Archive | May, 2011

Le Snacking/Het Snacken*

28 May

It’s been a while since my last post, but I’m finally ready to blog my sneukeltour across Europe (or at least, a small portion of Europe). (Incidentally, a sneukeltour is Flemish for a trip devoted to eating and drinking. Which is what my vacation kind of turned out to be.)

I’m kicking off the series the same way I kicked off the vacation, with a beer and some porky snacks.

Train nibbles

Of course, this being the Eurostar, the can of beer is Leffe and the meat bits are tiny, bite-sized salamis. Trust Europeans to class up the Slim Jim.

Next stop on the sneukeltour: SOK eats and drinks through the fairy-tale city of Bruges.

*In honor of Belgium’s bilingualism, I’ve titled the post in French and Flemish. Or rather Dutch, because Google Translate doesn’t have Flemish as an option.

A jackfruit for all seasons: Borobodur and Nasi Gudeg

17 May

Another day in Yogya, another temple visit and regional specialty. Yogyakarta’s more famous archaeological site is Borobodur, said to be the largest Buddhist stupa in the world.

The stupas of Borobodur

The main stupa is surrounded by 72 smaller stupas, each containing a Buddha statue. This sits on top of three stone levels, each carved with chapters from the story of Buddha’s enlightenment; the full pilgrim’s circuit equals about 5km (or 2.5 miles) in distance.

The best time to go to Borobodur is early in the morning, because 1) most of the tourists haven’t gotten there, and 2) it’s still a comfortable temperature. Plus, Borobodur looks especially beautiful with the morning mists.

See?

Unfortunately, this also required us to get up at 5 in the morning, missing the hotel’s breakfast. You can imagine how hungry and under-caffeinated we were after temple-viewing. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of entrepreneurs waiting to take advantage of this captive audience. We stopped at one of the stalls to get some much needed coffee and breakfasted on Yogya’s other specialty, nasi gudeg.

Does this look like fruit to you?

Nasi gudeg is rice (nasi) served with young jackfruit that’s been cooked in coconut milk with palm sugar and various spices, including teak leaves, which I didn’t realize until now were edible. (The gudeg is the brown stuff on the left.) I ordered it complit (means just what it sounds like — thank goodness for loanwords), so it also came with a stewed chicken of some sort and some fried tofu. Breakfast of champions.

Gudeg is hard to describe; it looks like a beef dish (thanks to the teak leaves’ brown color), and it has an unusually meaty texture for being plant-based. It was nothing like the young jackfruit curry I had in Malaysia — which I prefer, for its spiciness.

And that’s it for Java! (This time, anyway.) If all goes as planned, SOK will be back with reports on Belgian beer and Parisian bistros in the next post.

Everybody loves fried chicken

13 May

You’d think that the most famous dish from a place like Yogyakarta — a city steeped in Javanese tradition and surrounded by ancient temples — would be something exotic and complicated. But no, it’s ayam goreng, or fried chicken.

Southern-hemisphere fried chicken

Okay, so Yogya’s fried chicken is a little more complicated and exotic than KFC. The chicken is poached in a mixture of coconut water, palm sugar, and bumbu (Indonesian for “secret spice paste”), then deep-fried without batter. Our initial encounter with ayam goreng Yogyakarta was on our first in Yogya, after touring the ancient Hindu temple complex at Prambanan.

Obligatory photogenic temple shot

We had some time to kill before the Ramayana ballet performance later that night, and we didn’t want to eat at the rather touristy on-site restaurant, so we asked our driver to take us somewhere with good Indonesian food. “Ayam goreng OK?” Yes, please!

It turns out that the place he took us, Ayam Goreng Mbok Berek, is kind of famous, as it’s run by the family of the woman credited with coming up with the recipe. (See the link for a full history.) It’s definitely a unique and delicious dish: the poaching tenderizes the meat and infuses it with flavor. (We weren’t sure what the crunchy bits on top were, but according to the Wall Street Journal article I linked to, it’s fried marinade.) It tasted less like classic fried chicken, and more like an extremely crisp-skinned roast. We regretted ordering the half bird, because we could have finished a whole one easily.

Sadly, not all ayam goreng is created equal; we ordered it at a cafe we picked for its cheap beer (that was probably our first mistake), but it was nowhere near as satisfying. So remember, always order your ayam goreng from a place that has a venerable Indonesian lady on its menu.

The geneology of the Mbok Berek dynasty

Java in Java

10 May

Coffee, the Javanese way

I’m kicking off the wrap-up of my trip to Yogyakarta (pronounced Jogjakarta) with a post on its most iconic beverage: coffee. Yes, coffee is called java because some of it actually comes from Java (though more of it comes from Sumatra, I think).

Coffee isn’t exactly new to me, obviously (since I’ve been drinking it since I was 12), but the Indonesian process is unique. Instead of bothering with coffee machines or presses or all that humbug, coffee is prepared by putting grounds directly in the cup and pouring in hot water. (I also suspect that the coffee is ground in a mortar and pestle, given the lack of small appliances.) This is almost always served sweetened; though you could probably ask for it not to be, the concept of unsweetened coffee — or any beverage — might be too much for a Javanese person to wrap their head around. (The Javanese seem to have a sweet tooth even stronger than Malaysians. I got a ginger tea at one coffee shop, and was offered sugar; when I tried the tea, I found that it was already sweet, and the sugar was in case it wasn’t sweet enough.) I normally take my coffee black, but with the stronger Indonesian stuff (did I mention that the grounds are in your cup?), a little sugar isn’t so bad.

Sadly, I missed my chance to try kopi luwak, the famous (or infamous?) “civet cat coffee” that’s the most expensive comestible to have been processed through the digestive tract of a small, adorable mammal. (And yes, that’s really how it’s made. Don’t be fooled by the Vietnamese version, which skips the luwak in favor of the lab.) Guess I’ll have to wait for my next trip to Indonesia.