Friday, May 30, 2014

Street Food For Da Win

If one was to Google the most popular foods of Indonesia, the usual list to come up would have to be:
  1. Nasi Goreng: Indonesian fried rice. This varies from city to city, but I can promise that it’s nothing like the greasy fried rice you can pick up from your local Panda Express. Nasi goreng from Indonesia is rich in spices, chiles, and can also include different options of protein such as chicken, fried egg, Indonesian sausage, seafood, or even rabbit. 
    Typical Nasi Goreng
  2. Rendang: Rendang hails from the island of Sumatra which fortunately for me, is the island that my host dad is from. This dish is comprised of coconut milk, garlice, lemon grass, tender beef, and a slew of chiles depending on who’s cooking. The cook time for this dish can take up to twelve hours, but the effort pays off. CNN has named it the best food in the world.
  3. Sambal: Samabl, in short, is a dish of ground chiles, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, and whatever other spices the chef is in the mood for throwing in, but emphasis on the chiles. Indonesians slather the spicy sambal onto nearly every dish they eat, and no two sambal concoctions are ever the same. Beware. A little bit goes a long way.
While all of these foods are staples in the diets of many Indonesians, what the Google lists of Indonesian foods often fail to mention are the uncommon local street food inventions that the common people have created. Without trying some of these delicacies, the list of popular Indonesian foods wouldn’t be complete. So without further ado, here are some of my personal favorites that can be found on the streets of Bandung. 

Lumpia Basah
 Number one on the list of favorite street foods is my all time favorite, lumpia basah. Lumpia basah is essentially the Indonesian equivalent of a burrito, except it’s fifty million times better. The chef will first throw some baby bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and a whole egg into a wok and drown it in oil. They’ll ask if you want it spicy, but I don’t usually say yes unless I want my mouth to cry for a few hours. While that’s cooking in the wok, the chef will then make a crepe-like shell on a piping hot plate. I always find myself impressed with the precision and perfection of the chef’s skilled hands that never fails to make a perfectly circular shell, browned, but still soft on the outside. After just a few seconds on the hot plate, the chef slathers the shell in a sweet, peanuty-tasting sauce whose ingredients, despite my attempt to get them out of the street vendor, won’t be revealed to me. After a little more than a minute, the ingredients from the wok are dumped onto the sauce-drenched shell and rolled up into a banana leaf like a burrito.You can get lumpia basah for US $0.60.

Soto Ayam
My next favorite street food in Bandung would have to be soto ayam. Soto ayam is made from time to time in my home, but I have found that it tastes best when slurped under a tarp in the torrential rain. Soto ayam is essentially soup. For those that know me well, you know that I don’t do soup under any circumstances. But the Indonesians have a special flare with coconut milk, chicken, chilies, cabbage, stringy vegetables, and lime. Best served hot and, of course, with a bowl of rice on the side. This one will cost no more than $1. 

Martabak Manis

My final absolute favorite is martabak manis. Martabak has been compared to American pancakes but I think the only thing they have in common is their fat content and sugar. Martabak hails in the street food world, and only few are able to execute it well. Cooks start with a few cups of batter made from flour, sugar, vanilla, and plenty of eggs to make the end result nice and fluffy. The reason that martabak isn’t made in the home is because it requires a special pan and a source of high heat. Most vendors cook their martabak right over hot coals. After cooking in the special pan, you’re left with a large, circular slab of “Indonesian pancake” which is then drenched in condensed milk and whatever other toppings you choose. My personal favorite is shredded, white, cheddar cheese. (Side note: Indonesians have this strange obsession with canned, condensed milk and it’s literally put on every desert or sweet food in this country, whether it be banana cheese or a glass of chocolate Milo.) You can get a box of martabak enough for three people for no more than $2.50. 

Bonus Round:

1. Makaroni Basah: Super spicy macaroni thrown in a wok and fried with egg $0.50
2. Keju Aroma: Literally translates to “cheese smell” but it’s actually thin strips of cheese fried in a sweet batter 5 pieces/$0.50
3. Es Kelapa Jeruk: Fresh coconut water and fresh orange juice swirled together. BEst if sipped directly from the coconut $0.75
4. Mie Ayam: Shredded chicken, noodles, a sweet sauce, assorted green vegetables, and some spicy broth $0.80
5. Kolgo: I don’t like cabbage but, I devour it when it’s fried 1 plate/$0.10 
6. Buah Segar: Fresh fruit straight from the fields and trees. My favorites are melon, mangos, papaya, oranges, baby bananas and snake fruit.