Food for thought

One of the cultural things you have to  expect in Indonesia is a group of strangers showing up unannounced at your home, brought there by an Indonesian friend of yours. At Christmas two years ago, this happened to me when my girlfriend at the time showed up at my apartment with nine people, including her father. They were mostly her family, including five children, but I had never seen them before. Her father brought me a gift, a watch, which prompted me to give him something very valuable – a Boston Red Sox hat.

I ordered a seafood pizza for the crowd, which devoured it in a couple of minutes. They just sat around chatting awhile before leaving.

This happened again today when a friend showed up with four of her friends. Two were interested in the apartments for rent here. Luckily, I had some tea almost ready to drink, only needing sugar. And then I went out to get some fried treats from a street vendor I pass on my way to the wet market every week. I had no idea what I was ordering – four (empat) of those, four of those, four of those, I said. They were Rp1,000 each, or less than 10 cents. Of course, when I returned, my guests were leaving, leaving me with the plate of food below. One of these is called bakwan, a second I’m sure is tofu and the third tasted like a vegetable and had a white flesh.


An assortment of fried Indonesian foods

I’ve been wanting to take pictures of some of my meals here, if only to show people that living on a budget here does not mean eating poorly. Quite the contrary. Below is my breakfast today – eggs simmered in real butter, bakwan and tofu (with strawberry jam), and a mix of pork, green and red peppers, and onion, seasoned with rosemary and thyme. Bacon would have been good but I haven’t yet found any in Batam, so pork was substituted.

My dinners sometimes can look spectacular, and taste just as good – grilled grouper the other night (fantastic) with Indonesian-spiced noodles, or grilled pompano with mashed potatoes and seasoned greens.




An Indonesian mall

The Avava Mall is about two blocks from my apartment, in the middle of the Indonesian population. It is where I had a “cream bath massage” two weeks ago and where I almost rented an apartment. The cream bath, incidentally, is a cream treatment and massage of your head – about $4.50. The mall is definitely for locals, as I was the only expat in sight. The pictures here are of a department store within the mall. Prices are much better here than in places where the expats shop. Wonder why.

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Bought this vegetable at the fresh market. not sure what it is but added it to a beef soup. Tasted like a turnip. The other picture is of pak choy and spinach (I think), with garlic, before cooking.



Above the fray


The street below in kampung bule

Well, here I sit on the roof of my apartment building, watching the chaotic scene four stories below. I’ve been meaning to bring m y laptop up here to document the goings-on below and finally remembered. The laptop light I purchased in Costa Rica four years ago is also coming in handy, as it’s well after sundown. So with a Jack and Diet and a smoke on hand, let me tell you what I see almost every night when I come up here to relax and reflect.

First, the roof. The space is 30 yards by 50 yards, all open air except for about half, which has a high, corrugated roof over it. There are water tanks and TV antennas up here, lots of old bar furniture and the debris of the construction going on below. A 3-foot-high concrete wall encloses the entire area. At night, it is quite pleasant up here, often with cool breezes flowing. I usually come up right after my evening extended exercise walk and other exercises.

The big oak-covered taxi stand

The big oak-covered taxi stand

I think, as I sit, I’m facing west, with the Panorama Hotel looming large only a block away. Just past that is an intriguing street that doubles as a food and clothing bazaar or market. It extends several blocks and is a hub of activity at night and especially in the morning. To my right, three blocks away, is the Planet Holiday Hotel. To my left about a block away is the fresh market where I buy my meats, fish, vegetables and fruit. It sits in the midst of a bustling business district. Below me is kampung bule, the bar district. My laptop is sitting precariously on the 4-inch-wide concrete wall.

One of the pop-up restaurants. The other is usually set up where you see the reflection and car in the back

One of the pop-up restaurants. The other is usually set up where you see the reflection and car in the back

There is a busy intersection below, without any traffic signals, and I often just watch in amazement as the cars, motorcycles and pedestrians weave there way around each other without any discernible discord and, so far, no accidents. There seems to be some sort of tacit agreement among all these groups just to get along, make way for each other, and get on with their travels.

Right next to the taxi stand, abutting the first building on the block, is one of those “pop-up” restaurants I’ve mentioned before. They start setting yp about 4:30 six nights a week, putting up two 24×24 foot canopies, with tables for ix set up below. At the end closest to me, the barbeque chef has his grill going for the steady stream of fish and chicken orders he has every night. It’s fascinating to watch how he creates and works his coals. I think I’ve finally learned how to do grilling properly – from 40 feet up.

The main kitchen is at the other end of the tent. There, you will find fresh fish displayed on ice for you to choose. They have a wide menu range and I don’t have a clue what most of them are.I did order a meal for two, takeaway, and it came to $5 – BBG fish and chicken, baby keylan, rice, iced tea.

Just 100 feet to the west, and nestled actually one lane into the adjoining road, sits another pop-up. They also set up before sundown. Their menu is a little smaller but the BBQ chicken, greens, rice and iced tea that I had the one time I ate there was good, and only$2.70.

As I’m typing, one of the characters in this local nightly play has just arrived. The Troubadours are small groups of boys who walk around town serenading any outside diners (and there are a lot) and passing around a tip jar. There is always just one guy with a junk guitar, frayed and badly tuned strings, who thinks he can sing and, therefore, leads the band. He will have 2-4 others along for the ride, more or less, as all they contribute is what couldn’t really be called singing. I see two or three of these groups during my maybe one-hour roof visit and I guess they keep coming all night long, with different diners to entertain.

And before I forget, these pop-up are serving until 4 a.m., as they wait for the bar crowd to get off at 2 or 3 in the morning. I can hear them breaking down the metal components of the canopies at 5 a.m.

Another of the characters are the blind people and their handlers. I know this is an old dodge but at least one of the three I see asking for donations looks real. There is one woman-woman team. They look of similar age. The deal is that the one with sight leads the other blinded one, around and tells the blind one to stick out her hand when they are in front of a potential donor. I don’t know what, if anything, is said. The blind woman in this team looked suspect, as she was walking with a confidence you wouldn’t expect from someone who is truly blind.

The second pair is two men who look to be roughly the same age. The third team, the one that looks the most legit to me, has a man about 40 leading an older, turbaned man, who might be his father. I wonder how much these two groups of characters make in an evening.

OK, time for dinner.