Countries Visited

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Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Indonesian Food: The Brightest on Earth?

Indonesia is a big country with many ethnic groups. This equates to lots of different food. We were somewhat disappointed with the food choices when we first arrived, but by the time we had left, we knew how to find the diamonds in the mist. Or something like that. A lot of pictures, so I'll try to keep the commentary brief and funny.

Muslims (ie most of Indonesia) don't eat pork, but Bali is mostly Hindu and loves pork. Here I am with pork sate (spelled satay in Malaysia), and, amazingly, vegetables. That's right--they eat vegetables in Indonesia!
Gad0-gado is peanut sauce with some vegetables on the side. Or at least the peanut sauce is the part worth eating. And the shrimp cracker things, which come with everything in Indonesia.
Oreos that taste like ice cream? What could they mean by "real ice cream flavor"? They mean menthol. Apparently, ice cream tastes like menthol if you are Asian, but they are still good. Also, they are blueberry, and Indonesians would eat poop if you told them that it was blueberry flavored.
Speaking of which, blueberry Fanta is popular and tastes a bit like...fake blueberry. More importantly, they have Speculaas, aka windmill cookies! As far as I can tell, the Dutch left their colonies with two good things: canals for sewage and windmill cookies.
Es teler, which roughly translates as "ice with whatever we have laying around that day" is a tasty treat in which the ice melts in the heat of Indonesia in between five and ten seconds. Some are tastier than others because you never know what they might add. I freaked out a bit when one place added shredded cheddar cheese to the top...
Bintang is the unofficial beer of Indonesia. I suspect it pays enough bribes to keep lax liquor laws in a Muslim country that it would be the official government beer if Muslim countries were allowed to have official beers. Tara says it isn't bad.
On two-for-one special was banana nectar! I love banana nectar (though not as much as peach)! So, I had no choice but to buy two. Sure, they were imported from Austria, but they were cheap and good.
This Indonesia fruit is called salud, and sounds like people are offering you salad. No, I don't want your salad. A type of palm fruit, they feel like scales. Inside are a couple of big pits surrounded by fleshy fruit that tastes a bit like a lychee, but not as juicy. Tara really didn't like them, but she once vomitted lychees for several hours while seasick, so she hates anything remotely like a lychee.
We went to a famous place in Bali that makes suckling pig. The place was crammed full of tourists and locals alike, but the food was not nearly as good as the southern barbecue that we often crave.
And they had this really great pig fountain to boot. Indonesia is the first country since Argentina to have its own brand of knock-off M&Ms. The verdict: Chachas might be better than peanut M&Ms. Long live Chachas!
We splurged on an all duck dinner, paying a whopping $6 each for a half duck. Tara had them fry hers until nothing was left but fry. My grilled duck was really good, though, and I normally don't care much for duck. Except for DuckTales, possibly the best cartoon series ever made.
Sop Ayam means chicken soup. What you get when you ordered it is as varied as what you get when you order chicken soup in the US. They always come with rice, though, unlike soup in the US...
Fried bananas! We first found these in Flores, where we stayed to see the Komodo dragons and dive. They weren't as good as Madagascar fried bananas, the gold standard in fried bananas, but they were cheap and decent and really fried.
Avocado shakes are popular in most of Indonesia, despite the general lack of avocados growing in the country. They always have chocolate syrup in them, which seems weird. I don't really like avocado shakes or chocolate syrup, but Tara loves them enough to keep her from crying when she lost this card game to me.
The drink on the left is this person's version of Es Teler. The one on the right, which looks basically identical in this picture, is actually a coconut drink with huge chunks of young coconut in it. Plus some crazy jelly stuff thrown in for fun.
Mie goreng, or fried noodles, are everywhere. The first time I ordered them, I didn't realize that they are always served with a fried egg or omelette on top. Fortunately, it was as flat and solid as it looks in this picture, so I could lift it right off and display it next to my plate like a piece of art. (For those who aren't regular readers, neither Tara nor I really like eggs by themselves. Yuck, eggs.)
We kept seeing this stuff called Tehbotol, which Tara finally figured out meant "tea bottle". Yeah, seems easy when you read it, but not so easy if you don't have us to tell you. In any case, we saw them everywhere, but hadn't tried them until we made friends with a little old lady at the convenience stand (what a convenience store becomes if it is just a case outside a woman's house) near our hotel in a part of Bali where they never have tourists. She sold us these at what must have been her cost so that we would stay and talk to her. They are a jasmine tea, and pretty good.
Indonesians love donuts. This works well since I also love donuts. Dunkin' Donuts has much better flavors like mango-filled and blueberry. Some of the flavors not pictured, like orange-lychee, turned out not to be as good.
Es buah, which I think means "ice honey", was so bright that this picture was taken in complete darkness with no flash. Or at least it seemed that bright. Each jelly and fruit was a different weird flavor and texture.
Java has what are known as siomay, which are meats covered in gelatinous rice. We didn't know that when we ordered them, and the basic one is fish if you don't upgrade to a real meat. As it turns out, they are gross. We ordered two of them each and managed to eat about a third of one. The greenbean bundles were better. The owner spoke really good English and made fun of us for not liking them.
This looks like tofu or tempeh covered in peanut sauce, but the peanut sauce is all that really matters. Tempeh is really popular in Indonesia, though, and it is better than tofu.
McDonald's in Indonesia (and Malaysia) has flavor burst cones. Very tasty. And for those who are asking how we could eat at McDonald's, we suggest you leave the country for a year and then see if you don't stop for some soft serve.
I have a habit, especially at places selling sweets, of pointing at a bunch of things without asking what they are. In this case, everything looked good and I saw them putting dessicated coconut on all the sweets. But, Indonesians like to fill their sweets with bad, sulphurous flavors. I managed to eat them all, but these were the last sweets I bought on the streets of Indonesia.
On the heels of that, I bought a bag of random fried foods for breakfast the next morning. Thanks to Tara's amazing Indonesian vocabulary of at least ten words, I narrowly missed a brush with a fish filled one. They weren't bad, but most were filled with various pastes and mixtures that I will never be able to identify.
In the supermarket, we found about ten things that looked like what we call Asian pears. Tara loves Asian pears, and they were cheaper than in the US, so she bought one. This one turned out to be a not-too-excellent normal pear. Sad.
Bakso is a soup that has noodles, vegetables, tofu, balls that seem like matzo balls, a wonton, and whatever else they might have available. It turned out to be really good and we had it a few times.
Here is the cart that sells the bakso. They just throw the stuff from the windows into the bowl and add broth from the pot.
Back to McDonald's for a blueberry sundae. They love that blueberry in Indonesia!
More than once, we saw stands selling "Pop Ice". You buy this little pouch of stuff that a woman (selling Pop Ice seems only to be done by women) adds with ice and water to a blender and out pops an amazing milk shake. Or at least the package seems to indicate that. At a festival, we broke down and bought one. It was just okay.
But the stand that sells them looks nice. We got mango, but it was tough to pass on the durian flavor.
Mie ayam means noodle chicken and looks like this. It is available everywhere, and is pretty good. Especially if you are trapped in a little shack selling them during a downpour for about an hour. You'd probably find yourself eating at least a couple of bowls.
What kind of juice does an Indonesian drink? Blueberry, of course. They add additional, fake blueberry flavor, though, because they like fake blueberry a bit more than real blueberry.
Indonesia is a country where the local buses constantly have people coming through selling things. The vendor selling this thing was doing brisk business and I had seen similar grilled rice patties elsewhere and was curious to try them. As it turns out, they taste exactly like they look. Smash some boiled rice together and throw it on the grill for a few minutes. Indonesians love rice almost as much as blueberries, so they go nuts for these things.
We took shared taxis in Sumatra, and one of them stopped at this snack store that had a lot of crazy things. I immediately bought a package of a dozen of these green things based solely on the bright green color. They turned out to be like a tortilla filled with some sweet stuff made from I don't know what. Not terrible.
We discovered soto ayam too late in our trip. A coconut-based broth with noodles and chicken, it is really good. We went back to this restaurant a second time even though it took almost an hour to prepare the food even though we were the only customers.
After seeing Yakult everywhere, Tara finally broke down and bought some. What is Yakult you ask if you aren't married to a yogurt expert or Asian? Yakult is a drinkable yogurt drink that is supposed to be healthy for you and is incredibly popular in much of Asia. It tastes like a lime if you left the lime sitting on your counter for a couple of months and then ate it.
Our guidebook called this the best gado-gado (vegetables with peanut sauce) in all of Indonesia. The peanut sauce (ie the only part that matters) was really good. Tara insisted that some of the vegetables tasted like cleaning fluid, though.
We bought these giant deep fried leaves immediately when we saw them. The leaves didn't taste like much, so it really just tasted like fried, but look how healthy those leaves look. Try it at home--just grab some leaves, bread, and fry!
We have mentioned durians a few times--they taste like sweet, metallic garlic and many Asians love them. They smell, however, like rotting flesh, so many places ban them. This is from our hotel.
Possibly the most popular drink in Indonesia is called Pocari Sweat. Despite the terrible name, I finally broke down and tried it. If you collected your sweat and added a bit of lemon juice, this is what it would taste like. It was like licking my armpit. Yum.
Well, that wraps up our foods of Indonesia. Sorry for the long post. Now for the summary: Indonesian food isn't that bad, with a few really good items, but it isn't the best. We expect the rest of Southeast Asia to be better.


  1. lol @ 'licking your armpit'. I enjoyed this almost as much as I did reading the one about Ghana. I must say you guys are very open minded, not o mention brave about trying some of the foods you encounter. I would definately have balked at trying that es teler drink and the gago-gado. But a few others look really good, like the bright icecream, the noodle chicken, that fried thing you said you had for breakfast and the very first picture of the pork, vegetables and rice. The fried noodles don't lokk half bad either.
    I like how you don't ramble on, on your post but just give us summaries of the pictures we are seeing.
    Take care and have fun.

  2. This is my first opportunity to visit this part of North Africa, so I am going to be able to go back home and talk about this beautiful country and encourage Americans to travel here.
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  3. Hi ;)
    I'm Malaysian but now lives in Australia and I can't believe how much you guys have missed in your childhood. I've been eating durian since I was a kid and they are so good! There are even more fruits and food varieties that Australia doesn't have.
    When I first came to Australia, I couldn't believe that Australians could just eat beef, pie and salty chips and love them. I mean, I get bored eating those after a week!
    I've been to Bali as well and the food is just like Malaysian foods. I'm not saying that the foods were amazing or you're not open-minded, I'm just trying to point out that you guys really did miss out on a lot.
    America's a big country. They should have multicultural restaurants and convenience store where you can get things like ice cream oreos and Yakults. Australia has it, and I really do hope that the world actually be more multicultured than it is now.

    Not to be rude, take care
    S ;)