Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Jakarta Food

Its hard not to get excited about food. So this should be exciting. As I was perusing the fruit section of the supermarket the other day looking for something new to try, the idea of documenting fruit came to mind. Today while I was trying to entertain my brain while proctoring a final exam I realized that I had never written much about the food of Jakarta, Indo and southeast asia in general. So my fruit entry has grown, at least in my mind, to include various foods of Jakarta and Indonesia. I will also include some other interesting items from outside Indo if I feel like it but will certainly indicate its origins. This will be an ongoing process as I want to include my own pictures of the various culinary delights and I just found out this morning as I was about to take a photo of a large bowl of nangka Wayan was preparing for dinner that my camera might be on the fritz. I will also include some pictures posted previously if the photo depicts well a certain food. In viewing my previous entries I actually came across one of my first titled "Eating in Indo". It mentioned some of my experiences but I will try and make this entry a bit more informative. The descriptions I am going to include are from my experiences - so tastes, colors, smells, etc may vary from other sources.

Fruit in Indonesia is quite an experience. The variety is incredible, cheap and always fresh.

Passion Fruit. In Bahasa Indonesia it is called a markisa. It looks rather like a large orange colored egg and its "skin" is quite shell like. The inside is filled with a glutinous substance filled with crunchy little seeds. It can be a bit of a struggle to get over the texture - unless you are fond of mucous, and then the texture will not be a problem. It is sweet and has a taste unlike any other fruit I have experienced so is rather difficult to explain.

Dragon fruit. I only know it by this name. It has a crazy looking skin; bright pink with spiky, green leafy things growing off of it. The fruit itself is crisp and watery, similar to a watermelon but a bit denser. The seeds look rather ominous but are barely noticeable when you eat the fruit. I have eaten this fruit in Thailand and Vietnam but surprisingly not in Indo - it is not commonly available.

Jack fruit. In Bahasa Indonesia it is called nangka. Although this jackfruit is growing on a tree in Vietnam, the fruit is commonly eaten all over Southeast Asia and is quite popular in Indonesia. The fruit can grow rather large, has a thick skin with lots of tiny little non-sharp needles and contains many pods inside. Surrounding each seed is a yellow fleshy covering. It has a strong smell but the taste is pleasant. A friend of mine described it as tasting like bubble gum. This is interesting, because I recently read that perhaps the flavor of Juicy Fruit gum originated from the jack fruit. It is a dense fruit and is packed with carbohydrates. In its immature stage, it is often the main ingredient in savory dishes, most typically, curries. Indonesians cook it with coconut milk and a bunch of spices and it is incredibly tasty.

Thai Jeruk and Jambu
The Thai Jeruk are simply oranges from Thailand that are green when ripe. They will begin to turn a bit orangy green when the become more ripe but never turn totally orange. There are many different types of jambu. I am not sure which this is but all are similar in that they have a crisp and somewhat watery texture. The taste of this particular jambu was very unique. The best way to describe it is "spicy". It actually reminded me of a spiced Christmas cider, with cinnamon being the strongest spice evident. A very interesting flavor.

Persimonnes, Thai Jeruk, Star Fruit The persimonnes were an interesting experience. The only other time I have had them was in Japan where they are called kaki. They had a much tougher skin, more and harder seeds and a bit stronger taste. When I bought these persimmonnes they were coated in some sort of protective white covering. I just looked in the "Eat Smart in Indonesia" book to find out what they are called in Bahasa Indonesia and what do you know, they had an explanation for the coating. They are called kesemek and are coated in lime water if they are to be candied. The lime water coating keeps them from becoming mushy when cooking in syrup during the candying process. I did not know that if coated they were meant for the syrup pot. Instead, when I got home I gave them a good scrub which caused them to age prematurely. They began to shrivel and go soft. I cut open a few and they tasted fine, very seedy with a meaty texture and quite sweet. The Thai oranges, accompanying the star fruit and persimonnes, are ripe when green. They are quite ordinary except for their color. The star fruit is citrus tasting. The ones pictured are just barely ripe. In this stage they are somewhat tart. As they ripen the color becomes a darker orange and the flavor becomes sweeter.

Mangosteen and mangoes In Bahasa Indonesia they are manggis and mangga. The manggis have a segmented white sectons with a few pits. Often the pits are soft and edible. The fruit is very sweet with just a tad of citrus flavor. It can be a little tricky to pick ones that are good; the hard skin needs to give a little when pressed. If it is hard then the fruit inside is damaged. The tropics have a diverse variety of mangoes. Most of the ones we see in Indo are green when ripe. Some are extremely sweet and almost custard like while others are somewhat tart and more fibrous in texture. This particular mango was of the tart variety. The flesh is almost always a vivid orange. Its hard to beat a fresh mango.

Drinks Coffee, tea and cocoa are each grown as cash crops in Indonesia.

This is a what a cocoa pod looks like. Inside are the beans which will be used to make chocolate and cocoa drinks. The beans are quite bitter but certainly "chocolaty" - something like unsweetened baking chocolate. This particular cocoa tree was growing in a garden in central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Coffee growing in Losario in the highlands of Java. The former Dutch plantation has incorporated a resort on its grounds but still produces and process its own coffee. When the beans turn a reddish color they are ripe. Inside are the "beans" that we would recognize as coffee. They are a greenish color and only turn brown after roasting. Emmerson and myself for a size perspective of the coffee plant.

Coffee at Losario served up with a plate of palm sugar. The sugar is made from the berry like fruit of a palm tree. Palm trees are an important resource in Indonesia and are used to make products such as oil, sugar, and alcohol. Palm sugar is a bit like brown sugar from the States but richer and creamier. It is the sweetener of choice throughout Indo.

Tea growing in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. The crop is grown throughout the tropics in higher elevations where the temperatures are cooler than the lowlands. Tea plants are quite severely cultivated to maintain their bush like dimesnions. If left to grow naturally they reach heights of a small tree. I am standing on just such a tea plant in the first photo.

Drinking tuac in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indo. Another gift of the palm tree, tuac, or palm wine, actually ferments in the tree itself. I am not sure of the details, but supposedly some sugary juice collects in pockets in the tree, ferments and voila - instant wine. It is rather sweet and sours over time so is best drunk fresh. They sell it in markets in recycled water bottles ciphoned out of large buckets.

It is impossible to summarize the cooked cuisine of Indo but these are a few of the more common dishes. Many dishes are strongly spiced and coconut milk is a common ingredient which combines very nicely with the spicy mixtures.

Kangkung, a spinachy type of vgetable, is one of the most common dishes in Indo. The green grows almost anywhere and is gathered along roadsides, in drainage ditches and the like by Indos looking for a cheap, simple side dish.

Ikan Bakar or grilled fish is a popular dish all over Indo.

Ikan bakar, kangkun and a bit of rice makes for a nice meal

The above two photos are of nangka. It is prepared using the immature fruit of the jackfruit. The fruit is separated into sections and cooked in cocnut milk with a variety of spices. Very nice.

Rendang is a very popular meat dish in Indo. It is meat mixed in a spicy paste and simmered in coconut milk for a long time. The coconut milk reduces to the point where only the oil from the milk is left. The meat, at this point is very tender and extremely flavourful.

Shrimp ready for the barbecue at the beach in Pelabuhanratu, South Java, Indo. Seafood is very common and served in a wonderful variety of ways across the archipelago.

Seafood on a stick. A vendor in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand displays a tempting spread of various grilled items on a stick. The whole squid was excellent- served with a spicy hot and sweet sauce. I hope he is back in operation. This stall was on the walkway that runs along the beach. Ko Phi Phi was desemated by the tsunami of 2004.

Cooking fresh fish over an open fire using bamboo splints to hold the fish. This is on one of the islands near the Krakatoa complex of islands. No one lives on these islands. The people who make a living fishing these waterways occassionally stop by to steady there sea legs and visitors to the Krakatoa volcano often camp on the islands.

These pigs are being prepped for a Sulawesi style funeral barbecue where large amounts of pig are cooked and consumed. Sites like this are not too common in Indo as the majority of the population is Muslim and thus avoid pork as a dietary taboo. But in areas that are not primarily Muslim pork is eaten. Parts of Sulawesi practice traditional animism and animism mixed with Christiantiy. West Papaua is probably the most "pig friendly" area as its traditional economy is actually based on pigs. The pigs here are having their very stiff hair burned off.

A blob of red curry paste from a market in Chang Mai, Thailand. Spice mixtures like this are popular all over Southeast Asia and can be purchased from large vats in many markets and grocery stores.

The ubiquitous Jakarta Kakilima. I am sure to any Jakartan abroad this image would conjure up some memories. Kakilima translates into five feet. I have heard various explanations as to why they are called five legs but the one that most makes sense to me is that the vendor is the fifth leg of the cart. Anyway, they are all over Jakarta and are very popular for a snack or quick meal. They sell all sorts of food but each kakilima will specialize in one type of dish such as nasi goreng (fried rice) or bakso (noodle soup). They might set up shop in one location or travel the streets selling their goods. They often come into neighborhoods and each has a certain "call" that alerts potential customers. The call might be vocal or a sound made by certain objects. Each is unique and people recognize what is available by the sound of the kakilima guy. Its a pleasant part of Jakartan street life and an integral part of the food scene here in the city

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Jakarta Contrasts

I went for a stroll through my neighborhood and a drive around greater Jakarta with some friends the other day. The contrasts that exist in this city are striking. Huge housing complexes hosting multimillion dollar mansions dwarf makeshift shanty towns. Giant multinational corporations and enormous shopping plazas loom menacingly over tiny mom and pop "warungs". Brilliant green fields growing local produce butt up against dingy brown canals and dull grey roadways. The essence of Jakarta is in these contrasts and explains so well this teeming gotham of a city.

These images come from a community built on a swamp about a five minute drive from where I live. The people who live here pay 25$ a month to the landowner.

The living quarters and walkways built over the water.

The enormous Mall Artha Gading is across the street from the housing complex. Constuction in Kelapa Gading is progressing at a frenzied rate and show no signs of slowing down. Most likely the land where these houses are located will soon be developed.

One of Toyota's corporate buildings can be seen in the background.

A girl returning from a Saturday morning program at the complexes mosque. The walkways were sketchy to say the least. Fortunatley we had sveral kids tagging along and they told us which boards not to step on. Even so I broke through one of the boards much to their amusement.

Contrasting colors.

Just a kid hanging out.

An impromptu high jump competition.

Fast asleep.

On the street that parallels the complex are all sorts of small shops and other services including this apartment for doves.

For 500 rupiah (about 5 cents) a toddler gets a ride.

Below is a cemetery in Kemang, one of the more established neighborhoods in Jakarta and home to a large expat community.

Kemang cemetery

"Icy" trees

The central square in downtown Jakarta is home to the Monas statue.

Monas at sunset