A cornucopia of ‘chip’ delicacies

chicken and noodles and bakso

chicken and noodles and bakso

Street food vendors are a common sight in Batam and throughout Indonesia. They are usually wheeled carts of various descriptions that are rolled into place on a favorite street corner or location, often at night along certain roads. One might sell bakso, a brown soup with meatballs and very thin rice noodles. Or they might offer up local sweets or fruit drinks. Or chicken and beef sate and sticky rice.

A type that I have long avoided, however, primarily because I really wasn’t sure what they were selling, are the carts offering various kinds of chips. Yes, like potato chips. In fact, these carts usually have several varieties of fresh-made potato chips, some coated with hot sauce, some with other flavors. I have recently taken a liking to these snacks.

One in particular I like are the banana chips, fried slices of banana. Very tasty as a snack and probably far better nutritionally than a U.S.-type potato chip, which I avoid due to their fattening qualities. Thanks to a friend, I’m now experiencing even more of these chips, and I still don’t know what they are in some cases.

street vendor

street vendor with chips

Take, for instance, my recent foray out to the street in front of my apartment, where a block down there are at least eight of these chip carts, usually with one or two women in the hijab scarves who will try to hail you down as you walk by. I was looking to restock my banana chips and also was looking for a sweet chip I had recently tasted. It’s a basic flour tortilla with a caramel-like coating.

This was last night. I had trouble locating a cart with the sweet chips, although they all had banana chips. At each stop, the women would try to sell me on other chips, not knowing I had a particular one in mind. You can even taste the chips before purchasing, usually in units of a half kilo or kilo.

Finally, I found a cart with both chips and proceeded to ask for a half kilo of each. Since I had already purchased banana chips in this area, I knew what the prices were – Rp 20,000 for a half kilo – so I didn’t dicker about the price.

To my surprise, the woman asked for Rp 70,000 for the two bags of chips, roughly US$5.50. Now, one thing I hate here is when the locals try to take advantage of us bules in such a way, so I immediately reacted. I laughed, said “You’ve got to be kidding,” and tossed the bags onto the cart, saying “Keep it,” as I walked away. Not the most politically correct way to act here but being taken advantage of is not necessary and will certainly not bring me back for more.

Today, I decided to try again – on the same street, with the same carts. Again, the people at the carts did not know what I was looking for – the sweet chips – and tried to sell me everything else from their colorful arrays of chip selections displayed in glass. I kept looking, carefully avoiding the cart that tried to overcharge me the night before.

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Finally, I found what I was looking for. The nice lady at the cart also initially tried to overcharge me but this time I negotiated first. She wanted Rp 30,000 per half kilo of both the chips I wanted but I told her only Rp 20,000. She smiled and nodded OK.

While I was waiting for her to load my haul into plastic bags, she kept handing me “tastes” of other chips. One was a brown bird’s nest type of thing and I couldn’t quite figure out the taste. Another looked green under the fried coating, was salty and may have been fried seaweed. It was tasty, whatever it is, and will be asked for next time.

I paid the Rp 40,000 for the two bags of snacks and headed home, content that I had conducted this little bit of shopping properly this time. Negotiate first, but if you can’t get what you want, walk away. The price will almost always come down.

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Restaurant Review – De’ Bottle

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When I’m in another country (besides the U.S.), I like to eat local. That’s not always the case with Westerners visiting Southeast Asia, who often seemed compelled to search out the nearest Hooters, or Starbucks, or even McDonald’s. So, since I’ve been in Batam, the only Western restaurant I’ve eaten at has been Goodies at Smiling Hill, where I worked for 2 1/2 years and where my meals were part of the compensation. Very good food, mind you, but not much Indonesian.

But when a friend’s birthday came up Saturday, and a birthday dinner was needed, I decided to try a relatively new place in Batam Centre that has been getting lots of attention – De’ Bottle. It’s a long, relatively expensive taxi ride from Nagoya to the restaurant, which sits in an obscure shophouse area near a major intersection.

Since my friend asked two of her friends to join us, there were four for dinner. Unfortunately for me, the two other guests spoke no English. They also apparently had little experience in a Western-style restaurant or its menu. They were very curious, for example, when bottled mineral water was brought to the table. I have no idea what they said about it but I could only imagine their disbelief that there was some kind of “special” water that cost more than regular water.

De’ Bottle has an interesting atmosphere, kind of like an open-air pub in the U.S., with wooden, park-like benches and long tables meant for groups. There are two main floors, on the ground and four floors up (a small elevator can take 5-6 people at a time up or down). Above the fourth floor is a walk-up deck. We were there past 10 pm and there was still a good crowd on all three levels, although it looked like most of the mostly local crowd was just sitting around talking, smoking and drinking.

We took the elevator to the fourth floor, which is open to the sky and where you can see the traffic below.

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Wanting to have my guests try something out of their comfort zone, I ordered two appetizers, having to assure the ladies they could order anything else they wanted. Two simple items – fried calamari and chile con queso. About 20 minutes after ordering, and having already been served our drinks (including the aforementioned mineral water and two fruit thingies), and about the time I would expect the appetizers to be arriving, the waiter informed me the two menu items were not available.

OK, it was late, and sometimes here the food runs out, so on to plan B. Everyone then ordered what they wanted – chicken quesadillas, chicken sandwich with fries, pasta bolognese, and a beef knuckle and rice dish. (I guess Indonesians can be just like Westerners wanting food they are used to even when given a unique chance for something new.)

My quesadillas arrived second, after we were served a buffalo wings appetizer we didn’t order and sent back. We shared my meal because it was taking a long time to get food. Then the beef knuckles/rice were served, and sat waiting for 15 minutes for the other two dishes. The chicken sandwich was hard, probably due to microwaving; the past was congealed in a ball under the sauce, but at least the sauce was tasty.

In all, the food was, at best, lacklustre. The service was terrible. And I was embarrassed I had brought my guests to this restaurant. On a positive note, the prices were reasonable.

De’ Bottle may, indeed, be a great place to drink and party, but the food is not a reason to go.

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A new home

Normally, when I move, at least in the past five years, it’s been fodder for significant discussion. A new place, far away. A new culture, a different language. My move this week was somewhat different.

I moved today from a 0ne-room studio to a one-bedroom, 2-bath upgrade – in the same building, one floor down.

A major advantage is that the new place is on the opposite side of the building, meaning facing the alley in back. The street noise will no longer be a problem, although I will miss being able to watch the street scene below from my window.

I’ve still got some connection problems to resolve, including wiring my satellite service to my new location,but otherwise it looks like a great move. Spock has taken to it, too. I have even already put my collected art on the walls for display. In the pictures below, you will notice a cat-themed motif for the bedspread. I think Miss Kitty is moving in.

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