Eating Indonesia – Part 1: Flores

There’s a first time for everything, and I’ve had a lot of first-times recently. The most momentous event of those was, of course, venturing further than my backyard, Europe, to ‘somewhere exotic’. Indonesia. With a little bit of extra cash on my hands for the first time in my life, and prompted by my backpacking grandparents’ adventurous trip planning I thought why not. We arrived in Bali, travelled through Nusa Tenggara and finally returned to Bali to spend a few days in Ubud. With only a minor existential dilemma to ponder I did not intend the trip as a means to ‘find myself’ in an irritatingly egocentric, self-fetishistic manner, but to ‘eat, shop and walk’ like the tourist I undoubtedly was – with a great deal of sun burnt skin thrown in for a good measure. If I prayed it would have been to live to see another day after boarding a selection of dubious looking propeller airplanes that have clearly seen too many winters. I took thousands of pictures over the two short weeks, here is a selection of food-related, and entirely food-unrelated photographs.

Flores island. Stunning sunset over the Labuhan Bajo bay, as observed from Treetop Restaurant where we sat waiting for our tuna sate. The fish was, as you’d expect, freshly caught on the day. Here it is, we watched the chef grill his catch on a makeshift barbecue in the street. Labuhan Bajo will forever be the place where I first encountered heartbreaking poverty alongside prosperity – contrasts that have long since been weeded out in Bali (with the poor probably not getting much out of the bargain). I will never forget the sight of those ramshackle huts tucked away under the porch of the posh restaurant where we were sat eating our dinner – next to the beach littered with garbage where young ones played football in the dirt. I had to turn away in shame. However I much preferred the wild, unspoiled environment of Flores – and not a tourist resort in sight!Leaving Labuhan Bajo for the islands of Rinca and Komodo. We will sleep and eat on the boat – and some feasts those were!

It was on the boat that we first got to enjoy the Indonesian staple of steamed veg under various guises. Spinach, pak choi, green beans and potatoes feature most frequently. Rice never tasted so good, and there was a generous amount of fish and tempeh every day. Vegan alert: Indonesians love their tempeh, which is so much easier to come by here than in Europe.

A group of Komodo dragons demonstrating the meaning of the words ‘prostrate’ and ‘lazy’. These are supposedly some of the most dangerous animals there are.The tiny island of Komodo also boasts a wealth of natural beauty, from its rugged mountain ranges that seem to rise immediately from the sea, to stunningly varied coral reefs complete with its cheerfully colourful reef fish inhabitants to the fauna and flora of the island itself. Vocal monkeys and birds accompanied our every step, and I spotted a few cockatoos and even some birds of paradise.

The boat then dropped us off at Seraya, an uninhabited island secreted away among the other desert islands just off the West coast of Flores. Uninhabited save for a very grumpy hotel owner and his posse, the island only stopped short of being a true paradise by the crappy food we were served there. I suppose there’s only so much you can do if you only have electricity and fresh water available for 3 hours in the evening. If we weren’t woken up by the beating of waves on our private white sand beach, and weren’t lulled to sleep by the songs of cicadas we would not have spent such a long time there. However, the view from the bungalow being what it was, and thankfully fresh fish on offer every evening we stayed for 6 days.Our next stop was an exploration of West Flores and it was here that we first glimpsed the ubiquitous feature of Indonesian landscape: terraced rice paddies. Rice fields shape the landscape and it seems that rice shapes people’s lives with a rice dish eaten at every meal. Rice can be harvested three times a year, making it an ideal cheap foodstuff to feed the world’s fourth most populous nation.

Wherever there is the tiniest amount of free space between the road and rice fields, there is roadside rice drying with harvested grains spread on tarp sheets. This, along with narrow country roads and notorious Indonesian disregard for the rules of one lane, one vehicle often leads to all kinds of trouble. These are cooking bananas. I miss banana fritters and banana and cassava flour pancakes, our staple breakfast.Back in Labuhan Bajo we treat ourselves to supper at the fantastic Pesona Bali fish restaurant. I had Indonesian curry, grandma and grandad tried their take on nasi goreng (fried rice) with mixed seafood. We loved it so much we came back the following evening for some steamed fish with Balinese sauce (don’t ask me what that is but both this sauce and my Indonesian curry were quite dry and ginger and turmeric were the main detectable flavours).  Cooking and serving food in banana leaves not only looks swanky but, in less upmarket places has the added benefit of providing a hygienic alternative to plates. I washed the food down with an avocado shake – my new favourite beverage. Avocado and chocolate, who would have thought!That night I slept in fear of boarding yet another dodgy plane. But it would bring me to Bali and further adventures – see next post. Laters.

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About Expat Gourmet

Musings from the kitchen.
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