Sunday, 22 March 2009

Salak and Jambu - Indonesian Food

If it feels like a snake, and it looks like a snake, then it must be a ... fruit!?

In my last post I put up a couple of cropped pictures of some exotic fruits I'd encountered in Indonesia. Well, picture No.1 is of the salak also known as the snake fruit or snakeskin fruit. These grow in clusters at the base of the imposingly prickly salak palm that is native to Indonesia, with each individual fruit about the size of a large fig. They look pretty "wicked" don't they, with their scaly peel. At the very least, they give the impression that something serpentine might just pop out of them! The unusual snake-like skin is surprisingly thin and somewhat papery, easily peeled away by hand to reveal three waxy lobes or segments of edible off-white flesh. Each of these fleshy lobes hides a hard inedible seed. The fruit has quite a distinctive, slightly sourish (acidic) aroma but the flesh has a pleasant crunchy texture (like a cling peach or unripe nectarine) and quite sweet. Both the appearance and odour of the fruit have proven a little too confronting for some people encountering it for the first time to enjoy. As for me, I don't mind it at all though it wouldn't be at the top of my list of favourite tropical fruits. It really needs to be eaten when very fresh, as bruised or older fruits emanate an overpowering smell and unpleasant taste of fermentation.

As Phyllis and Thanh were both able to reveal, Fruit No.2 is the jambu or wax apple, a very common and popular fruit in south Asia and again native to Indonesia. When I'd been out for a stroll around the suburbs of Jakarta, I'd often come across the bell-shaped fruits strewn over some patch of ground even beside a busy roadway or a carpark; a cue to look up to see a jambu laden tree. The common variety has an attractive greenish-to-white colour tinged with a faint blush of pink and is known as jambu air (or water jambu) due to its light crunchy and juicy texture consisting mostly of water. The ones pictured here are a slightly larger variety or cultivar known as jambu merah (red jambu), or jambu susu (milk jambu) on account of its milky white inner flesh. Tastewise the varieties are similarly subtle, slightly tart and faintly perfumed. It is an easy fruit to eat and can be crunched skin and all, although the heart hiding the seed is a little cobwebby or cottonwoolly in texture. Otherwise it is a refreshing bite! Because of its subtle taste, jambu is usually eaten with a condiment. Thanh says they are enjoyed with sugar syrup in Vietnam. In Indonesia however, locals really only eat them dipped in the ubiquitous kecap manis (a sweet soy sauce) laced with very spicy chilli sambal! It is also a common ingredient in rujak, a raw fruit salad tossed with crushed peanuts and a hotly spicy shrimp-paste and tamarind dressing. Sounds odd but tastes devine!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Lady and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden - Indonesian Food

As Melbourne Food Bloggers were living it up at the rescheduled version of their latest get together, I was stuck in a 5-hour layover at the main terminal building of KL International enroute home from Jakarta with only the bowl of curry noodles pictured above and the How to Pay Off Your Mortgage in 5 Years paperback to break up the boredom. As terminal purchases go, the noodle curry was way better than the book, which was merely yet another not-that-insightful version telling folks like me and you what we should really already know. On the other hand while not exactly brimming with treasures, the noodle curry had a requisite rich and deeply flavourful stockbase expected from a bowl of the stuff almost everywhere in SE Asia but still not an easy find back here, yes even in Melbourne. The soup was pretty spicy and not just with chilli, although it also had more chilli kick than I really needed for spending a further eight hours trapped in an aircraft. It made me sweat. In the broth were fried tofu (taupok), fishcake, mungbean shoots, baby corn and miscellaneous vege condiments, spinach, a couple of smallish prawns, fried shallots, dark dots of small canned blood cockles and an egg. Slurpable indeed. Has anybody out there recently refreshed their directory of Melbourne spots for decent curry noodles, more commonly known as curry laksa?

Folks reading the official Australian travel advisory for Indonesia nowadays would be put off travelling there for a good while. And that would be a shame because politics aside, large parts of the country remain a verdant paradise (yes it may really have been the model for Eden) and filled with a friendly easy-going people that would make any laidback Aussie feel inadequate. What's more, greetings accompanied by those lovely Javanese smiles are something else to remember. And Indonesian food! Oh my. I'll leave ranting more about that, accumulated over several recent trips there, for later posts.

For now I'll finish with a couple of crops for a "Do you know what this is?" game. I'm sure anyone who has ever spent time in the archipelago or stayed at a Balinese resort would recognise at least one of the below, though the best are apparently from Java. Care to share your knowledge or take a guess in the Comments section?

Hint: Yes of course they are for eating.

Crackling scales (left) and blushing red (right)