Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Childhood Memories

To me, no memory from my childhood is more vivid than those that are related to food. But of course, since I lived in Indonesia until I was eight, all of my childhood memories of food involves nothing but those from my native cuisine.

So to Kirk from mmm-yoso, who tagged me for this meme, just a warning: the food I will write about might be a little foreign to you (as it will be for anyone not from Indonesia), but oh well, I had fun writing it anyway!

And oh yeah, here's another set of rules and disclaimers by the initiators. I feel like the stuff in quotes below should be read by the guy who-talks-really-fast-at-the-end-of-over-the-counter-medicine-commercials-so-that-you-don't-actually-listen-to-it:

"The rules of this meme are simple. Write about five foods from your childhood that you miss...what's the catch? There is none, really. AND so that the people that started this darned thing can keep track of it, here's something else that you need to do:

Remove the blog at #1 from the following list and bump every one up one place; add your blog's name in the #5 spot; link to each of the other blogs for the desired cross-pollination effect. Then tag three people and you're over and done with it all."

1. BeautyJoyFood
2. eat stuff
3. 'Ono Kine Grindz
4. mmm-yoso!!!
5. Monster Munching


1. Martabak Telor

Sold only at the night markets on the streets of Semarang, by the flickering flame of a gas lantern, this pan fried snack starts out with a pliable dough. Expert hands then stretch and work the dough into a thin membrane as wide as a bed-sheet. It is slapped onto an oiled griddle and then a curry-seasoned mixture of minced meat (usually goat or beef), green onions, and beaten egg is spread thinly on top. The excess flaps of the dough sheet is quickly folded over and after a few minutes of cooking, this flat mass transforms into a crispy melange of goodness. It is then cut into rectangles, perfect for finger snacking. Not quite an omelette; not quite a pancake; not quite an egg roll; but exhibiting the characteristics of all three. You might have seen Tony Bourdain trying and loving a similar dish during the Singapore episode of A Cook's Tour.

2. Sate Gule Kambing

This is actually two dishes made from goat ("kambing"); one is a soup and the other is grilled. Eventhough both dishes are unique in and of themselves, these two distinct preparations are meant to be eaten together. Like "fish and chips", you simply cannot have one without the other. Unlike fish and chips though, the soup is the "yin" to the sate's "yang". The whole meal becomes a perfect balance of asymmetric flavors and textures. The soup, called gule (pronounced 'guh-lay'), is curry-based. Made from simmering the bones and fatty, gristly meat of the goat in a big pot, it is rich and unctuous. But the consistency is surprisingly thin, with a subtle creaminess coming from coconut milk. The sate (pronounced "sa-tay"), on the other hand, is simply prepared. To make it, the most tender pieces of the goat is cut and threaded onto bamboo skewers. Then the skewers are cooked quickly over a charcoal fire. As soon as they are done they get brushed with a glaze made from a mixture of kecap manis, lime juice, and white pepper. The two dishes are enjoyed in concert with hot rice. I alternate between tearing a chunk of meat from the sate with my teeth and then taking a sip of the hot soup.

3. Soto Ayam

This is probably my favorite Indonesian dish of all. The best version, in my opinion, comes from my hometown of Semarang. In a ramshackle structure built of spare aluminum siding and tattered fabric, the family that owns this street-side "warung" wakes up every morning before dawn preparing simmering vats of soto, a shredded chicken soup seasoned with turmeric and other spices. Order a bowl and you see them assemble your breakfast. Rice, bean thread noodles, celery leaves and diced green onion go in first. Then it is doused with the clear, hot soup, garnished with crumbled fried garlic and shallots. But no bowl of soto is complete without some sort of side dish. The most common one is perkedel, a deep-fried mashed potato fritter. My favorite side dish, though, is a bowl of stewed bloody-clams and boiled egg. The kecap manis it is steeped in imparts a deep, sweet flavor and a dark, brown color; the perfect accompaniment to the bright yellow of the soup.

4. Nasi Pecel

This dish I remember because I ate so much of it one day on a trip to Surabaya that I was literally rendered motionless with a food coma. My mother chided me for gorging myself to this state, but I didn't care. Heck, I ate the same amount the next day. How could I resist this salad of boiled kangkung (Chinese watercress), bean sprouts, and string beans, dressed in a peanut sauce that was spiked with chilis, tamed with coconut milk, and made addictive with other unknown spices. This dish harnesses the non-translateable Indonesian word "SEDAP!". The closest I can get to an English translation is "lip-smacking, mouth-watering, refreshing, and savory." And even that doesn't do it justice! And oh yeah, no plate of nasi pecel is complete without kripik kacang, a typical accompaniment; a thin sheet of fried crunchy batter dotted with peanuts.

5. Nasi Ayam

This dish holds a special place in my heart because I remember eating it outside my grandmother's porch in Semarang. The nasi ayam lady would come around with her wares dangled on a long stick slung over her shoulder. After taking a seat on a portable stool, she'd peel a single banana leaf, tuck one side over the other, making a cone. Inside this cone, she would scoop a little rice, pour on some opor ayam, which is a thick soup made with coconut milk and chicken, quarters of boiled egg, and stew of julienned chayote, tofu and chilis. Then I'd eat the dish with a "spoon" improvised from a strip of banana leaf, folded and creased into a rudimentary scoop.

Pam of Daily Gluttony, MealCentric (he's on vacation), Diamond Dog, "Tag. You're it."


At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elmo - Nice job, great job - I learned a bunch reading this.

At 7:17 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


It was quite fun writing that! So I am glad you liked it.

Also, for anyone's who is still interested, the titles to the dishes are hyperlinked to photos I've found on the web of the dishes I described.

At 3:34 AM, Blogger arma said...

My father is a Semarang native and whenever he takes us to visit my paternal grandmother, those visits are always centred on food. We could be eating five meals a day! Semarang has always been about food for me. I dare say it must have been hard to limit yourself to just five dishes!


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