in Indonesia and I was busy worrying about lunch, learning a new language and my own foolish decision to accept a yearlong job offer in a country I knew almost nothing about. “They had a dictator named Suharto. It’s the fourth largest country in the world and the most populous Muslim nation. Bali is there. And, it’s going to be hot,” I told my friends in a self-assured tone that was masking all of my deepest fears.

On my first day in one of the hottest countries I had ever allowed my pale, prone-to-burning body to enter, I had gone to lunch with teachers and students from my language school. “Sambal,” my teacher Asti said as she handed me a plastic bowl with a red substance inside. I had watched as everyone else at the table took two, three, four or even five spoonfuls of the red sauce and dumped it on top of their plates full of rice, vegetables and meat. Two spoonfuls later, I was a total wreck. My pale skin had turned bright red, I was sweating profusely and I was desperately trying to hold back tears. “You like spicy food? You like chili pepper sauce?” Asti asked. Why, oh why, hadn’t she asked this a minute earlier?

The loud, deep burp interrupted my painful recollection of lunch. I was startled. I looked over and saw a group of middle aged motorcycle taxi drivers sitting with their tank tops rolled up over their bellies while smoking clove cigarettes that created clouds of intoxicating smelling smoke. As soon as they noticed me, the shouts of “Hello, Mrs.! Where are you going?” and “Beautiful” started. And then, one of the drivers burped again.

Motorcycle Blur


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What’s For Dinner? Gado-Gado

Well dear readers, I’ve decided to start a new, somewhat regular feature called: what’s for dinner? (I ask myself this question everyday as soon as I finish lunch). Since I’ve been back home in California the last few days, friends and family have been asking me about Indonesian food, so I decided that from here on out, I will ask more friends and co-workers for recipes.

Gado-gado comes in many different varieties and is one of my favorite Indonesian dishes because it involves fresh vegetables (every now and again you need a break from fried foods) and delicious peanut sauce. Gado-gado is a salad dish and the name means hodgepodge or mix-mix.

The recipe I am listing below was from my first week in Indonesia when I cooked lunch with a teacher at language school. The amount I made at school was enough to feed over six people. So, I’m going to list the ingredients, and you can eyeball for the portion size that you need. I will list the peanut sauce amounts for six people. If you are making this for one person, you will have left over sauce. I’ve eaten many versions of gado-gado since my first week in Indonesia and not all of them include all of the ingredients listed below and some include others. So take a look at some other recipes before you start, here and here, if you are curious.

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Indonesian Fruit Installment 3: Salak – Snake Fruit

Meet my new friend: snake fruit. I’d never seen or heard of salak before coming to Indonesia. I first tried it in Jogja and I instantly liked it. Snake fruit comes in different varieties and a friend who tried it in another part of Indonesia hated it before she tried the sweeter variety in Jogja. When I was coming back from Borobudur there were many stands on the side of the road selling them. I stopped at one and a very old, withered Javanese woman emerged from her house. Her skin was a beautiful brown color and she had the kindest eyes and smile. She looked like a grandmother who would give you a hug and life advice. Just looking in her eyes, I wondered what they had seen over her long life on Java. Too bad I don’t speak Javanese…

The great thing about snake fruit is its tough skin. You can toss this fruit into the bottom of your bag and it won’t get bruised. It’s a great pick me up snack that isn’t overly ripe.

Why is it nicknamed snake fruit? Well, take a look at the skin. It really does peel off in a way that looks like snake skin.

On the inside you’ll find two, sometimes three, white fruits surrounding a brown seed. The fruit is waxy smooth and a bit crunchy. It is sweet and has a nice fruity taste unlike anything I’ve had before.

Unlike dragon fruit, snake fruit is a go to fruit for me. I highly recommend it.

Indonesian Fruit Installment 2: Dragon Fruit

I was quite serious about documenting Indonesian fruit when I started with durian…I just got a little sidetracked. So, I will now try to rather regularly show you some interesting fruits that are most likely not available in your grocery stores.

Today’s specimen is the dragon fruit. The dragon fruit is very Jurassic looking and I was expecting a lot from this colorful fruit. Sadly, I was very disappointed.

Dragon fruit really doesn’t taste like very much, at all (which is why I am confused by American chefs putting it on their menus. Are they caramelizing it or something?) I ate the white fleshy area with black seeds and it was somewhat watery and essentially flavor-less. Dragon fruit, like all tropical fruits, comes in different varieties and I have seen photos of ones that are red on the inside when sliced open.

I plan on giving dragon fruit another shot at some point to see if my opinion changes at all. This will happen when I don’t have stomach cramps and some kind of food poisoning – the last two days have not been fun. Thankfully, I am recovering.

512 Kilometers to Jakarta

There is something very romantic about riding trains, or maybe I have created a romantic image in my mind. I like watching the passing landscape and reading a book at a leisurely pace. So since I had Monday off and it cost less than flying to Jakarta, I took the train for $32.75 – I bought an executive class ticket because I wanted a/c and a comfortable seat (that three hour train ride on a wooden board as a seat in Ukraine still haunts me). I had also always wanted to take a train through Java, so it was nice to cross another “to-do” off my list in one weekend.

Surprisingly, the train was on time and left Yogyakarta around 9 a.m. Then it was seven hours, 512 kilometers, to Jakarta. The ride was worth it. The landscape was beautiful, interesting, and at times, I felt a bit like a voyeur, witnessing some moments that were meant to be private.

The first few hours out of Jogja were bucolic and green, so very green. Rice fields and palm trees dotted the landscape. I started reading Richard Lloyd Parry’s In the Time of Madness. Parry was a reporter in Jakarta during the late 1990s and covered the fall of Suharto and the violent ethnic conflicts taking place in Indonesia at the time (cannibalism was involved). This was not the right book to choose for a romantic train ride. Some of the towns the train passed through were mentioned in the book and it was sobering to realize that a little over 10 years ago Indonesia was a very different place politically and economically. I still have about halfway to go in the book, but I would recommend it to anyone interested in Indonesian history and conflict journalism.

This photos reminds me a bit of driving through Watsonville, California in the summer when many people are in the fields:

As if my book wasn’t enough entertainment, I also had Indonesian music videos to entertain/annoy me for a good chunk of the journey and then the Belgian version of Candid Camera (odd, I know).

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