Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Indonesia Eats: North Sumatra and Aceh

For the whole month of June, I was in Indonesia for a month-long exposure-cum-training with the Alternatives to Violence Project.  Before flying in, I was honestly a bit worried that I might not be able to maintain vegetarianism while there.  The principle is compassion, not fanaticism, so I don't want to bother people about it and if they had to go out of their way to make special food just for one person (me), that wouldn't be very nice.  I was there to make friends, not to become a burden just because of my eating habits.

I must say, though, that food was such a pleasant surprise.  Every single meal had a vegetarian option--a lot of times even vegan--so I didn't have to violate vegetarianism to survive.  On top of it, they have amazing food!  Very, very spicy and too much for those with sensitive palates--as in they spend close to an hour making chilli sauce with about 50 chillies in a mortar and pestle right before they start cooking a meal--but amazing nonetheless!

Here are some food items from North Sumatra and Aceh Province:

Es Teh Manis (Sweet Iced Tea)
This is the only food item photo I have from North Sumatra.  It's black tea, which they simply refer to in their language as teh, meaning "tea."  This photo was taken in a village called Barak Induk in the mountains of Langkat, North Sumatra.  It took me over five minutes to order this at a road-side shanty cafe because I went there alone, with no Indonesian-speaking friends, and the woman running the shop spoke absolutely no English.  I had fun communicating with hand gestures and my less-than-a-shotglass of Indonesian words.  I'm glad she was very kind and patient with me.

This tea is made by soaking dried black tea leaves in very hot water before transferring it onto a mug, with the leaves strained.  Then ice and two to three tablespoons of sugar are added.  I'm not even joking about the sugar.

Kopi (Coffee)
This is kopi (coffee) prepared the traditional Javanese way.  Although we were in Aceh, we stayed in a place run by a mix of Javanese and Acehnese people and they always make their coffee this way.  I guess nobody can beat a cup of Java the way the Javanese make it!  Hah!

They grind the roasted coffee beans to powdery bits, put a tablespoon or so in a tall glass and pour hot water in it before spooning in heaps and heaps of sugar.  The Indonesians seriously love their sugar!  It's interesting to note that, in Sumatra, they always use a handle-less glass to contain coffee even with ceramic mugs lying around.

Roti Cane / Roti Canai
This is Roti Cane, a type of grease layered, popped flat bread.  This is the exact same type of bread Malaysians call Roti Canai.  There is no difference in the composition and way of cooking, just the way the name is said in both Bahasa variations.

This bread is more commonly prepared to go with a meal.  Usually, there is a bowl of some sort of curry or stew where you dip pieces of bread in after tearing them off from the rest of the plate.  In this case, however, the bread was sprinkled with sugar to be eaten as a snack on the roadside of the City of Langsa in Aceh, just opposite the city centre square where a festival was going on.

Teh Tarik (Pulled Milk Tea) with ice
This is Teh Tarik, pulled milk tea of Indian origin.  They make it by pulling milk tea onto one container from another, back and forth for what seems like an eternity to form bubbles and create a heavenly taste.  It's usually just served hot but it isn't a culinary crime to drink it with ice.

Roti Bakar (Grilled Bread)
This is Roti Bakar, grilled bread.  It tastes kind of like waffles from heaven.  I mean, seriously, this was seven times better than the western style waffles I'm used to!  The waffle-like bread is grilled, sliced and then served with some sort of filling.  In this case, the filling is pineapple jam and chocolate syrup.  What was particularly awesome about it was that the chocolate syrup tasted really close to the traditional cacao preparation I'm used to back home.

Acehnese Vegetarian Meal
This was an Acehnese vegetarian meal with a mystery vegetable that was probably a member of the cabbage family.  It tasted really, really good.  It was composed of rice as a staple, fried diced potato in sweet sauce, green beans, cassava leaves (which I didn't even know were edible before I went to Indonesia), spicy omelette, and the mystery vegetable (the green flowery thing).

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