September 1, 2008

The Omnivore's 100

I got this list from a food blog called "Very Good Taste", which, in turn, was referenced by the Epi-Log.

Just go down the list and see which food/beverage item you have tasted so far. Again, I didn't come up with the list, I just copied and pasted it from the VGT site. If you're wondering on the definition of an item (what's poutine*?), just Google it or search it in Wikipedia, or you can click here to go to the original article where the author has helpfully linked some items to their respective Wikipedia page.

Below are my results:
- bold black text = been there, done that
- (italicized text in parentheses) = my own personal notes, comments, etc.
- crossed-out text = I will never try this! Not even a taste, a nibble or a sip. No.

So, here we go... the VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp (gurame)
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart (most memorable: bacon-wrapped hot dog topped with grilled onions from a street vendor in Los Angeles' Garment District while hunting for bridesmaid's gowns with the bride-to-be and fellow bridesmaids. We each ate one. Not exactly helpful to our 'mission', huh?)
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (plum wine: it tasted like cough medicine... yuck!)
19. Steamed pork buns (ba pao!)
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (does raw Thai/bird's eye chili [cabe rawit] count?)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters (I was only six when I first slurped a raw one from the shell. No, I didn't gag. I liked it.)
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail (nothing like a steaming bowl of 'sop buntut')
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (I'd rather crush them flat with a sandal)
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu (ehh... no thanks, I don't have a death wish)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer (in the form of spinach-based 'saag paneer')
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine*
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (ugh! I don't think this is a 'food' item at all)
64. Currywurst ('curry' and 'wurst'? Those two words don't belong together)
65. Durian (oh yeah! The King of fruit that can humble the most adventurous eater)
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (all of the above!)
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain (with garlic pork and rice & beans at a Cuban restaurant -- thanks, Edo!)
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (deep fried pork intestine with porridge, anyone?)
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini (do I get a half-point credit?)
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (bleeagghhh...)
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie (high school cafeteria flashbacks...)
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum (I miss the Sanam Luang in Pomona)
82. Eggs Benedict (... and Las Brisas in Laguna Beach)
83. Pocky (my kids love 'em, too!)
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant (... someday, someday...)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers (papaya blossoms)
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish (pecel lele with lalapan and sambal terasi...)
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (how about Kopi Lampung or Kopi Luwak?)
100. Snake

My results: 48.5 out of a 100
(the half-point comes from #72).

*poutine is a Canadian comfort food (some say heart-attack-on-a-plate) made from french fries "topped with fresh cheese curds, covered with brown gravy and sometimes additional ingredients".

Notes on #5, #89 and #100 (crocodile, horse, snake, respectively): my husband has been trying to get me to try them. There's a food stall here that specializes in 'sate kuda' (horse satay). Then there's a nearby Chinese restaurant named "Raja [King] Cobra", specializing in, what else? Dishes made from snake meat, heart, liver, etc. Thankfully, I haven't seen any crocodile meat featured in a menu so far. While I'm pretty resistant to his efforts at this point, I also have an 'I'll try (almost) anything once' philosophy when it comes to food. So maybe sometime in the future... stay tuned.

My dear husband also wants me to try a meat not found on this list: dog. 'Nuff said. (update: he tricked me into eating Fido! He gave a vague answer when I asked if it was pork or not. It wasn't.)

But there is another item
not on this list that I very much enjoyed on several occasions while growing up: (with no disrespect to the Dark Knight) bat meat! ... Holy poutine, Batman!

Okay, so how did you do? Comments, please...

July 10, 2008

A bit of Americana in Jakarta

After about six months of living in Jakarta, surrounded by (and eating) a lot of food we could only dream about in Los Angeles, we began to really miss American food. A great burger (In-n-Out!), bacon, steak, BBQ ribs, hot-off-the-grill bratwurst and good ol' American breakfast: pancakes, maple syrup, stuffed omelettes, crispy hash browns, sausage links, bacon (oh, did I mention that already?) ... American diner food, basically (we miss you, Denny's...).

Well, the good thing about living in Jakarta is you can have the best of both (culinary) worlds. You can't find genuine Indonesian 'street cuisine' in Los Angeles, but you can find (almost) everything in Jakarta. Of course, the 'imported' stuff costs a lot more and a little bit harder to find, which is pretty much true with any imported goods in any country.

So a couple of weeks ago my husband and I ended up in Hard Rock Cafe Jakarta for lunch, it was about 3 PM already and we were starving. After perusing the all-American menu, we both decided to satisfy our hankering for burgers. He ordered the Legendary Burger, which is basically a bacon cheeseburger. But this being Indonesia, most restaurants comply to the halal standards (the Muslim's definition of kosher), meaning the non-halal pork cannot be an ingredient... thus the beef 'bacon'.

Do you know what this beef 'bacon' taste like?

Pastrami. Thickly sliced dried pastrami. Uhuh.

That just intensified our longing for the real rasher made from a hog. Crispy, salty, smokey, streaky with fat... (aw, come on, don't act like a healthy food snob, you know you also love bacon... it's been said that bacon is what kept many people from becoming true vegetarians).

I ordered the enigmatically named S.O.B. Burger (below), enticed by toppings of chipotle sauce, guacamole and Monterey Jack cheese. Not bad. For both burgers the ground beef patties were thick and juicy (think Islands Burgers, not McDonald's). And they correctly cooked the meat per our requests: medium rare.

A few days later we set out to shop for more American food, this time at SOGO Food Hall, a high-end (read: pricey) supermarket specializing in imported goods. We justified this splurge by telling ourselves that we'd streeeeetch these ingredients to last for several months, cooking and eating them only once in a while.

Thankfully we did find two familiar faces at this supermarket (Aunt Betty! Aunt Jemima! So good to see you in Jakarta!). So with their help we can now have buttermilk pancakes and maple syrup at home (we tried a local pancake mix... uh, never mind. And yes, I do realize it's maple flavored corn syrup, but hey, Aunt Jemima is genuine Americana!).

As for the bacon, another very familiar American, Uncle Oscar of the wiener and bologna fame, came to our rescue with "America's Favorite Bacon - Naturally Hardwood Smoked"! The vacuum-packed red-white strips of pork belly looked gorgeous as we grabbed the one pound package and believe it or not, most of it is still in our freezer. We are using it judiciously, as we promised ourselves.

Other staples from the land of Uncle Sam in our fridge and pantry: a jar of Kraft's Real Mayonnaise, a tub of Kraft's Grated Parmesan Cheese, a jar of Ragu's Classic Alfredo Sauce, a box of Barilla pasta, a small bottle of EVOO, and a small jar of crushed oregano (yes, several of the ingredients are Italian, but we regularly cooked with them at home in LA. After all, pasta has become as American as apple pie pizza!).

Buttermilk pancakes or bubur ayam (chicken porridge) for breakfast? Homemade pasta alfredo one night, ketoprak from a street vendor the next. Variety is the spice of life!

June 15, 2008

Try not to drool on your keyboard...

Just a very tiny sampling of the food we've tasted so far...

Pisang goreng (deep-fried bananas) in the background
with the croquette-like combro,
which is made from cassava with a spicy savory filling
made with oncom, chili pepper and other spices.

A delicious twist on the deep-fried squid at a modern Chinese restaurant:
the unique batter is made from salted eggs.
It's not as salty as you might think, but I could definitely taste the egg yolk
... boy oh boy, pile on the cholesterol!

A serving of Sate Padang from a vendor that sells only this dish.
There are just two choices: beef and/or beef tongue.
The plate comes with slices of lontong (rice cooked into dense patties),
then everything gets smothered with the savory yellow sauce
that defines this dish, then a spoonful of fiery hot sambal,
finished off with a sprinkling of deep-fried shallots
... oooh... soooo... gooooood!

The ultimate and definitive Indonesian condiment: the sambal or chili sauce!
No meal is complete without at least one type of sambal,
and there are innumerable recipes and variations from every region.
The three sambals pictured above are the selections
from a restaurant called Bumbu Desa,
which serves traditional West Javanese/Sundanese 'desa' (village) food.
This restaurant has become one of our favorites!

This rujak ulek cart is one of many street food vendors
that can be found right outside the house.
is Indonesia's fruit salad with a sauce made from peanuts, palm sugar,
chili, and sometimes terasi (fermented shrimp paste).
This vendor only charges Rp.5000 (about fifty cents) per plate,
he'll make yours to order, just choose from a variety of fresh fruit:
mango, papaya, pineapple, jicama,
kedondong (I don't know the English word for it),
and yam (I know it's a veggie, not fruit!).
You also need to tell him how spicy you want your peanut sauce to be!

This is 'rotbar' or roti bakar (literally, grilled bread).
This version has sliced bananas and chocolate sprinkles
sandwiched between thick slabs of white bread,
which is then grilled and to
pped off with shredded cheese
and a swirl of sweet condensed milk.
Other fillings include tape singkong (fermented cassava,
it tastes way better than it sounds!),
(a 'jam' made with coconut milk and eggs),
strawberry jam, etc. Rotbar is perfect with tea
... and coffee, of course!

Saving the best for last: martabak manis!
Rich, chewy, super thick 'pancakes' folded over chocolate, cheese, peanuts,
sesame seed and sweet condensed milk (front slice),
or just with the cheese and milk (just as yummy!).
Think of it as crêpes on steroids, mixed with a hefty dose of margarine :D
... oh yeah!

June 1, 2008

Gading's "Food City"

Less than two weeks after our arrival in Jakarta, we celebrated the birthday of a relative at Kelapa Gading's "Food City" with about 15 members of my husband's family. This "Food City" is an open air food court complete with a stage for a live band, ringed on three sides with small restaurants. But don't even compare this with the average 'food court' in an American mall with your boring corporate franchises ... the food here is authentic and so much more delicious!

Here's a tiny sampling of our feast:

Ikan gurame saus asem-manis
(deep fried 'gurame' fish with sweet-&-sour sauce)

Kepiting saus tiram
(crab with oyster sauce)

Kodok goreng saus mentega
(deep fried frog legs with butter sauce)
Ohhhh... soooo yummyyyyy...

May 25, 2008

First impressions of Jakarta's "Food Paradise"

Food Paradise. Food City. Those are the nicknames for Kelapa Gading, the neighborhood in North Jakarta where we have been living upon returning home from the United States. And judging from what we’ve seen so far, they are accurate descriptions.

The main thoroughfare of Kelapa Gading, called the “Boulevard”, is lined chockfull with hundreds of restaurants and food stalls for many, many blocks on both sides. My husband and I were gawking like tourists as we were driven through the area for the first time and we told each other: “Ok, you look on that side, I look on this side, and keep in mind what’s out there so we can try them later!”

It is truly a mind-boggling variety: all types of cuisines, from a myriad of Indonesian regional food (Padang, Manado, Palembang, Makassar, etc.) to international (Chinese, American, Korean, etc.) and many interpretations of snackfoods (pisang goreng, pastel, martabak, mpek-mpek, etc… oh, my!). Some are sleekly designed modern restaurants complete with A/C, others are the typical ‘dives’ of open-air tents with benches and tables. They’re all squeezed next to each other for many blocks without any sense of cohesiveness: a gleaming new bakery is built next to a dingy, older restaurant, etc. All advertise their unique dishes on huge banners, the effect is quite chaotic as you drive along the street, but that’s part of the charm... if you can call it 'charming' at all. I’m definitely not in Irvine Spectrum or Victoria Gardens anymore (my old haunts while living in southern California), with their thoughtfully planned and designed public space!

Lest you think we have gorged ourselves in these first few days, we haven’t. Our sore throats, which still persist as of this writing, kept us from doing so (deep-fried stuff is definitely verboten!). So far we’ve only eaten at one restaurant on this ‘Boulevard’, where my brother and sister-in-law treated us for dinner, it’s a Chinese bakery & restaurant named ‘Eaton’ (go figure…). The two-story structure is very nicely designed, with clean and modern interior, and we sat right next to the huge window on the second floor, looking down at the bustling traffic below. Customer service was fabulous, the food and dessert were great. Jakarta has clearly come a long way on a lot of things!

Ok… hundreds more dishes to try in this 'Food Heaven'!

May 22, 2008

Why, What, Who?

What's in a name?

It happened several years ago when I was living in southern California. I wanted to make a big batch of an iced drink/dessert to enjoy over many hot summer days. Most of the time I would just make a version of es campur (lit. 'mixed ice'): a medley of canned and/or fresh fruit, some jelly/agar/nata-de-coco, then a snowy mound of shaved ice (or simply plenty of ice cubes) and drizzles of syrup and sweetened condensed milk.

But this time I was craving for something different. I started experimenting with some ideas and inspirations that came from many different sources, I just needed to see if they would work well together.

After a few tries, I finally created an iced dessert that uses cucumber to provide the primary texture and pandan (screwpine leaf) to 'perfume' it. The humble cucumber is widely available and is used in many cuisines around the world. Pandan is practically the 'vanilla' in southeast Asian desserts.

The combination worked very well, it was somehow both familiar and unexpected. It was a hit whenever I brought it to parties, BBQ or any get-together. People asked for the recipe and pregnant friends even had cravings for it.

I'll post a complete recipe of this original (as far as I know) dessert later. Stay tuned!

A little bit about me...

After living for more than two decades in the United States, I am now back living in my hometown of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, since 2008.

I'm not a professional chef or cook by any means, the closest connection I have to a profession in the culinary world is a brief stint as a waitress at a Japanese restaurant in Norwalk, CA. But my love of cooking began in childhood in Jakarta. I remember clipping, collecting and cooking from recipes I found in magazines since I was still in elementary school. Then later when I was living in southern California, my exposure to other cuisines of the world was increased exponentially, thanks to Los Angeles' multi-ethnic demographic (and also countless hours of watching cooking shows on PBS and then years later, on Food Network). There I also began collecting cookbooks, which I insisted on bringing back home to Jakarta (my husband had to stop me from buying more!). They sure represented quite a portion of the weight of the entire shipment.

I love to read food blogs from around the world, my favorites are the ones that not only describe the meal, but also allow glimpses to the life, people, culture and history that surround it.

Oh, I also love to write.

So here's cucumber pandan. Thank you for reading!