(suggestion: This post is best read in solitude, with minimal background noise. Read on ;)
NOW, JUST IMAGINE..
Imagine waking up to an empty table with no breakfast at all. Your stomach starts to growl and then call for the classic gruel... Bubur Ayam. A bowl of hot steamy savory porridge with soy sauce, shredded chicken, chopped celery, beans, fried shallots and crackers. Really awakens your appetite, no? Well, some people in different regions imagine Soto instead. Either clear soup or coconut-milk based, these broth made of chicken/beef is famous nation-wide, with different specialties in different region culture. Or, if those two didn't match your profile as some big-appetite omnivore, imagine a full meal of Nasi Uduk instead. Rice cooked in coconut-milk and spices, with lots of accoutrements in surrounding: fried chicken, tasty beehoon/vermicelli, stir-fry tempe, crackers, and even stewed jengkol (—don't imagine if you don't like it, as this might ruin this food-craze atmosphere I'm trying to build :p)
Imagine a bowl of Bakso on a damp post-rainy afternoon. I'd still love to think that we have the best meatballs in the world, with perfect composition of starch vs. meat giving the right amount of chewiness and texture like no other 'fancy' western meatballs. Imagine adding Bakso as a complement to a simple bowl of Mie Ayam, where for me, personally, chicken and noodle never tasted that good! Light broth, thin noodle, natural oil squeezed out of chicken's skin, soy sauce chicken mixture, and don't forget the almighty God-knows-what-is-it-inside that vibrant red chili sauce —don't know, don't care, because everything just makes sense in your taste buds!
Imagine a healthier option to find on our street food carts. Imagine Gado-gado. Vegetable salad drenched in nation's classic peanut sauce. Then imagine similar options: Pecel, Karedok, Ketoprak, Lotek, Pecel, Kupat Tahu, etc. I, too, can't explain the difference without looking up Google - all I know is that they make a fulfilling meal, although they look messy. Who cares if it looks messy? It's not fine dining anyway. Talking about messy, now imagine Satay. Super tasty meat skewers with burnt aroma post-being grilled over charcoal, bathed in peanut sauce to cover some big chunks of rice cakes (ketupat) hidden at the bottom.
AT THIS POINT I MUST BE REALLY STARVING I STARTED TO IMAGINE LOTS (& LOTS...) OF OTHER STREET-FOODS.
I can't stop here without mentioning our national TOP dish: Nasi Goreng. Imagine fried rice made in old rugged wok sold in street vendors. They're simply the best. It speaks the language of everyday's comfort food, it goes way beyond generations, every family has their own hereditary recipe.
Imagine all the things we do using starch & fish in any way possible —we'd still do them the right justice. Imagine a plateful Siomay, steamed fish dumplings served in abundant rich peanut sauce along with its sidekicks: steamed potato, tofu, cabbage, egg, and bitter gourd. Imagine them being fried, you'll get somewhat close to Batagor. Literally fried-baso-tofu, this somay-like mixture is coated with wonton skin then deep-fried until golden crisp, OMG. Imagine another derivative of starch vs fish processing, Otak-otak. Fish cake wrapped in banana leaves and then being grilled over charcoal, even from afar you can recognize its scent. And then imagine Pempek, when you just had enough of peanut sauce and you want some tangy dark chili & vinegar sauce sprinkled with some shrimp powder & fresh cut cucumber.
Oh well. My list could go on and on.
MY IMAGINATION IS RUNNING WILD, BUT AGAIN, THE QUESTION REMAINS: WHAT IS IT ABOUT STREET-FOODS THAT CAPTURED THE HEARTS OF SO MANY PEOPLE? WHY AM I OBSESSED WITH OUR STREET-FOOD?
Because, unless you live in highly secured cluster/apartment that has far-cry access to some small alley or local streets/markets, you'd realize that we can find those food carts almost everywhere. Because they're cheap. And damn delicious. Because it will take an entire new diet lifestyle to say NO and resist them. Because eating good foods on the road side—despite its hygiene issues—is what makes a guilty pleasure. Because you keep coming back for more even though you said you weren't gonna.
Because street-foods are awesome. Because you think street-food vendors have magical hands and magical recipes that everything just tastes much better rather than having the same meal in some fancy restaurant. Because it depicts the ugly truth of our social gap portrait; about how we think government should treat them better —how to get them more recognized and better conserved.
And because, having lived in Indonesia for over two decades made you realize that these are all part of your childhood memories, a part of your present being, and will still be a part of your future identity as local Indonesians who just couldn't live without their roots of origin; the culture, and the tradition of our humble street-food.
And those, my friend, are exactly my train-of-thoughts every time I think about our local street foods.
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This post indeed was intended to be submitted as entry to Femina Foodlovers Blog Competition 2013. In the end it's never about winning or losing, nor even about writing good or bad essays. It's solely about spreading the love and awareness to keep future generations of local & traditional foods that have been part of our culture.