Sunday, 5 May 2013

Indonesian Street Food - Food that Touches Your Heart

They say: 'the best way to a city heart is through its stomach'.

Couldn't agree more. By food, you will know a country's culture and tradition, even the people's characteristics. Food is my first priority when visiting a foreign country, because then I can feel the buzz and ambiance of the place I am visiting.

If you visit Indonesia, you'll find out that it is a very diverse country. It has 17,508 islands with 1,340 cultures, each with unique characteristics, which are often projected to specialty food in that area. For example, Javanese with their sweet dishes. And there's one thing that you are very likely to notice if you happen to visit Indonesia: we love our street food. We don't mind waiting in a queue in the middle of the night in front of a nasi goreng (fried rice) cart, and we don't mind waiting for a table in a very small and dimly light place to enjoy some portion of nasi kalong ('bat rice'; black rice served with various side dishes).

Of course, we do have a great number of restaurants offering varied types of cuisine, but really, it is the street food that screams the culture of the maker and homemade goodness more. It doesn't come from fancy places or cookery, its hygiene is often doubted, and it is not served on an antique set of ceramics. But those points are the ones that make street food shines.

Street food often comes from simple, humble carts or trolleys, operated with sometimes the most friendliest folks you can find in this planet, with great memorizing skill as well. The food doesn't come with any extravagant garnish or cutlery, thus your attention will not be distracted by anything but the food, the one that comes from super skilled hands and passionate hearts, not inferior to the bests of chefs'. There are also pinches of the maker or seller's culture characteristics, which makes it to be even more interesting.

Really, it touches your heart.

It certainly has touched my heart, big time. I am often impressed by restaurant's dishes, but the dishes that I will never forget are the ones on folded paper plates, plastic platters, and served by the man who remembers how many chilli that I like to be in my ketoprak (Indonesian style vermicelli salad served with peanut sauce).

Street food is a big part in my life history. My father is quite the hygiene-freak. Therefore, street food, with all its hygiene issues, is almost prohibited in the family. Maybe it is the reason why eating food from a street vendor, secretively, is a special and exciting occasion for me. You may find this weird, especially when people often consider eating at fancy restaurant as a treat, but street food has always been the more exciting part of culinary territory for me.

I remember spending my primary school days saving my allowance money to buy bigger portion of cicongfan (Medanese style rice sheets, served with deep fried items, fried shallots, and chilli sauce), or when I thought the best part of my high school days was the morning, when I got to buy my favourite bubur ayam (chicken porridge/congee) from a street vendor before going in. Martabak manis (Indonesian style pancake) has been the family favourite, and I remember how hyped I was when the father brought a fragrant box of it when he was home after work. In my childhood, one of the most exciting thing about going to the grandma's home was the nasi uduk (coconut-milk rice served with various side dishes) seller in front of the house. I also remember when my brother ate 100 skewers of sate ayam (chicken satays) in Puncak, and also how I cried when I went to Bandung without having some es duren (durian ice cream). Even now, I believe that my best date with the boyfriend was a dinner at nasi goreng street stall, and the best lunch with the mother was accompanied by spicy portion of gado-gado (Indonesian style vegetable salad). And I still think nothing beats bakso (meatball soup) from a street cart with words 'Bakso Dono' on for a rainy afternoon.

I also remember how fond I am to my favourite street food sellers and how friendly they are to me. How they know exactly how much I love my spicy food and that I go crazy with fried shallots and crackers. How they still greet me even when I am not buying their stuff and how they give an extra piece of siomay (steamed fish cake) just because I look 'pale' that day.

Like I said, it touches your heart.

Martabak manis (Indonesian style pancake; filled with chocolate, grounded peanuts, sesame seeds, condensed milk

Having decided to continue my study in Sydney, I have come to realize about how dependent I am to street food. There is no street food carts or bicycles doing rounds in my housing area, and therefore I have no life-saving nasi goreng (fried rice) cart in the middle of the night, when all I want is spicy, perfectly-cooked Indonesian fried rice. Of course, Maccas and Domino will always be there, but they won't make it for my midnight hunger pang.

Sydney has no shortage of great food or cuisine diversity whatsoever, but I found myself missing Indonesian street food more and more everyday.

Indonesia is indeed a growing country and there are luxurious and hip restaurants popping around, but try to peek around the corners, you may find a street food cart that can offer you a dining experience that you will not find anywhere else.

Sure thing, you can find the food items that I mentioned in restaurants, but sometimes the ones that are served on the side of the street will taste more homely, comfortable, and full of love.

And that is why it touches your heart.

Yeah, I know this post is different than my usual post. This one is an admission of Femina Foodlovers Blog Competition 2013, which I decided to take part of due to my undying love of Indonesian street food and my hunger to spread it to the world. I am currently chased by numerous essays and an afternoon shift clinical placement, which make me pretty much can't do anything else, but Indonesian street food is just too awesome to be kept silent. Indo street food FTW!

EDIT 25/05/2013: This post is one of the 10 winners of Femina Foodlovers Blog Competition 2013 (thanks, Femina!). So hyped, yay yay! Click here for the full list of winners: Femina Foodlovers Blog Competition 2013 Winners

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  1. I've only had Indo food once and ever since then, I understood why people go all crazy cray about it!

    1. You should go visit the country. I think you'll love it! :)

  2. I loved reading your new blog post and I hope you win the competition. I thought your post was well written and your love of street food radiates from the piece. I have not had street food before. I live in Australia too and we don't have street food except if you count the occasional hotdog and ice cream stands in various tourist spots.

    1. Naaww, thanks heaps, Carlyn! You're too sweet :)
      visit Indonesia sometime and I'll give you a personal tour hehe :)
      Thanks for dropping by!

  3. I hope you win the competition, Ren. Your writing brought tears in my eyes :')

    1. Naaww, thanks Zharina! You're too sweet!
      I hope you enjoy it, thanks for dropping by :)

  4. I just knew you submitted one! Nice and well-written ;) and now you're making me hungry as hell *cari abang nasi goreng tek-tek* lol

    1. Last-minute nih me haha.
      Gue kangen nasi goreng tek"..........
      Thanks me! :D

  5. Replies
    1. Thanks a lot, Noesje, really appreciate it! :D


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