Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Menarilah dan Terus Tertawa"

      Things I Will Miss About Indonesia:

1. Javanese dance and the traditional arts. I used to be so excited by the thought of being able to come back and show everyone what I've learned, but now I've realized that no one back home will understand it like I do. Things are never as fun when you're the only one. I remember back to the time that I first arrived at school and saw a few routines- they looked so foreign and odd, certainly interesting, but a little overwhelming, too. Now that I know the correct forms, names, and a few meanings I can't help but really enjoy watching Javanese dance- something that I won't be able to share with most people back home. I went to see the Ramayana play at Prambanan Temple last week (this is a long, confusing mythological Indonesian story that is told completely through traditional dance) and I absolutely loved it because I could pick out different ragams ("That's ulap-ulap, that's kengser..") and I got to see a lot of stuff that I learned myself at SMKI. (There were several ragams at the end of my kelas I gagah routine that looked sort of funny and I didn't particularly enjoy because the body positions and head moevements were way different from typical gagah style- but it turns out that's how the monkeys in Ramayana are performed :) ) There also isn't strong traditional culture in the States like in Indonesia. That I'll miss, too: the special holidays and celebrations, languages, finding out the reasons behind certain customs or habits; I am always learning new things here.  

2. Hearing the call to prayer. I will miss waking up in the middle of the night and hearing Arabic lyrics floating through my window, and knowing it's around 4:30 am and I still have 45 minutes before I should shower. Each masjid here has loudspeakers mounted next to the building or on the roof, and five times a day they blast, quite literally, a call to prayer. It's all in Arabic, but the lyrics are close to 'There is no God other than Allah', 'Allah is the most powerful/the most great', 'Come everyone and praise Allah', and other short phrases. During prayer times most radio channels play the call, and local TV channels stop their programs to broadcast the call along with translations in Indonesian. Some masjids have live 'callers', but recordings are used also. I can't tell if all the calls say the same thing, or if each masjid uses the same call five times a day because I don't know Arabic and it's difficult to sort out the different sounds and words. I do think that the calls are different on Fridays- at least it sounds that way to me.

3. Spicy food. Yeah, there's spicy food back home but not spicy by Indonesian standards, and not as easy to find. Here, at nearly every restaurant there's a cup of sambal (real chilli sauce- not the bottled kind) at each table. And I feel like I've finally come into my prime of spice tolerance- I can add two big spoonfulls of sambal to my meal and not bat an eyelash. Nowadays I regularly use more sambal than members of my host family. Sigh. I'll miss that burn on my lips. 

4. Eating with my hands. The best feeling is being able to pick up rice without making a mess, and also without everyone staring. At first everyone at school would stop and watch me eat- because I was obviously having difficulties and feeling awkward (also because I would sometimes use my left hand- dumb), tapi sekarang sudah terbiasa. It feels normal, and makes meal times more entertaining, enjoyable. Also, there are less dishes to do afterward. 

5. Cheap prices. Generally I am very good at keeping my wallet glued shut, but lately I've been on a small shopping spree since I soon won't be able to find clothes for ten dollars at regular price. It'll probably be hardest to go out to eat back in the States- here a normal meal is 6.000 to 12.000 rupiah, including a drink, and that's about $0.66 to $1.33 US. I can't imagine paying $20 US for a plate of food. I've also gotten much better, and more comfortable, with haggling. On my last trip to Malioboro I wanted to buy sate telur puyuh (quail egg sate) from a street vendor. She told me a price double of what it typically is, and when I told her this ("Biasanya cuma seribu, mbak...") she looked a bit put off, but gave me my price anyways. Trying to gain an extra 11 cents off the foreign girl? Not today! I also helped another inbound haggle for a bag that I paid about 2/3 more for several months ago. That's a bit disappointing, because I didn't know the right price back then. But you live and you learn. Why are there not traditional markets in Minnesota? I'll miss that kind of shopping. 

6. Drinking out of plastic bags. Almost every day for the last three weeks after school I would buy jus buah segar (fresh fruit juice) from a small stand across the street. Usually either manggo, sirsak, or tape (fermented cassava) and I'd drink it out of a plastic bag with a straw. It's cheaper, makes less garbage, and gives you something to have in your hands while you're bored waiting to be picked up. I think I especially like this because it seemed So Weird when I first got here. I had heard about people in Asia eating with their hands, but not drinking out of plastic bags.

7. Tropical fruits. Sirsak, manggo, sawo, kesemek, pisang, buah naga, belimbing, manggis, markisa, kelapa, duku, duren, pepino, melon, nanas, papaya, jambu, salak, pir singa, jeruk, tape, apulkat, asam, sirikaya... *Sniff* *Tear* 

     Things I am Looking Forward to in Minnesota:

1. Knowing all the rules. This has been the biggest challenge for me this year- learning the different customs within the Indonesian family, and the differences with Chinese and Javanese family customs. It seems like there are an endless amount of rules: who it is appropriate to ask for things or talk to about problems, and when; where you should sit in the car or at the dinner table (this changes with different situations, too); what is expected when guests arrive, what is the appropriate way to sit at home (this applies to girls only) and in public, and so on. So many. I'm looking forward to not having to feel nervous if I'm doing something incorrectly. 

2. Toilet paper. 

3. Family and Friends that I Haven't Seen in Awhile (A Long While).

     I'm sure there are many more things that I'll be adding to both of these lists after I switch back to my home culture and start relearning the 'normal' things- it's difficult to think of everything at one time. Small miss/don't miss-es  will reveal themselves throughout the next few months of reverse culture shock. It's odd to think about how far away I've been for the last year- geographically and culturally. After remembering how difficult it's been to adjust here, it makes me a little nervous to come home. If this already feels normal, then will Minnesota feel more foreign than like home? I don't think so, I hope not, but this is a lingering thought..

I. Am. So. Sorry. But I promise this will be quick- I just need to type up one last food update. I've managed to meet a few good meals and snacks in my last few days here in Indonesia.

Cobra burger! And only 8.000 rp- around 86 cents.
A chicken head. It doesn't look like there are eyes, but don't worry, they're just sunken back into the head. I ate those, too, along with the brain, tongue, and a little meat on the neck. I prefer the eyes, overall. They taste (and crunch) somewhat like sandy oysters. And this being the third try now- I have concluded that brain is not my thing. Even a little bitty chicken brain makes my stomach churn. 
Jangkrik (Cricket). Surpirsingly soft and sweetish? Compared to belalang, anyways.

Belalang (Grasshopper). They don't taste like much; a little crunchy and salty. Just intimidating to look at.

... And one last update on what I've been doing and seeing lately.


The monkey army

And I suppose this is my one last chance to mention SMKI, too. It's been seven days since I've last gone to school, and it already feels like forever. I am incredibly thankful that I was enrolled at a traditional arts school- especially one with such a friendly, helpful student body. It was a dream, truly. Learning traditional Yogya style dance, gamelan, ngembang, rias busana- this is something I'd never thought I'd be able to do, and something I will never forget. Incredible. Traditional Javanese culture is overwhelming in it's complexity, and yet all the different parts seem to fit together in art (mythology, religion, dance, music, costume)- I could spend several more exchange years here and still have much  yet to learn.
In the middle is Sinta, the main princess in Ramayana. The story is basically about a prince who wants to marry Sinta, but she is kidnapped by another prince and so the first courter goes on a search for her. There are several other side stories; it gets a bit complex. I loved watching the dancer who played Sinta. 

    So this is it. The end. I can't say I'm not excited to be in Minnesota again- meet my family at the airport, eat oatmeal for breakfast again, not to mention wear summer dresses when it's hot- but there is certainly a little bit of Indonesia that will stay with me. The depth of culture and customs, focus on preservation of tradition, passion in religion, and respect for elders that I've found here have captured a piece of my heart. Ada bagian diriku yang tetap orang jawa. A part of me will always be Javanese. 

     I've packed my bags and said my goodbyes: I guess that means I'm ready to go home. I won't leave anything behind except host family gifts and some old clothes; the skills, experiences, and good memories I think I'll take with me. The hardships and challenges from the past ten months I'll stuff in my back pocket, use them on bad days to help me keep things in perspective. I don't think I'll encounter anything in my near future that's as hard as leaving family and friends and flying across the world, or the frustrations of trying to adjust and assimilate to an unfamiliar culture. I also don't think I'll find anything as rewarding as knowing I survived through it all, and even made some other accomplishments of my own. 

     In true Indonesian fashion, I'd like to thank everyone that has supported and followed me through these past ten months.  I apologize for shortcomings in my blog, long gaps between posts, and the limited amount of information I've offered. There's so much in Indonesia- I couldn't hope to give a satisfying snapshot of the Spice Islands with just ten months. And so, no longer a Javanese dancer but just a college kid from Minnesota, I'll sign off for the last time and take my flight home. Come on over to Northfield sometime and I'll cook rendang and fix you a glass of jahe wangi. 

Terima Kasih dan Berkah Dalem. Thank you and Bless you all. 


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Makanan Khas Yogya dan Lain-Lain

     As if you haven't read enough about food in this blog- there's more talk of Indonesian cuisine coming your way.

Apologies in advance.

     But I realize that I haven't yet told you about Gudeg: makananya khas Yogya, my city's specialty dish. Here in Indonesia every city has at least one dish (usually a few) that are unique to that city. In Yogya, it's gudeg and bakpia. In Bali there's batter fried peanuts, dodol, and brem Bali. The lapis legit cake that I posted about a long time ago is khas Jawa Timur, only made in East Java, and if you remember nasi pecel, the best is from Madiun, near the the northern coast of the island.

     So if you ever come to Yogyakarta, you have to try gudeg, because anywhere else it won't taste as good. Then again, I think I'm the only Yogya inbound that likes gudeg so I perhaps I should say it won't taste as bad in Yogya? Gudeg has several components that are always served together, but the main event is young jackfruit (called gori) that is boiled in gula Jawa for several hours until it becomes dark red-brown and soft. It's served with krecek, which is like a chip made of animal fat then fried in a spicy sauce. Generally this is accompanied by a duck egg boiled in kecap manis, and you can add chicken as well. The egg and the gudeg are sweet, which can be a nice break from all the spicy food in Indonesia. Do I need to say it's served with rice?

The krecek is the big orange piece on top, in front is tempe slices and chillies fried with the krecek. The gudeg is underneath the krecek- you can only see a small bit next to the egg (looks like a piece of beef). I'll admit it took me a few tries to like gudeg- and I'm glad I got used to the flavors because I get invited to eat it a lot, and a common question upon meeting someone here is "Pernah makan gudeg? Suka?" Have you tried gudeg? Do you like it? (And the answer they're looking for is yes.)
     My host mother swears that the best in Yogya is gudeg Yu Djum. I went to the main kitchen off of Jalan Kaliurang (there are three Yu Djum restaurants in the city) and got to meet the Yu Djum: an old, thin Javanese woman wearing the traditional kebaya and jarik. She didn't say much; she was busy sitting on the floor ripping banana leaves for the order-out baskets. Yu Djum was the original gudeg cook, but now her grandaughters run the business, which has become famous throughout Yogya because they only use wood-burning kompors to cook.

Back in the kitchen at Gudeg Yu Djum
Just the other day my host family and I were out eating soto for breakfast, and Yu Djum shows up with two of her granddaughters. So I asked for a picture. One of the granddaughters said she is 80 years old. Yu, by the way, is a Javanese word used to address an older sister. 
  During my year here I've eaten sate ayam, kambing, babi, and keong (chicken, goat, pork (a hard one to find- we had to go to a dark alley off of Malioboro), and snail) and now I can add one more- sate kelinci. Rabbit. It tastes like you would imagine bunny to taste: tender and mild. The sauce is like a mixture of sate kambing and sate ayam sauce; it has both peanuts, chillies, and sweet kecap manis. Rather delicious. The best part was that it was all fairly good cuts of meat. Usually if you buy sate ayam off a cart vendor the first and last pieces on the kebab are meat, the middle ones are skin or fat.

   And I am officially in a fruit frazzle. I only have a little over a week left and I will be leaving all the tropical fruits I have grown to adore. I'm quite certain I will never enjoy a banana in the States ever again. There are about twenty different types of bananas here and even the ones meant for bird food are sweeter than American bananas. The best kind is pisang raja, which can only be found in a produce market (not in grocery stores or fruit stands, generally); it's somewhat short and a bright yellow-orange color on the inside. And So Sweet. My second host family had two pisang raja trees on the side of their house and when the bunches ripened I think I averaged about three a day. What I would love more than anything is to bring back some pisang raja for my Dad's banana bread, but I don't think my bag would make it through customs. I've heard from an Indonesian living near L.A. that she has found pisang raja in an international market there, so maybe there's still hope.

     Though I do enjoy Indonesian bananas, my new favorite fruit is sawo, or sapodilla in English. Have you ever heard of a sapodilla before? I hadn't, before I looked it up on Google a while ago. They have a very odd flavor- my first thought was apricot jam. Very sweet, and a hint almost like caramel. Yum. I bought jus sawo the other day and shared a sip with Pauline, the inbound from Belgium. She paused, gave me a perplexed look and said "How can you drink that? It's not bad, it's just.... weird". I guess it's a weird delicious.

    A fruit that just came into season here is kesemek. It is like a cross between an apple and a mango: crunchy but orange and tropical flavored. What I like is there are no seeds on the inside, so you have no worries while eating :)

    What takes the cake as the oddest fruit I've eaten so far is nutmeg fruit. Baru dicoba tadi malam, I just tried it last night, in dried form, actually. In Indonesian dried fruit is called manisan, and when I saw manisan pala I was confused- is that really nutmeg fruit? (This I learned from looking at recipes: pala halus is ground nutmeg). It looked like clementine-sized slices of dried mango. The flavor was surprisingly similar to the actual nut, and spicy like ginger.

   Last piece of talk about food, I promise- but this one has special significance for my Norwegian heritage. I've been collecting some traditional Indonesian recipes, and there are several common spices/herbs in Indonesian cooking that I had never heard of, and no idea what they looked like. (How am I supposed to cook these if I don't know what the ingredients are?) One of these ingredients was keluak. With a little more research I found it's referred to as the Indonesian Black Nut (a fitting name since in the grocery store it turned out to be a big black nut). Now the bark, leaves, fruit, and seeds of a keluak tree are all poisonous; if crushed or bruised they excrete a chemical like cyanide. It is said that some Indonesian tribes crush the bark and then throw it into rivers/ponds to stun fish and make them easy to catch. The keluak nut has also been known to be placed inside fresh caught fish to preserve them. It's like an Indonesian lutefisk :)

     For me, I plan to use the keluak to make rawon and brongkos, saucy dishes that look like mud but taste much better. Luckily, all keluak products sold in stores have already gone through processes of boiling, drying, etc, to make them edible, so I won't have to worry about that part. I guess I really should try Norwegian lutefisk once I get back to Minnesota, too- since I've made it a habit to eat out of the ordinary dishes (according to me) in Indonesia, I should probably start on the local oddities once I get back home.

    I can't believe I've already come to this point, but I only have around a week left here in Yogya so I'm not sure if I'll be able to fire off another post before I get on my plane home. Hopefully I'll find some time to round out my blog with a post about something other than food... Tapi belum tentu, it's not for sure, though, because I'm already in the process of cramming everything I haven't seen/done into my last days here, not to mention packing and saying goodbye. And rumors are there's a restaurant that serves cobra in Yogya, so you can bet I'll be roaming the city looking for that one last mealtime thrill.

Kita segera ketemu kembali! We will soon meet again!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


This is a blog post a few months in the making: caranya membatik. How to batik. 

I can't remember exactly how this all got started, but one day I went to a batik shop in Yogya with my second host father and came home to Karangjati with a bunch of supplies. After that I spent a good number of hours after school drawing patterns on cloth with melted wax (called malan) using a batiking tool called a canting.

     There are many different sizes of canting, meaning the spout of the tool is larger or smaller depending on how detailed you need to be. I was told by an SMKI teacher that the canting should never be out of the malan for more than 15 seconds (which is longer than it sounds). I've found this is a good rule to follow because it makes sure the wax you're using is always hot, and it lessens the chance that you'll drip. A canting isn't an advanced tool; it's made from a piece of wood and thin metal cup/spout attached with wire, so if you let it sit over the cloth long enough, it's bound to drip. (And I am much too familiar with this, as you can see in the picture above). In order to batik, you dip the canting cup into the malan, fill it about half way or less, then directly draw it on the fabric. If the malan is too hot, it'll run out of the canting in a continuous stream; if it's too cold it won't come out at all. So you have to watch the consistency of the wax and adjust accordingly.
     The other necessity for batiking is the kompor, or burner. This is also not very advanced; the one I used was made of tin (and cost around four dollars). There are six strings dipped in oil that you light by hand, and a small lever to raise or lower the string tips to control the temperature (in theory). The kompor is sometimes frustrating- not heating evenly, or becoming too hot even at the lowest setting. Electric burners work much better, these are what they used at the professional batik shop where I once took a batik lesson. What would be better yet is an electric canting- looks like a hot glue gun- but these are expensive by Indonesian standards (over 30 US). And I figure if I'm going to learn to batik the traditional way (called 'tulis' or 'written' as opposed to 'cap' (stamped) batik, or the printed kind) I should use traditional tools. (I suppose the most traditional would have been using a ceramic, wood-burning kompor, like we used at the SMKI cook-out... That would have been a bit complicated though). 


     There are two different kinds of malan that they sold at the batik store- brown and a lighter, clearish kind. Now, the picture above looks like I used both kinds, but that's just because the malan gets increasingly darker as it cooks in the kompor (I always bought the brown malan). Also, I admit, I liked to bake the heck out of my wax when I was first starting because the hotter the wax, the faster it spreads on the fabric, speeding up the whole process. This resulted in some messy lines and dark malan. I don't know if it will make a difference in the dying process, using well-done malan to batik, but hopefully my laziness didn't cost me too much. When I was first starting to batik everyone told me batiking was an art of patience- you have to work slowly. I thought I was all over the 'patience' thing, but as I got more practice and started caring more about the results, I stopped to change the malan in the canting more often (actually following the 15 second rule) and used cooler wax. You can see the difference between my first cloth and my last, too. Neater, less drips. 
    Now for the dying process. 
   Like I mentioned before, I took a short class at a batik shop (this was after I had started batiking at home, though another inbound signed up to take a class so I tagged along), and that was the first time I saw the batik dying process. It was intimidating, to say the least, particularly mixing the dye. There was a table full of little bags of white powder and a scale, and one of the workers would take spoonfuls of one powder, weigh it, then add another powder, weigh it again, take some away... As an Indonesian would say: pusing. Gives you a headache. After that I started thinking that I may not want to dye my fabric at home by myself- after all the hours I spent drawing on the wax, it'd be a pity to ruin the results because I'm a novice dyer. At this particular batik shop, they dipped the fabric in water first, then dipped it in another clear liquid, then dipped it in dye. For the first two steps, the fabric soaked just in plastic buckets but the color dye was poured into a hip-height cement trough and the fabric was pulled through the dye about six inches at a time until the whole pieces was colored. Then the fabric was hung on a line to dry for a few minutes, and if the color wasn't dark enough, they'd pull it through the dye again.

   Since I finished all of my wax work right before I changed houses, I enlisted the help of my third host mom to find a batik place that would dye my fabric for me (she took me to the place in Tamansari she regularly buys batik 'paintings' from). Here, they did a slightly different dyeing process. 

     First, the fabric was stretched and pinned onto a bamboo frame, then soaked with water. Pak Widoto (the person doing the dyeing) used a towel to wipe off the excess water, then started applying the dye. 

     He used a sponge to apply the dye, then used his fingers to blend the colors together (I chose to do two different types of blue). I'm not sure if this was the same type of dye as at the first shop, but it's machine washable, which is a plus. There are certain batik fabrics that are hand-wash only (which wouldn't be too big of a deal since I'm already experienced in that particular area :) ).    


     After finishing putting on the dye, Pak Widoto said we have to wait until the fabric completely dries,  soak it again with water, wait for it to dry, then finally boil off the wax. This part I didn't see, but I did get a glimpse of it at the first batik shop. The fabric is put into a big metal pot of boiling water, stirred around with a stick for awhile, then taken out to dry. Fingers crossed my batik turns out well! I really like how the pattern looked with the gold wax and blue dye, but hopefully it looks just as good when the motif is white (after the wax is gone, leaving the plain white fabric). We should be picking up the final product in the next few days. Pak Widoto said it'd be ready by Monday or Tuesday, but my host mother Bu Dwi said, for the Javanese, that means Wednesday or Thursday. 
    To round out my post, as always, I have to add a piece about food. Last Friday I finally met a chance to redeem myself, though it wasn't fish brain this time but goat brain (either goat or sheep, Indonesians call them both by the same name). I went to a street-side food stand that sold sop kaki kambing- goat foot soup- and just about every other odd piece of meat/tissue you can find on a goat, including the brain. My host father and I bought a good mix of everything  and brought it home, where I carefully fished out a piece of brain from broth. It was a modest chunk, white and squiggly, and it turned right to mush in my mouth, like a cracker that's been left in soup for too long. I managed to eat the one piece, but I definitely didn't ask for a second taste. Now, I've eaten intestine with rancid smelling I-don't-want-to-know-what on the inside (and that tasted awful, really) but brain is still something that I'm less than enthusiastic about putting on my spoon. It doesn't even taste bad, but still makes my insides squirm, and that's frustrating. I suppose that's something I just have to accept. Brain isn't my thing. 
    For my little time remaining in Indonesia I have several more events on my culinary agenda, so stay tuned. I'm experiencing a last minute burst of blogging energy- I still have so much more to tell about my experiences here in Yogya before I'm a plain old American again. 

Until next time! Sampai jumpa!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Borobudur, Prambanan, dan Rendang

     Last weekend I visited Borobudur for the third time, but I still have yet to post a blog about it. Pemalas. Lazy. However it works out well now that I just got back from Prambanan, the other major temple in Yogya, so I can blog about them both in one post. According to everyone I've talked to, foreigners and Indonesians alike, Borobudur is big but Prambanan is more beautiful. In my opinion they're both stunning, but I happen to like Borobudur better (the park is better kept and the temple and surroundings are more photogenic).
   Borobudur is a Buddhist temple about an hour north of Yogya, and Prambanan is a Hindu temple located on the east side of the city. Every month at Prambanan there is an outdoor performance of Ramayana, a long Indonesian mythical story (depicted through traditional dance) which I hope to see in the next few weeks. Here are a few pictures of each temple:

 In order to read the carvings of Borobudur, you walk around the temple clockwise, starting from the bottom.
There are nine levels to Borobudur, and the progression from the bottom level to the top of the temple represents ascension to Nirvana. 

The view from the very top.
Candi Prambanan

This is the biggest temple at Prambanan, dedicated to Shiva.

Surrounding the primary eight temples of Prambanan are ruins from other smaller, uncovered temples. The legend of the Prambanan temple complex, briefly, is that a princess was ordered to marry the person who had killed her father, so she said that she would marry him only if he could build her one thousand temples in one night. Her courter then called upon his own dead father and enlisted the help of ghosts and demons to build all the temples. My host father told me that if I ever get proposed to, I should ask the guy to build me a thousand temples, and see how it works out. 

     Now for a quick change of subject: last Thursday I got the chance to take another Indonesian cooking class. This time I cooked for real, not just make snacks. I went back to AKS and learned to make nasi kuning, nasi kebuli, arem-arem, tempe kering, sambal kelapa, and rendang. Nasi kuning (yellow rice) is served at celebrations (it's shaped into a tall cone and someone important is chosen to take out the first scoop. If you remember the SMKI 50th birthday celebration at the very beginning of my year, I served the first cut of nasi kuning to the sultan of Yogya but didn't understand what was going on. What? A mountain of rice? And where am I supposed to take it?) and generally it's paired with tempe kering and sambal kelapa, along with other dishes of choice. So now I can cook myself a traditional Indonesian welcome home party when I get back (though I'll have to guess at how to shape the rice into a cone...) Nasi kebuli is rice cooked with several different spices, an Arab dish. I've been wanting to make arem-arem all year (rice filled with spicy shredded chicken, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed) and turns out it's really easy to make, but really difficult to wrap. My hopes of making arem-arem for my extended family have been extinguished- though perhaps it'll be easier to fold and skewer a corn husk than a banana leaf (I figure this would be the closest substitution). 
     The highlight of my lesson was rendang- said to be the most delicious food in the world. Rendang is a combination of spices and coconut milk that you can cook with meat or eggs (the most well-known is with beef) and you boil it down until it makes a thick pasty coating around whatever you're cooking. The first time I tried it I was certainly taken aback- the flavor is Intense and almost hurt, like when you eat too many Sour Patch Kids- it wasn't spicy in the chili sense, but had so many other spices that it was like a flavor bombardment. The rendang I made at AKS was the same way; my host mother said I should make the spices a little less strong if I cook it in the States, so people can enjoy it :) I think I prefer the spice explosion on my palate, though. 
     And you're due for an update: I changed host families a week ago, so I'm now living in Yogya again (actually, only a few streets away from my first house). I'll admit I'm sad to leave village life behind. I miss boiling water in the morning for my tea, and washing my own dishes and clothes. I guess that means I'm a creature of routine. But I am very happy in my new home with Bu Dwi, Pak Benny, and my two host brothers Mas Aldi and Ardi; I just have to wait to build a new routine back in the city. And I have to say- air conditioning is so nice. 
   That's the news for now. I hope everyone is enjoying the summer back in Minnesota! I have to wait a few more weeks until my vacation starts, the last day of finals at SMKI is June 12th. I'm looking forward to testing time, just because I think I'm going to do fairly well (and there's no pressure because I don't actually get graded. How do you think traditional dance scores would transfer anyways?). I'll certainly let you know how things go :)

Sampai jumpa semuanya! 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Belajar Bikin Kue Tradisional

Now that I only have a few weeks left here in Indonesia (a few weeks, is that right??) I’ve been thinking about everything I’ve done so far, and what I have yet to do in the little time that remains! Ah stressful. But in the best way possible.
            Before leaving Minnesota, I had made a “To Do List” for my exchange year here in Indonesia- and I don’t think I even brought it with me. I don’t know if I’ll be able to recall all ten goals, but this is a good time to go through it and see how I’ve done so far.
            Firstly, ‘Learn bahasa Indonesia’ was surely on my list, and I think it’s safe to say I can check that one off (thankfully- I remember when I first arrived here and I was so frustrated with not being able to communicate. I had also thought that Indonesian would ‘just come to me’ after awhile, since I had heard it was such an easy language to learn, but that turned out to be wishful thinking). Also on my list was ‘learn traditional dance’. Double check that one, and write SMKI afterwards circled with a big heart. Now I’m not sure, but fairly certain, that ‘learn to cook Indonesian food’ was on there- which leads me to my main point for this post…
            Around the middle of my exchange I had mentioned to a Rotarian that I’d like to learn to make Indonesian kue (translates to ‘cake’, but this can mean anything from a popover to jelly snack) particularly because one of the Yogya Tugu Rotarians owns a bakpia bakery. One of my very first posts about food here mentioned how I liked bakpia, and I really wanted to get the recipe. The trip to the bakery never worked out, but I did get quite a good replacement: lessons at AKS, a vocational academy for cooking, sewing, and hairdressing/cosmetics, and visits to three different kitchens to learn to make an assortment of snacks, kue lapis, and moci. Good thing I had five days off of school so I could fit this all in!
            First I went to the snack shop owned by a friend of the Yogya Tugu Youth Exchange Program coordinator. She runs a small shop, but also distributes to markets around the city, and caters and fills private orders. Here I helped make risoles, martabak telur, kroket, and lumpia. These are all fried snacks- the martabak and lumpia use a stir fry filling and are wrapped in a thin pancake, and the krokets and risoles are potato dough mixed with veggies or minced meat and then rolled in bread crumbs. I also watched the making of roll cake and ‘brownies’, which aren’t like American brownies at all, but just chocolate cake. One quick note here: Indonesians love to mix chocolate with cheese. I thought this was so odd when I first arrived, but it’s become a normal sight. And if you ever make it over to this side of the world and order cheesecake, just know you won’t get a heavy cream cheese pie, but a frosted vanilla cake with shredded white cheddar cheese on top. They also make many other snacks and pastries which I hope I can learn how to make, too, at some point.

Here's the Indonesian brownies and cheesecake, as well as a danish, risoles, lumpia, kroket, fruit pie, pisang goreng (fried banana), macaroni, and what I think is called suis (like a bite size chicken salad sandwich).
            Next, on to AKS. Here I worked with Suster Maria Angela, a nun who teaches cooking classes at the academy, and together we made mento, dadar gulung, talam ubi, kelepon, and onde-onde. One thing that I’ve learned about Indonesian cooking is that there are usually a ton of spices, and none of them are in powder form. This is good because it means all the spices are fresh, but it also means you have to prepare most of them using a mortar and pestle. Turns out crushing spices is hard work; I’m not very good at it. A lot of recipes use garlic and you have to smash the cloves into a paste before adding the other ingredients- for me that’s the hardest. Pepper is pretty difficult, too, because the kernels like to fly off the mortar when I’m attempting to crack them into powder.

Suster Maria crushing the mento spices (because I was taking forever) at AKS. If you can see on the table there's fresh daun sirih, daun jeruk, jahe, merica, and other spices.
            So technically these were lessons to just make snacks, but the recipes sure took a long time to complete. Now, dadar gulung and mento are basically the same thing, filling wrapped in a thin pancake, except the first is filled with coconut and the mento is filled with chicken stir fry, then covered in coconut sauce and wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed.  Talam ubi is a funny Jello-like snack half flavored with coconut milk and half with ubi (like a sweet potato, but bright purple). Kelepon looks the weirdest- small green balls of rice dough filled with melted gula jawa (palm sugar) and rolled in coconut flakes. Lastly, onde-onde is simply fried dough filled with mashed soybeans. Notice all the coconut? It tastes delicious, but also explains why I gained about five pounds during just five days, trying all these traditional snacks. This was also the second time that I’ve been told I should become a nun since coming to Indonesia- and Suster Maria said they have a convent in the U.S., too. We have plans to move there together and open up an Indonesian restaurant ;) If I ever do get around to becoming a nun, anyways.

Mento after being wrapped in the banana leaf
Talam Ubi

All of my snacks for the weekend- the dadar gulung are the green wraps on the plate, moci is the white balls in the middle, then kelepon are on the far right. 
            The kue lapis and moci visits were just to watch, but I hope to get back to the moci place sometime to actually learn the process start to finish. Moci (pronounced mo-chee) has a very odd texture, though I like it. It’s made from tepung ketan (glutinous rice flour), sugar, and water all mixed together, and becomes stretchy and sticky like raw dough. Traditionally the moci is rolled into sheets, covered with chopped peanuts and then rolled and cut into bite size pieces. This particular seller uses jelly, too, as filling (my favorite is lemon).

            So I’m glad I put Indonesian cooking on my to-do list. It turned out to keep me quite busy, as I hope to continue the visits/lessons in the coming month. For now, I think I can check this one off the list. I hope the next item to be checked off will be ‘learning to batik’, but I still have a bit to go before finishing that one. Once I have a finished product, I’ll post about the whole process and such. Going further on down the list, I know there are two items I’ll have to scratch out, because I won’t be able to do them this year. The first is surfing- I’ve mentioned before that the beaches around Yogya aren’t suitable for swimming, let alone taking beginner’s surfing lessons, and I don’t think a trip to the good surfing beaches is in the cards for me. The next is hiking up a mountain/volcano. Ahhhh I wanted to do this so bad, and I’ve asked about it multiple times but it seems like there’s no way to make it possible. The road and trails up Merapi are still closed from the last eruption, which would have been my go-to volcano, and it doesn’t seem like the Rotarians are crazy about me going out trekking in the jungle outside of Yogya. Sigh. We’ll save this for the return trip in a few years I suppose.
            There are other items that will have to be scratched out as well; I think I had one about visiting Aceh or some far away part of Indonesia that’s a long shot, and I’m still holding out for a chance to go snorkeling or diving but who knows. I’ll have to ask my parents to dig around at home for my list (it’s odd to think I still have a bunch of stuff sitting on the other side of the world…), though more likely I brought it with me here and lost it. Dia agak pelupa, my host sister often says about me. I’m a little forgetful.
            I certainly had some big dreams while writing my list. At the time I really had hoped to do all of those things, but I feel like my exchange has still been more productive, rewarding, and out of the ordinary than I ever expected, regardless of whether my To Do boxes are all checked off or not. There’s so much more to a student exchange than the sum of individual activities or trips. I’d have to say I’m more proud of becoming accustomed to using the bathroom here than getting to lay on the beach in Bali- give me a bucket of water and a pail and I can shower in under ten minutes. Now that’s remarkable.

So I’ll keep on moving down my list of goals and quietly pass over the ones I now know to be unfeasible, impractical, or simply superficial, and I won’t feel any less fulfilled. I’ve learned to thrive in a foreign country and that’s all I ever wanted. Tetap sukses. Next June I’ll come home laden with incredible pictures, clothes, and an assortment of other new items that I've harvested throughout my year, yet it’ll be the journey of learning that is the true treasure. (Because nothing builds character like learning how to use a no-flush, in-ground toilet.) 

Sampai jumpa!

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Just got back from Bali yesterday morning, and I figured if I don’t get a blog up this weekend I never will, so here is the news!
            The trip to Bali was with the freshman class at SMKI (which happens every year).  Bali is also called Pulau Mimpian or “Island of Dreams”, and it was indeed very beautiful.
     I thought the best part was all the Hindu temples- they are everywhere.  The most common temples are small and consist mainly of a shelf to place offerings; there are many along the side of the road to give safe travels. Offerings are placed in small wicker baskets, and can contain flowers, sweet bread, and other things. Offerings are supposed to be given every day, and I only saw Balinese people doing this in the morning (always in traditional dress) but I’m not sure if that’s a rule or just routine.

The temples in Balinese homes are even more remarkable. There are usually four or more temples built in the yard or on the roof, and they have statues of various Hindu gods above the offering shelves. The most stunning ones are topped with gold and sparkle wonderfully in the hot Balinese sun. Temples are generally wrapped in a sacred cloth, either plain yellow or black and white checked. I was told that the black and white symbolizes the daily presence of good and bad, but I'm not sure the meaning of the yellow. Occasionally there will be tree trunks wrapped in black and white checks, and this is where a new temple is going to be built. If there are regular unusual occurrences (for example frequent recurring deaths) in a certain area, Hindus believe this is because not enough offerings are being given to the gods, so they wrap the cloth around the trees to make the place sacred and then build a temple there.
SMKI visited a notable temple during the trip called Tanah Lot. Tourists weren’t allowed to walk up and enter the actual temple, but could make flower offerings (for the price of few thousand rupiah) either in a cave on the beach or in a cave on the temple island, though the last one requires a short wade through the ocean. After tourists make an offering, the temple-keepers (there is surely a special name for this, I don’t know it though) stick some grains of white rice on the tourists’ foreheads and put a flower behind their left ear. Perhaps this is just to entice people to make offerings, but it still looks lovely.

Temple surrounded by ocean.

This is the entrance to the cave where tourists could make offerings for Tanah Lot.

Despite the thrills of touring, the main event of our trip was to visit SMKI Bali and share performances there. Their school campus is gorgeous and clean, even the outsides of buildings, which is a rare occurrence in Indonesia. There is also an SMM (music school), and SMSR (‘seni rupa’ it’s called; “looking arts”. Maybe there’s a word for this in English but I don’t know what it is, or don’t remember. Anyways, it’s a school for painting, graphic design, woodwork… Macam-macam, many kinds).

The SMKI Bali karawitan performances were mesmerizing- you can see the drummer and first row of players on the left side of this picture- I simply love the dynamic quality of Balinese gamelan. Here is a two-man costume that was incredibly intricate and surprisingly life-like; the dancers inside were great at expressing the different moods of the character.

We also stopped at a traditional Balinese house that belonged to one of the SMKI Yogya teachers. There were around eighty students on the trip and we were all fed lunch here- a delicious (and fiery!) rice dish with salak for dessert.

And of course you can’t visit Bali without going to the beach! We visited two: Tanjung Benua and Pantai Kuta. The first was filled with mostly Asian tourists, and most everyone was there to go parasailing or boating. I went out on a glass bottom boat ride with a few friends where we fed bread to some small fish above a reef and then boated to a petting zoo on a small island offshore.  

Tanjung Benua
The glass bottom boat with Bu Yati and some of my XT1 classmates.

On the way to the petting zoo, we passed a temple with its entry opening to the ocean.

A large bird and I at the island petting zoo...

Pantai Kuta was so different- packed with tourists from around the world and almost everyone was surfing. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time at the beach (even got a pretty good farmers tan) but it made me want to be an American again so badly (figuratively speaking). Good thing I didn’t bring a swimsuit with me or I may have been overcome by temptation- I was incredibly jealous of everyone wearing bikinis, swimming, and tanning… Sigh. But there will be time for that later. I sat in the sand with my Indonesian buddies- they were wearing sweatshirts, sweaters, long jeans, and hats to protect their skin from the sun- and we people- watched for awhile. A few girls paid 10.000 rp to have their nails painted by an old Indonesian lady working the beach, and a group of students played in the waves (the teachers weren’t very happy about this, later the buses were full of sand and smelly with all the damp clothing).  Overall, a nice visit. I’m excited to show off my not-as-snowy-white skin when I go to school again J

A quick note about bahasa Bali, before I move on. Bali is a 45 minute ferry ride at most from Java, but Javanese and Balinese sound nothing alike. If you take the Javanese alphabet HA NA CA RA KA (pronounced ho no cho ro ko) and say it with a Balinese accent it becomes huh nuh chuh ruh kuh but with an odd nasally sound, like when you say une in French. Odd, no? So for example when our tour guide would say Pantai Kuta it sounded like Kutuh.

Near the end of the trip, we visited a beautiful lake in central Bali. I have painstakingly racked my brain for the name of the lake, and even requested an itinerary sheet from the trip, but to no avail. We all stopped to eat lunch at a lakeside restaurant and then visited a nearby fruit and traditional Balinese snack market. I bought a kilo of salak Bali (Balinese snakefruit- just found out it was called ‘snakefruit’ in English; I had never heard of it before) and a small carton of teeny strawberries, grown just down the road.  All the students say salak Yogya is better because it’s sweeter, but I like salak Bali because the first time I tried it, the taste reminded me of the very tip of strawberries in Minnesota, a bit sour. Surprisingly enough, the Balinese strawberries had no taste at all. So I’ll stick to salak from now on.

After mentioning the fruit market, this also brings up another recent undertaking of mine in my Indonesian exchange: haggling. Eeeeveryone haggles here, and I’m just starting to get the hang of it, though more often than not I still pay more than the average Indonesian. I find that, in general, people don’t want me around when they’re haggling a price. If I do happen to tag along, they manage to make a deal so quietly I always miss the selling price, and when I ask what price they settled on I usually don’t get a response. At first this was frustrating- a big problem for me is that prices are usually so cheap anyways (compared to the States) I don’t haggle as low as I should, but I can never figure out what a good deal is because everyone is so secretive when I’m around. And then after my purchase is done people ask me what I payed : “Andrea! Tidak usah sampai harga itu!” everyone says, "You don’t have to pay such a high price! I got the same for… (always lower than what I paid)…" I did have a few successes while on the Bali trip, thankfully. There was a theatre student who paid 8.000 rp for a carton of strawberries which I got for 5.000 rp, and I managed to get the same price for a souvenir at a large arts market as another student as well. Ha! So it is possible, though surely difficult. The key is to not look rich and not look foreign. Everyone started telling me I need to dye my hair black in order to blend in, but somehow I don’t think that would help much…

We also visited Patung Garuda Wisnu Kencana- an unfinished park of statues that also holds Balinese dance performances for tourists. 

This is an incomplete Balinese gamelan (or perhaps a different type of traditional music ensemble) that performed at the tourist shows in the park. We watched a phenomenal theater performance by a group of students from a school for the deaf. They were perfectly coordinated and very expressive; it was a treat to watch. At the end, there was a female Balinese dancer in traditional garb that would dance and invite different spectators to come on stage and dance with her. She was pleasantly surprised when an SMKI Yogya student walked onstage and began dancing tari Bali with her! I suspect that they rarely get audience members that are able to dance traditional Balinese-style. 

Looking back to when the Bali Rotary Inbounds visited Yogya, I remember they said that the Balinese like three types of food: really spicy, really sweet, and peanuts. I have yet to try the spicy and the sweet, but peanuts are definitely a big hit there. Every souvenir shop sold several different kinds but the most famous is kacang asin, which is said to help women conceive and produce milk. I didn’t try any, but asin means salty, so I’m guessing it’s not far from, well, the average salted peanut. Things on my list to try when I go back to Bali (and this is indeed going to happen, someday): ayam betutu (Bu Yati said it is like opor, which means the chicken is boiled in coconut milk but it’s very spicy) and babi guling (pork).  It was odd to see signs advertising pig meat at first- I’ve never seen a sign for pork in Java and whenever my host family talks about it, they always bring it up in a whisper (because of the Muslim majority). Anyways, I don’t know what guling means, but I hope it means ribs. Yum.
While on the subject of food, I’m going to back track a ways and throw in the latest adventure: eels. Maybe baby eels, since they were so small. This culinary opportunity came about when I went to the restaurant Pecel Solo with a few Rotarians about a week ago. At first sight I knew I wanted to try it. I thought it was snakes, but when I asked what it was “belut” was the response and Bu Clara clarified ‘a type of fish’ in English. I figured it meant eels. Sadly, there was no taste, like the cow lung. I think this was the result of the eels being so small to start with and then deep fried.

Pecel Solo

To wrap up, my lovely Balinese experience is over, and now I’m back to my regular school schedule. We’ll see what the next few weeks bring- final exams are coming up at the end of May so my days at SMKI will most likely be business-only for the rest of my time here. But can I really say that traditional Yogya dance classes are strictly business? Every day here feels average, but when I take the time to stop and think I’m always reminded of how luar biasa this experience is. Certainly out of the ordinary J

Hope to write again soon, there’s still more I have to catch you up on.

Sampai jumpa!