One of the great things about living overseas is the opportunity to try new foods.
While just about every type of food can be found in the U.S., from Mongolian to Ethiopian and even Indonesian, it’s simply not the same as enjoying that country’s food while staying there. The spices are just a little different, the ingredients mixed in slightly different ways.
So we were excited when we first arrived in Indonesia and thought about all the possibilities.
After moving into our home, we hired a part-time pembantu, which is someone who cooks and cleans for you. Sort of like a wife without benefits. (Yes, I’ll be in big trouble at home for that comment)
Ibu Siti is great – a small ball of energy who cleans the whole house while cooking two perfect meals, and gets it all done in less than six hours so she can spend time with her teenage daughters and three year old son. She works just three days a week (she works for another family two other days), but generally prepares food for all seven days.
Ibu Siti is a wonderful cook, and quite versatile. In addition to traditional Indonesian fare, she sometimes makes mashed potatoes, a killer spaghetti sauce, and every once in a while a mean pork and sauerkraut dish. That’s an impressive offering in a Muslim country. It turns out she’s worked for German families for years.
I suspect past employers insisted she cook more European-style dishes, so it’s a struggle at times to make her understand that we would prefer Indonesian. She also has a deaf ear every time I tell her we would like less meat, so we still eat meat perhaps five dinners a week. But she is a great cook, and I’m grateful to have her working for us.
Home though is of course not the only place to eat. We have our favorite Indian restaurant, Gambrinus, conveniently located next to the kids’ school. But one of the best parts about eating overseas is the food stalls.
Now this presents particular problems for me, because I have Crohn’s Disease. This is an immune disorder – basically it’s an overactive immune system. Crohn’s can make me a bit more susceptible to stomach problems, from tainted food or bad water. It makes me more cautious, but I still try some of the food from street vendors.
Here, as in many developing countries, the vendors often make the food in front of you. Chicken is fried in a pot of grease on the side of a cart and served to you hot. The mie goreng (fried noodles) is stir-fried in a wok balanced on a rock along the edge of the road, along with the fried rice, or nasi goreng. Some guy passes by the house every day with two metal boxes suspended from either end of a pole that is balanced on his shoulders while he rings a bell, calling people to his baso, or meatballs. Even Sate is prepared street-side over a small hibachi, the vendor expertly fanning the flames with a folded newspaper or flapping towel.
We have already tried, or hope to take a run at just about all of the offerings before we leave. The kids particularly loved the pad Thai from street vendors in Bangkok. But the kids are refusing one particular dish called Sate Kelinci.
Its name rolls off the tongue sounding like a special cut of German meat. North of Bandung, along the road to the volcano I have written about in the past, Sate kelinci stands are everywhere. I first assumed it was a Bandung specialty of some sort, perhaps a chicken dish.
But on the way up, we also saw the cages.
We assumed they were pets. Cage upon cage, store after store, offering them up for sale. Soft, fluffy, bunnies. But rather than Easter gifts for the kids, these cages provide feeder stock for the kelinci industry just up the hill.
That’s right – “Bunnies – the other white meat.” Or perhaps, “Thumper – he’s what’s for dinner.”
We learned a valuable lesson that day – never eat until you check the translation. A timely lesson too. Not long after learning the dark truth about kelinci, we stumbled upon a restaurant serving Sate Kuta. I love Sate, but I decided to take a pass on this one as well. As Mister Ed might say, “A kuta is just a horse. Of course.”
I always wondered what happened to Ed after the show hit reruns.
Bunnies are not just for dinner here. They are also used as an art form. This sign publicizes an artist who carves bunnies out of wood