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For people who live in Indonesia, it may be as simple as waiting for dinner to be served or even walking to the nearest restaurant to get a favorite dish. Whenever you crave a certain food, it’s not that hard to find.
However, for those who live outside the country, it may not be that simple. One Indonesian expat in Purdue, Indiana, for instance, drives all the way to Columbus, Ohio, which takes about three hours, just to satisfy her craving for a good gado-gado.
Indonesian cuisine is rare outside the archipelago, and when you find it, it can be like discovering a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
So, for those who may be taking local delicacies for granted, here is a list of the top five foods people will certainly miss if and when they leave the country:
1) Sweet martabak
Oh yes. Everybody loves this one and only sweet, thick pancake. What is it in a martabak that’s not to love, with the wide variety of flavors, from chocolate all the way to durian, and with a choice of thick or thin crust.
And then the layers of dough are so moist, leaving a rich aftertaste of pleasing sweetness. It is nearly impossible to find carts selling martabak outside the country, plus, making the treats on your own can be difficult and require a lot of patience, which makes them one of the rare food jewels of Indonesia.
2) Padang food
Yes, places outside the country might serve you their own versions of the cuisine, but nothing beats the taste and atmosphere of Indonesia’s original Padang restaurants.
There is that tenderness of beef cooked in coconut milk called rendang combined with the sweat running down your forehead, your tongue savoring every bite of spiciness from the green chili.
Not to mention there is a seemingly unlimited variety of plates served up right in front of you, from potato patties (perkedel), fish curry (gulai ikan), Padang satay (sate Padang), hard-boiled eggs in red chili sauce (telor balado), beef jerky (dendeng balado), all that you definitely won’t find outside Indonesia.
Wrapped in brown paper and accompanied with its signature spicy peanut sauce over mixed vegetables, eggs and ketupat, then sprinkled with crackers to enjoy, gado-gado is one of those ubiquitous foods you don’t want to forget while you’re in Indonesia.
The unique savory taste of sweet and saltiness in the peanut sauce is one-of-a-kind, and nearly impossible to get outside the country.
To top it all off, you can pay Rp 80,000 (US$8.50) for a single portion of gado-gado in the States, whereas you can get about 11 of them for the same price here!
4) Teh botol
Teh botol is not exactly a food, but this sweet tea is worthy enough as one of the things you will miss most from Indonesia. It is a tradition to drink Teh botol almost anywhere, anytime: when you eat, after a long day of work, or to cascade down your thirsty throat on a sunny day. Losing Teh botol means you no longer have your favorite drink easy to find and chilled when you’re thirsty, which can be pretty agonizing.
5) Fried rice
Fried rice has been listed as the top 100 most delicious foods in the world, and it is many people’s favorite dish. Delicious and tasty, this simple food is basically rice mixed with sweet and salty soy sauce and sold from street carts to restaurants, for you to eat on the street late at night or as a breakfast with sunny side up eggs on the side.
Brace yourself though; outside Indonesia there are only a few restaurants that offer this dish with that local flavor. Yes, it is easy to make, but it’s the atmosphere of the street carts and the home cook that will make you miss this the most.
So remember, Indonesia may not have the best traffic, but it’s definitely a country offering a variety of delicious culinary delights that spoil your tastebuds. Wherever you are, remember to savor every bite.
— Sevira Wirawan