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Floating Gastronomy

My Scholarship entry - Understanding a Culture through Food

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 23 April 2012 | Views [201] | Scholarship Entry

Our speedboat stops at last, and we pull over to a floating warung. I climb out of the boat and hasten to the roughly hewn bench to sit next to the driver.

The Ibu brings our drinks, tankards filled with bitter tea the colour of caramelised sugar, sweetened with enough sugar to make your teeth ache. I drink deeply, the tang hitting the back of my throat.
We munch perkedel jagung as we wait, golden crisp on the outside, full of flavour and incredibly more-ish. I watch as she steps over to the glass cabinet.

She opens the plastic cooler lid and uses a child’s bowl to scoop out the rice, upturning it to create a perfect rice mountain. Swatting away flies, she slides open the glass doors and takes out plates, carefully selecting items and placing them reverently around the rice in the centre of my plate. Over it comes, what seems like an eternity of waiting is over.

‘Selamat Makan’ – Happy eating.

Rendang, a beef curry cooked so slowly that the liquid is completely absorbed, sits next to the singkong leaves, steamed with wild garlic. On the other side of my plate, a catfish staring up at me with its white eyes and cracked flesh. Decorating the top of the rice are shavings of omelette, so oily that you can smell the fishy flavour of the fish fried in the same wok just moments before.
I wash my fingers in the bowl of river water supplied and form a spoon with the four fingers of my right hand, using my thumb to push the food into my mouth. No cutlery here.

The sambal ijo sears my throat, bringing tears to my eyes - I desperately swig my iced tea, the boatmen laughing at me for my over eagerness. I start again at a slower pace; less sambal, more rice. MSG enhances every mouthful, the singkong is bursting with flavour and as I eat more, stringy pieces of beef get caught between my teeth. No matter.

The Ibu surprises me with a gift as I board the boat – a bag of singkong roots, deep fried and sprinkled with salt. She shouts ‘selamat jalan’ as we leave. Safe journey.

Tags: travel writing scholarship 2012

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