It’s been 11 months now since I arrived here in Makassar and do you know what one of the hardest choices I’ve had to make each day is? Deciding what I want to eat. There are so many mouth-watering foods but sometimes you have to search hard to find them. It’s easy to eat the same dish every day. I’ve lived a staple diet of four main dishes since I’ve been here, which have included fried or BBQ chicken, fried rice, bakso and coto. Cooked on the side of the road, under plastic covers and next to the stoves, the rich aromas are hard to miss.
Of course none of these meals can go a miss without the famous samabals. Sambal is a spicy sauce made from chilies, garlic, tomatoes, and anything else the cook may want to add. I could drink the stuff. Spice has taken over my taste buds so much, that when I went back home to England I had to add chilies to my sandwiches. I kept taking extra mouthfuls of meals just to try and get some flavor. Crazy, but now I can’t seem to enjoy my food without spice in it. Has chili burnt away my taste buds?
So you may be thinking what is bakso? Bakso is a mixture of different meatballs that have been boiled. Sometimes pork, but most of the time it is beef, as the main religion here is Muslim. A lot of westerners hate the stuff, but for me mixing it in a soup with lime, sambal and krupuk is delicious. Then there is my favorite meal, coto. Coto is a famous Makassar dish that consists of chunks of beef, offal and onions in a thick beef soup. However, I always ask for no offal. Hearts and lungs do not sound appealing to me. But the beef is so tenderly cooked and adding lime and sambal brings out the tang of this thick stocky soup.
So why have I chosen to only eat these four dishes every day. It is because they are easy to come by. You just have to drive down the road and there will be a bakso cart or a coto stand. I could go to the variety of restaurants around, but they are so expensive and not as tasty. I prefer going to the street stands, where each one specifically sells one dish. This is probably why the meals are so flavorsome because they focus on cooking that one meal. You never know whom you’re going to meet in these places either. We always go to the same coto restaurant and we always bump into friends, who will end up paying for our meal. Yet again, another generous act I always see here in Makassar. Indonesians love to treat each other like family. If we don’t see any friends then a random person will start talking to us, well they will speak to my boyfriend and ask him the usual questions about me;
‘Where is she from?’
‘Is she working here?’
‘Oh she’s you’re girlfriend? Wow! Good for you.’
It’s hilarious because I understand what they are saying and they are so amazed to see me here in a cheap place. They think I would only enjoy eating expensive meals.
A lot of the time these street restaurants are packed with people eating in silence. At first it was uncomfortable for me, as in England you go out for a meal to socialize and spend at least an hour at the restaurant. But Indonesians go for the purpose of filling their stomachs. They eat, smoke and leave. Coto is also the meal Makassar people love to eat after they have been out drinking. In England we go for kebabs and chips, but here the coto place is open 24 hours and soup and rice is what the people of Makassar crave. Even if they haven’t been drinking you will always find them in these twenty-four hour street restaurants at 2am in the morning. Indonesians love to eat late, or should I say early in the morning, before they go to bed, if they go to bed.
Earlier on I mentioned kerupuk. Kerupuk are Indonesian snacks, which are always left on the tables for customers to help themselves to. At the end of their meal it is the customer’s responsibility to tell the waitress how many they had. In England this wouldn’t happen, as you would never trust anyone to own up to how many extra drinks or snacks the customer had taken. In Makassar there are also food places where you can help yourself to a mixture of different foods and pay after you have eaten by telling them what you have had to eat. In England the waiters and waitresses would be following you writing down everything you are putting on your plate, making sure you pay for exactly everything you had taken from the buffet.
Saving the best for last let me tell you about the best food I’ve eaten in Makassar, and that is the seafood. There is so much fish available and it’s so fresh. The fish is caught on the same day and put on ice. You can choose the fish you want from their icebox and they will BBQ it for you there and then. In England you have to pick the fish from a menu and you don’t get to see it before hand. Here you also get a mixture of sambals and vegetables that you can mix together with the fish to make a variety of juicy flavors. It’s also the healthiest meal I’ve eaten out here. But it’s so expensive for me. Cheap for foreigners but on my wage I would not be able to afford to eat fish every day. One time we went to a street restaurant and sat outside on a plank of wood underneath a tree, eating with our hands. Fish, vegetables and soup, eating with our hands and sat outside, made the perfect atmosphere. You would have to go to a fancy restaurant in England to enjoy succulent tastes and pleasant surroundings. It would never be just a casual thing.
Even though the food is so delicious, I miss eating healthily. The meals in Makassar hardly contain vegetables, which is strange because vegetables are so easy to come by. I could cook at home, but it would never taste as good as what I could get from the food places on the street. I also miss having different combinations in my meal. For example, in England we usually eat a meal that has some form of meat, vegetables, or salad, and rice, bread or pasta. You can change it and mix them how you like. We can also cook curries and pasta dishes so easily and cheaply, but here it is so expensive to buy the ingredients in the supermarkets.
Don’t get me wrong; there is some street food that’s expensive. Just now, as I’m about to finish writing this post, I’ve been introduced to terang bulan. This is a thick and stogy cake, like a sponge but moist, with chocolate bars melted inside. It’s heaven. It’s sweet and fatty but so expensive. I thought I’d tried all there is to try in this city. Looks like there is so much more to discover and I know I’m going to enjoy every mouthful.