Category Archives: Food

The Sliced Bread Time Machine

Time is relative, so they say. Bandung, the capital of West Java, Indonesia, seems to exist in two dimensions of time, parallel universes. The modern, polluted, busy, overcrowded industrial city with a sprawling urban population of over eight million inhabitants – Here, the main attractions for plane loads of local and international tourists are the numerous clothing factory outlets. If you own any clothing “Made in Indonesia”, that most likely means, “Made in Bandung”. There are more than three hundred textile industries here. Bandung is also home to hundreds of pharmaceutical factories, as well as a high-tech aircraft industry, and numerous universities. Then there is the other Bandung, the place that time has forgotten. A place of nostalgia, a living museum. Braga Street, the heart of this time capsule, is the place which historically gave Bandung the pseudonym “Paris van Java”, “The Paris of the East”. During the Dutch colonial era, this was the meeting point of the colonial plantation owners and workers. Barga Street was lined with high society shops, theatres, cafes and nightclubs. Even Charlie Chaplin performed here.

©SallyArnold
New street signage being installed, Braga Street, Bandung. West Java.

On my recent visit, the city was busily sprucing itself up for the upcoming Asia Africa Conference. The original conference took place in 1955, a time to discuss the cold war and the ending of colonialism across developing nations. This upcoming conference in April 2015, will see many world leaders congregate here once more.

Navigating my way around the broken footpaths and piles of ready to be laid pavers, I entered Sumber Hidangan, a local Dutch style bakery that first opened its doors in 1929, and hasn’t changed since. This easy time travel seemed to have no physical effects, I didn’t go through any gravitational vortexes or worm holes as in a science fiction film, all I had to do was cross the threshold. But time travel it was. This was the antithesis of mass market production. Light filtered through into the dimly lit space. The dusty wooden floorboards creaked as I entered the high ceilinged store. Peeling paintwork barely clung to the walls. Custom built glass cabinets, also with a layer of dust, displayed trays of fluffy white bread. Glass jars stacked artfully with traditional Dutch biscuits. Signage advertising the wares were in both Dutch and English. The ‘antique’ scales; a cash register and oven that have not been replaced since its opening. Even the staff were ancient.

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Sumber Hidangan, old Dutch style bakery. Bandung, Indonesia.
©SallyArnold
Fresh hand sliced bread, ready for sale.
©SallyArnold
Traditional Dutch style biscuits in glass display jars, Sumber Hidangan, Bandung.

The smell of freshly baked bread teased me, and the glass jars filled neatly with treats caused my eyes to widen. But I was here to show my group my favourite thing about this store – the bread slicer. I approached the counter. To my dismay, the group of ladies in their starched pink aprons informed me that she had gone home for the day. Yes, the bread slicer is a person, no modern technology here. I had been here before when they were quite busy, with several bread slicers skilfully dividing the fluffy fresh loaves into precise slices. My disappointment must have been visible – the friendly ladies proposed if I buy a loaf, they could slice it for me. As I was keen to show my group, I agreed. They only had one variety of bread left this late in the afternoon, the Continental Milk Bread – made with eggs and full cream milk, the sign read. A loaf was selected, and one of the uniformed ladies began to masterly and evenly slice away. Perfect, with just a fraction of a millimetre left intact to hold the loaf together. She then suggested that I didn’t really need to buy it, that they could place it on the shelf with the others on display. They had gone to the trouble of slicing it for me, and it looked fresh and velvety. The ingredients printed on the sign suggested it had few preservatives, unlike the local commercial breads. I would like to try. She then briskly wrapped the loaf in brown paper while another woman neatly hand-wrote out my receipt for 10,500 Rupiah (approximately 80 US cents). This was in turn handed to the cashier seated behind a metal security cage. After our transaction, my group bought a few of the pastries, then we returned through the wormhole to the bustling modern street outside.

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The bread slicer, Sumber Hidangan Bakery. Bandung, Indonesia.
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Fresh sliced bread!

Sumber Hidangan is located at 20-22 Jalan Braga, Bandung. West Java. Indonesia.

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Turnips. What’s the Point?

I love my veggies. Really, I do. But there are one or two that I fail to see the reason for their existence. Turnips. Can anyone say they LOVE Turnips? I don’t hate them, they don’t disgust me, but I really can’t see the point. They are characterless and unexceptional. Can someone enlighten me as to their purpose, their raison d’être?

Nutritionally, they are high in vitamin C. Good. But honestly, so are many, much more delicious vegetables. And fruit. AND turnips contain Cyanid! Cyanid. Yep, poison. Perhaps I’m not wrong in avoiding them after all. All right, it’s cyanoglucosides that releases trace amounts of cyanid. Heck, even dihydrogen monoxide can kill you.

Pliny The Elder.  Image from Wikipedia
Pliny The Elder – author, philosopher and turnip connoisseur.
Image – Public domain.

The history and origins of the turnip can be traced back to fifteenth century BC. For them to have lasted so long, someone obviously has thought they are a good idea. The Ancient Indians, Romans and Greeks all cultivated turnips. Pliny the Elder (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79) apparently “considered the turnip one of the most important vegetables of his day.”* Really? I feel sorry for him and his peers, and am thankful for the abundance and variety of vegetables today. However, “In Brazil, turnips (nabos) are traditionally regarded as distasteful or at least somewhat disagreeable and unpleasant”*. I’m leaning with the Brazilians. Sorry Pliny.

There is an old Celtic tradition on Samhain (Halloween, as it’s now celebrated), that lanterns are made from carved turnips. Much like pumpkins nowadays. They were used to ward off evil spirits. Now, there’s use – much better than eating them.

©Sally Arnold
Turnip family memorial.
Lake Toba, Sumatra.

The Lake Toba area in Sumatra is home to the Toba Batak people. In Batak culture, the family clan name is all important. The first question you are asked by a Batak, if you’re Batak, is “What family are you?” One of the clan name’s is Turnip. The Batak are big on ancestor worship, and as part of the death rituals erect huge family monuments. One that often caught my eye when I visited, was the impressive Turnip family memorial. It’s a towering shiny tile and metal structure about ten meters high, with what looks like a large turnip on top. Ok, it probably isn’t a turnip. The Batak don’t call turnips “turnip”. In fact I can’t even recall seeing or eating a turnip in the whole of Sumatra. Wise people.

Not to be so turnip discriminatory, I thought I’d give them another chance. Perhaps I’ve been a little overzealous in my discounting of them. So, I bought some baby turnips. Baby veggies always taste better,  maybe these would change my opinion. They were small, reddish, radish sized, (now there’s delicious vegetable), and rather cute looking. I baked them with a chicken and some other vegetables, served with gravy. A rather traditional roast. Well, the chicken and other vegetables were delicious. The turnips? Meh. They had a slightly earthy flavour. Slightly. Not ‘Good and Earthy’ like beetroot – now there’s a noble vegetable. Roast turnips – a bit of a waste of space, time, and effort really (not that there was much effort in this dish). I wasn’t convinced, but wasn’t prepared to give up quite so quickly – after all Pliny the Elder held them in high esteem…

For my second attempt, I tried steaming them, and serving them with butter (always better). Cooked this way they were even more unremarkable. I really don’t think I’ll waste any more time with this mundane vegetable. I gave them a chance, you can’t say I wasn’t fair. Life’s too short for dull uninspiring food. So, turnip lovers out there (is there such a thing?), you, and Pliny are welcome to them.

*Quotes from Wikipedia

Turnip image started off life as a photograph from The Bitten Word blog. I added a bit of “colouring-in” with Photoshop. Check out the site – they like turnips, but I won’t hold that against them.

Toast & Honey

Honey makes you funny. Well that’s what I always said as a kid. Never cared for the stuff. I know I’m grateful for the bees for pollenating our plants and all, but they can keep that sweet goo. I was always a Vegemite kid. I didn’t really like peanut butter either, too sweet; but a nice bitter marmalade, now you’re talking.

When I first moved to Bali I tried to buy a toaster, a common and inexpensive household item in my homeland of Australia. Not so here. The only kind I could find were expensive industrial sized, aimed at the five star hotel market. My next trip to Jakarta I scoured the department stores and found an overpriced, but adequate one. It lasted two months before the inconsistent power surges blew it out. Again I tried – this time in Singapore, and found a cheap model similar to the ones I had used in Australia. If this one blew up, it wasn’t such a huge expense. I would try again. I still have that same toaster, and its still toasting as well as the day I bought it almost ten years ago. These days toasters can be bought in any supermarket here, it’s a different world now.

Vegemite however, is still a luxury imported item, rarely available. And expensive. I usually wait until friends from Australia are coming to visit and request a care package. Interesting fun fact from Wikipedia – In 1984, a jar of Vegemite was the first product to be electronically scanned at a checkout in Australia. There’s some great small industries producing delicious marmalades here too now. Inevitable with the abundance of delicious fresh limes – they have me covered there.

©Sally Arnold
Vegemite on Toast, You’re doing it wrong!

Butter isn’t something I ever used so much. I never thought it was necessary until a couple of years ago, my young niece made me scrambled eggs for breakfast. They. Were. Delicious. “The secret is butter, Aunty Sally” she told me. Mmmmm Butterrrr. The butter here is imported from New Zealand or France. I like the French brand, and these days sometimes even have it on my toast. With Vegemite.

In Australia I always had a jar of honey in the fridge. Sometimes a recipe would call for it. A jar could last me five years. I tried the ‘gourmet’ honeys too – the ones where the bees feasted on stringybark trees or rare wildflowers, but none excited my taste buds. The honey in Indonesia is thin and runny. I don’t think it’s just because of the heat, as the imported brands remain the same sticky consistency. I have tried pure honey from the environmental centre we visit on our trips in East Java, but it still does nothing for me. That is until I recently discovered NEW ZEALAND HONEY. What is it with the bees over there? I know it’s a big industry and that Manuka honey is said to have all sorts of healing powers, and an expensive price tag to match the claims. I recently bought a jar of New Zealand beech forest honey. OH MY, it’s thick, treacley, caramely, malty and I can now understand the fuss. The jar lasted one month. I am halfway through a second. IT. IS. GOOD. I know there is a world campaign to save the bees, as many species are endangered. If there were no bees to pollinate our food we would soon grow hungry. A world without bees also means there’d be none of that delicious New Zealand Honey. A sad day that would be. Even the ants think it’s better.

©Sally Arnold
Ants love New Zealand honey so much, they make a heart!

A Sea of Yellow Krupuk

Curly yellow flower buds spread across the yard on woven bamboo sheets. These are not flowers, but the makings of krupuk, the popular crunchy Indonesian snack. Krupuk comes in many forms, and these particular ones are made from fish, tapioca flour and turmeric, giving them their bright yellow colour. We are visiting a small home industry near Pangandaran, West Java, Indonesia.

Krupuk or ‘prawn chips’ or ‘crackers’ as is often the translation (sometimes misspelled ‘creakers’) is the generic onomatopoeic name for a variety of crispy type snack foods in Indonesia. They can be made of various types of flour, but usually tapioca or rice flour, and are sometimes flavoured with fish or prawns and spices. There is even one kind that is flavoured with sulphur. Some are also made from fruit, or animal skin. They are ubiquitous, and often accompany many local dishes.

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Sacks of tapioca flour wait to be turned into krupuk. Pangandaran, West Java.
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The “3D Spirograph” krupuk machine. Pangandaran, West Java.

This small family business produces thousands of krupuk per day, and we have arrived on a day when the sun is shining, perfect for drying the dough, hence, the carpeted front yard. The small factory is busy when we enter. In one corner a large mixer is kneading the tapioca flour, fish paste and spices into a thick dough. The nearby walls and floor are covered in flour. Bags of the fine white powder sit stacked neatly against the wall, as though they too are waiting their turn. A large green machine clunks and whirls, as a young man climbs to fill the chute with dough, underneath another man is fitting mesh sheets into the base that will receive the curly noodles of paste. The machine begins the spew out the small, even, curly circular discs of spaghetti like strands. It’s a 3D spirograph. He picks one out of every batch, and discards it. I ask is it to let air in when they steam it? He replies, no, one of the spigots is damaged, and that krupuk is not up to standard. Quality control.

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Laying steamed krupuk out to dry. Pangandaran, West Java.
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Krupuk factory. Pangandaran, West Java.

The mesh sheets are then transferred to colander like boxes, stacked and placed in the large hissing metal steamer where they are cooked until they resemble translucent plastic. If the day is sunny, like this day, they are moved into the yard to dry. After a few hours they become quite brittle and hard, and even more plastic-like in their appearance. At this stage they could be stored for several weeks, or sold for people to do the final cooking at home, however these ones are destined to be cooked here, and sold ready to eat. Once thoroughly dry, the yellow plasticy discs are lowered into one of the industrial size woks filled with hot coconut oil. The fuel is discarded rice husks, everything has a use. Within seconds they hiss and expand and rise to the surface like fluffy phoenixs, then are scooped out to drain and cool.

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Young boy helps with a big bag of krupuk. Pangandaran, West Java.

In an adjoining room two headscarfed women sit on the cool cement floor packing the krupuk into plastic bags, and tying the tops with string, ready for sale. They hand us a sample to pass around. Fresh light and crispy, slightly salty, slightly sweet, hardy fishy at all, and very very moreish. It’s hard to stop at one.