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!