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!
One of my greatest concerns when I have to move in to a new place is access to good coffee. I am no all-rounder when it comes to coffee (meaning I can’t just enjoy any coffee) and I’m not a snob either. When I moved to the US, specifically in Lawrence, Kansas, I suspected the prevalence of Starbucks in the area (not a fan; I’m always a Dunkin’ guy), yet I believed that I would come across a number of independent, locally-owned (not to mention hippie-ish) coffee shops since Lawrence is a college town full of vibrant hipster atmosphere (perhaps).
Where to go
Well, my suspicion wasn’t wrong when I first came here in Lawrence. Starbucks are easy to find whenever Dillon’s grocery stores are, since in Lawrence they’re allied. If Starbucks is your thing and you crave for a cold venti of frappucino while in Lawrence, just head to one of the Dillon’s stores closest to you. Of, if you’d rather have your coffee while sitting down, you can visit the Starbucks at downtown Lawrence on the historic Massachusetts Street. I can never say much about Starbucks’s coffee; I always consider most of their non-sweetened offerings watery and their sweetened ones saccharine. If you think their cold brew is good, most other coffee shops in Lawrence blow it out of the water. Now, let’s move on to the places that blow Starbucks out of the water.
When I was in Indonesia, I was always a Dunkin’ guy. Why? Their hot coffee (essentially an Americano) tastes great, although it may not be consistent from one store to another. Here in Lawrence, there are only two Dunkin’ stores; one is on the West 6th Street and Michigan, the other is on the West 23rd and Louisiana. Even though the West 6th Dunkin’ is much closer to where I live (about three blocks away), I always prefer the West 23rd Dunkin’ for several reasons. The first is better coffee; the brew at West 23rd Dunkin’ seems to be stronger, darker and thicker which is evident when you order either an espresso or an Americano. The second is more professional service and barrista-ship (is this even a word?). Do try Dunkin’s cold brew. I always prefer it over their iced coffee.
The Roasterie Air-Roasted Coffee (https://www.theroasterie.com/)
The Roasterie is the official coffee partner of the University of Kansas (KU). It originates from neighboring Kansas City. You can find it almost everywhere on campus, at the Memorial Union building, the many foodcourts and the libraries. Their beans are locally sourced and they employ KU students, meaning that they provide much-needed on campus employment. Their coffee I sometimes find hit-and-miss. If you have to go for The Roasterie, settle for their dark roast Americano/drip coffee or their espresso if you prefer something stronger and briefer (I usually go for the double espresso). Their regular and decaf options are too light for my taste. For a KU student, paying for their regular roast and decaf is also considered unnecessary, except if you want some of their more unconventional offerings, such as the Bavarian or cinnamon coffee. Since The Roasterie is the official coffee provider for KU events, you can always get the regular and decaf for free at almost any university events that serve free refreshments.
Java Break (http://thejavabreak.com/home/)
Java Break was the first coffee shop I visited in Lawrence and I can’t say much about it. It has a great place downtown, at the basement of a historic building, very spacious and hippie-ish. The barrista is nice, albeit grumpy-looking and sleepless because the place is open 24 hours. I haven’t tried many of their coffee drinks, but their regular coffee is even weaker, in my opinion, than The Roasterie’s regular. Their Java Break specialty (with some interesting spices) tastes nice, but it is a bit watery. However, if you happen to be downtown late at night and in need of some not-so-serious coffee and a place to hang out without resorting to one of the bars, Java Break may be the place for you.
UPDATE: I went to Java Break yesterday to study with some friends and I had a cup of Lawrence Slammer (pictured with a KU Jayhawks cap) for the first time. It was good! It’s a shot espresso diluted with the Java Break regular coffee, and it’s a great idea! It’s even better with a dash of turbinado (raw cane sugar) and a pinch of cinnamon powder!
La Prima Tazza (http://laprimatazza.com/)
La Prima Tazza is located just across the street from the downtown Starbucks and is easily the better of the two. It is housed in a historic building with a great vintage atmosphere that somewhat manages to not be too hipsterrific, which perhaps explains why it attracts people from different age groups instead of only the hippie youngsters. There are many house blends to choose from, but if the drip coffee is not your thing, the espresso is strong and rich. Making it a macchiato is even better. If you feel a little adventurous, you can try one of the coffee specialties. I have only tried the Indonesian specialty, a drink that I never actually found in Indonesia. It’s a strong and flavorful drink, a mixture of two shots of espresso and spiced milk. Give it a try!
Alchemy is a locally owned coffee and bake shop. It is a quieter place altogether because it is located a little inside, about ten blocks away from the downtown coffee places listed here. I came to Alchemy for the hyped cold brew and it delivers! It is perhaps the best, the richest cold brew I have had so far, bar none. I forgot to ask about the beans and the method used, because I was there when it was about to close. Alchemy also makes the best blueberry pie I have ever had! My biggest gripe with Alchemy is the rather unfortunate operating hours, opening too early (at 7 am) and closing too soon (at 6 pm) which prevents me from having a refreshing glass of cold brew after classes. Still, I’ll be back and have more awesome coffee drinks to go with the blueberry pie!
I will continue to explore Lawrence and its surrounding areas for more coffee. So, I will keep this page updated! See you!