I have been away from Bandung, my hometown, for almost two years now. Within the last three months, I have been having the most serious homesickness I have ever had. I’ll tell you what I am missing.
This area around the city square
This is not exactly the city square, which is a sight of fake plastic grass and a smell of a million naked feet. The street next to it, the Dalem Kaum street, is my favorite weekdays destination but also my least favorite weekend destination. Go here on a free Tuesday; parking is a breeze, street food carts reduced to those whose snacks are actually delectable and affordable, and shops empty (although some were no more because of a great fire two years ago).
Warung Tegal (Warteg) is a national institution. It is a simple, very affordable food stall with seats for very few number of people; you can find a warteg in almost every metropolitan city in Java and some other islands. The namesake comes from the small city of Tegal in Central Java, known for their people who venture into other areas of Indonesia to introduce and establish their culinary heritage. It sells a variety of traditional and signature Javanese dishes, lots of saucy curry-style dishes and deep-fried goodness, to be served alongside steamed rice. My favorite dish that is almost always available in every warteg is salt-cured skipjack tuna fillet cooked in red chili pepper sauce. This particular Braga Jaya Warung Tegal is located in downtown Bandung; its pricing is on the more expensive side but still affordable for people from almost every walk of life.
S.14: this warm and cozy library and events venue
S.14 is an emerging intellectual institution in my city. It is an independent library and event space, often hosting talks and tiny acoustic concerts, such as the one pictured above, my buddy Oscar Lolang’s first ever concert featuring the amazing Jon Kastela (sitting, left)’s soothing voice. S.14 is currently on hiatus as the owners, spouses Aminuddin Siregar (a.k.a. Ucok) and Herra Pahlasari, are in the Netherlands where Ucok is taking his Ph.D. at the University of Leiden.
Kupat Tahu, my go-to breakfast dish.
This particular one is from a stall in the neighborhood market, about 15 minutes walk from home. The dish originated from the regency of Tasikmalaya, about 110 kms to the southeast of Bandung; most people selling the dish throughout Indonesia hailed from the very same town where the dish was first concocted. The dish consists of slices (or dices) of a dense rice cake (the kupat) and pieces of flash-fried succulent yellow tofu (the tahu); mung bean sprouts are typically added before everything is doused in watery peanut sauce and sweet soy sauce. Another popular variation of the dish is tahu petis, which is similar to kupat tahu with the only difference being the addition of petis (smooth fermented shrimp paste) into the peanut sauce. This dish is particularly a breakfast fare, and most stalls or carts that sell this dish close down shop before noon.
This second breakfast of chocolate milk and local doughnuts
Sometimes the kupat tahu just doesn’t cut it and when you’re in downtown area around 9 am, you feel like having a quick and sweet second breakfast. People on Java in general are not particularly fond of dairy products thus finding fresh dairy products is generally tricky. Luckily the dairy stalls downtown, just about a five-minute walk from the city square, serve fresh whole milk every morning delivered from Pangalengan, a small town just outside of my city known for its fresh milk and dairy products. The chocolate milk in the picture does not come flavored, and flavored syrups are added to the fresh milk right before it is served. Popular flavors include chocolate, strawberry, mocha, and vanilla. These stalls also serve cookies, cakes, and pastries, whose ingredients include the very same kind of milk they serve fresh. My favorites are the doughnuts, which are smaller yet denser than American-style doughnuts, with toppings and glazing that are not as sweet as their American counterparts.
This particularly filling dessert called Pisang Ijo
Pisang Ijo (lit. Green Banana) comes from the province of South Sulawesi, but it is getting more popular in Java in the recent years. It is mainly a dessert, but it can also be quite filling considering the ingredients. The titular green banana is made with a particularly soft and sweet variety of banana, encased in a pancake-like dough made of rice flour colored green from pandan leaves extract. What gives the dessert its unique combination of flavor is the creamy and rich custard sauce. Sometimes sweet syrup is added, although the custard itself is already sweet enough, as well as chocolate sprinkles and crushed peanuts. It is served cold with ice cubes or shaved ice.
This amazing hand-pulled noodles from Singapore
Okay, this is another food item not originally from my city, but this is the closest thing to having easy access to hand-pulled noodles whenever you want it. (And I always want it.) Mie Tarik King is a Singaporean chain that specializes in making their noodles hand-pulled and fresh on the counter. They offer a variety of soups and stir-fried noodles; all of which are good, but my favorite is the one pictured, which is the sweet-ish soy-sauce-based chicken broth with sweet stir-fried chicken, fried wonton bits, and kangkung (water spinach), an always welcome vegetable addition to any Chinese-style noodle soup. Kangkung may or may not be illegal in the US; if it is really illegal, then it is a crime committed to Southeast Asian Chinese food lovers in the US, who miss out on a vegetable that may be as addictive as weed.
This simple yet delectable fried rice with crackers and pickled cucumbers (not pickles!)
Okay, this is not even in my city, but in Jatinangor, the college town where I worked in. This fried rice stall opens late in the afternoon and stays open well into the wee hours of the morning. It cannot get simpler than this: rice, pre-prepared spice mix (which the owners spend all morning mixing), scrambled eggs, and tiny pieces of pulled chicken. The wok taste, the smokiness is what makes the simplicity so delicious.
This Tegal soto, which is my go-to sick dish
As mentioned above, Warung Tegal is a national institution, but few Warung Tegals actually serve the Tegal variety of soto, a national dish which invariably consists of a meat-based broth with rich spices, which includes at least one kind of meat, be it chicken, beef, or mutton. The Tegal soto is usually a chicken soto, with also a chicken-based broth enriched by thick coconut milk. The Tegal soto is perhaps comparable in appearance to the Jakartan Betawi soto, but the Betawi soto usually lacks turmeric; the Tegal soto is exactly characterized by its turmeric smell and taste which go hand-in-hand with the rich coconut milk. This particular Tegal soto from Jatinangor includes a healthy amount of pulled, stewed chicken, potato cubes, fresh scallions, and emping crackers. In this picture, it is served alongside a plate of steamed rice sprinkled with fried shallots and a piece of deep-fried tempe. Any kind of soto is typically comfort food, and the Tegal soto is one for when I feel a little under the weather.
As we roam further from my city, in part 2 I’ll include more things that I miss that do not come from or are not available in my city!