Category Archives: Food

The Amazing Bull Race

The current 21st series of American travel game show “The Amazing Race” made a return visit to Indonesia for Episodes 2 & 3, this time visiting East Java – perhaps as previously suggested here.

An arek Suroboyo (local resident) discusses certain “only in Indonesia” activities that contestants had to perform:

Episode 2

Episode 2 Preview

Bull racing is Madura’s most famous sport and its biggest cultural export, despite no betting/gambling (which is forbidden for Muslims). However, the show passed over some less pleasant facts about bull racing, like how this year’s bull races have been cancelled due to prevalent animal cruelty. In order to “motivate” the bulls, riders and handlers allegedly give the bulls a chili suppository or put hot balm in the bulls’ eyes – that would really make them “see red”! – then hit them with a spiked whip during the race.

Odong-odong in Taman Ekspresi, SurabayaODONG-ODONG IN TAMAN EKSPRESI, SURABAYA
Odong-odong (customised pedicabs with toys to ride) is a common feature of Surabaya, both in public parks like Taman Ekspresi and “roving” around neighbourhoods. A 10-15 minute ride for a young child plus balloon crown and animal costs Rp2000 ($0.20). They usually also come with a cassette of children’s music at ear-burning volume; curiously, this was absent.

Maudrese Costume at Pasar Pabean, SurabayaPITSTOP: PASAR PABEAN, SURABAYA
The greeter is wearing traditional Madurese costume, just like local politician Zahrus Faisal.

Episode 3

Balancing Plates in a Padang RestaurantANTIKA JAYA PADANG RESTAURANT, SURABAYA
Contestants had to balance 20 plates of food and carry them to the required table. Yes, local waiters/waitresses have to do it regularly too. However, personal experience is these days it is only done in larger restaurants for groups. For everybody else, guests just say what they want and will receive one plate with their order.

Monster truckers travelling by becak (pedicab) in Bangil, East JavaRIDING BECAK, BANGIL
The becak (pedicab) is a common choice of inexpensive transport for short trips, even in cities like Surabaya where there are many taxis, but not the capital Jakarta, where becak are banned. The general practice is to say the destination and negotiate a fare before hopping in.

Egg Head in Bangil, East JavaEGG HEAD, BANGIL
Having eggs fried with a burning coconut husk on your head is a lesser-known traditional Javanese cooking method; perhaps it is rare because willing participants are hard to find… Surprisingly, no one had a problem eating the newly cooked egg drowned in chili sauce afterwards (like many would).

If you would like to visit some of these places, here are some maps:

East Java

View The Amazing Race 21 – East Java in a larger map


View The Amazing Race 21 – Surabaya in a larger map

A crisis as big as the subprime one is brewing in Asia

In 2009 and 2010, Asia was the apple of the investor’s eye as countries in the region recovered strongly from the global financial crisis to post healthy growth rates. But loose monetary policies in the West and high inflation have posed its own set of problems for the Asian economies. The biggest problem that Asia has been witnessing in recent times is the surge in food prices. And this issue could end up being more chronic rather than cyclical in the years to come. For starters, weather patterns have become unpredictable which in turn has hampered agricultural production of late. Then there is the issue of population. Asia alone, for example, will have another 140 million mouths to feed over the next four years. That is in addition to the almost 3 billion people in the fast-growing region currently. This means that demand will remain high in the future and supply may not always catch up.

The other big fallout of soaring food prices for the Asian region is likely to be a significant rise in debt. So far, it was believed that bloated debt was a problem that only Europe and the US were facing on account of the global crisis. But Asia is also likely to join this bandwagon. Take India for instance. It still has one of the highest proportion of poor in the world. This obviously means that most will not be able to afford food at such high rates. As a result, the Indian government would most certainly increase subsidies sharply and cut import taxes, which would put an additional strain on its finances.

Indeed, the crisis in Egypt was a product of the inability of the Egyptian government to tackle the problem of high inflation. And though extreme, noted economist Nouriel Roubini believes that persistently high food prices and inflation could raise the risk of more governments getting toppled. Certainly, Asian governments including India will have to give serious thought to some long term reforms if such shocks are to be avoided in the future.

Do you think that rising food prices will lead to a bigger crisis in Asia in the future?

Equitymaster Agora Research Private Limited
103, Regent Chambers,
Above Status Restaurant,
Nariman Point, Mumbai – 400 021. India.

Indonesia Tourism Awards

Tourists polled, their favourite hotels, restaurants, malls, and holiday destinations in Indonesia.

The Indonesia Tourism Awards (ITA) 2010 were announced in early December, the awards organised by the Department of Tourism and SWA business magazine, and not to be confused with intense rivals Indonesia Travel Tourism Awards.


Between 16th August-14th October 2010 1,619 tourists were polled, 1,470 Indonesians and 149 foreigners in 25 towns and regencies, with the results gathered through focus group discussions and questionnaires.

Menbudpar Tourism Awards

The winners:

Areas & Destinations

Area/Regency with best tourist facilities

  1. Bukittinggi, Sumatra
  2. Denpasar, Bali
  3. Toraja, South Sulawesi

Favourite Area/Regency

  1. Denpasar, Bali
  2. Cianjur, West Java
  3. West Lombok

Favourite Destination

  1. Bedugul (Tabanan), Bali
  2. Sanur beach (Badung), Bali
  3. Londa (Toraja), South Sulawesi


Favourite Hotel - 5 star

  1. Shangrila Hotel, Jakarta
  2. Sheraton Hotel, Jakarta
  3. J.W Marriott Hotel, Jakarta

Favourite Hotel - 4 star

  1. Hard Rock Hotel, Bali
  2. Swiss Belhotel Hotel, Jakarta
  3. AryaDuta Hotel, Jakarta

Favourite Hotel - 3 star

  1. Ibis Hotel, Jakarta

Favourite Hotel - Cheap

  1. Legian Village, Bali

No other hotels reached quota for these last two categories.


Favourite Restaurant - Seafood

  1. Bandar Jakarta

Favourite Restaurant - Javanese

  1. Ayam Goreng Mbok Berek

Favourite Restaurant - Sundanese

  1. Kampung Daun

Favourite Restaurant - Padang

  1. Simpang Raya


Favourite Mall - Jakarta

  1. Plaza Senayan

Favourite Mall - Java

  1. Ambarukmo Plasa, Yogyakarta

Favourite Mall - off Java

  1. Panakukang Mall, Makassar


Favourite Airline - Full service

  1. Garuda Indonesia

Favourite Airline - Budget

  1. Lion Air
  2. Air Asia
  3. Batavia Air

Travel Services

Favourite Travel Agency

  1. Panorama

Favourite Taxi Company

  1. Blue Bird

Related Industries

Favourite Spa

  1. Martha Tilaar Salon Day Spa

Favourite Golf Course

  1. Damai Indah Golf

Indonesia Tourism Awards is brought to you by Indonesia Matters, where you can book flights in Indonesia, and features listings of Indonesian hotels, like Kuta hotels, Sanur hotels, hotels in Jakarta, and more.

Obama & Bakso Soup

Obama Bakso

The love of a boy for the humble bakso soup dominates world headlines after Barack Obama's visit to Indonesia.

While giving a speech at a state dinner in Jakarta during his recent visit to Indonesia US president Barack Obama exclaimed:

"Terima kasih untuk bakso, nasi goreng, emping, krupuk. Semuanya enak!"

The bakso speech

In the main Associated Press article doing the rounds on newspapers around the world - "Single comment by Obama sends Indonesia's national street food to stardom" - bemused international audiences are told: [1]

Bakso, a savoury soup of meatballs and noodles often garnished with bok choy, wontons, tofu, crisp fried shallots and hard-boiled egg, is Indonesia's national street food, a go-to dish sold from pushcarts to hungry students, midnight revellers and just about anybody who wants a satisfying snack any time of day.

Foodie blogs throughout the world have also lit up with discussion over Obama's love for the mysterious "bakso soup", with in one piece by food writer Charles Ferruzza entitled "If President Obama loves bakso, I want to taste it, too" the question is asked: [2]

Where can I find it in Kansas City?

Charles finds out the owners of the local Malay Cafe in Kansas City have never heard of bakso.

Robert Sietsema of Slashfood says bakso is also known as bakmi, and says the key ingredient is that the meatballs are extended with tapioca flour, giving the meat a "bouncy consistency". [3]

The origins of bakso also arouse interest, with Ken Woytisek, chef instructor in Asian cuisines at the Culinary Institute of America's St. Helena, California, being quoted as positing a Chinese-Dutch heritage for bakso:

The soup and the noodles probably originated in China, but the meatball may have come from the Dutch.

Obama & Bakso Soup is brought to you by Indonesia Matters, where you can book flights in Indonesia, and features listings of Indonesian hotels, like Kuta hotels, Sanur hotels, hotels in Jakarta, and more.

Medan, Worst City Ever

Is Medan the worst city in the world? An Australian expatriate in Jakarta whines his heart out.

An Australian Associated Press article about Medan, "Worst. City. Ever." published in the Age newspaper by one Adam Gartrell begins vitriolically:

Dear Medan. I hate you.

adam gartrell
Not happy

I visited you recently and found you the most unpleasant, charmless and thoroughly depressing city I've ever encountered. And I've visited plenty of s---holes in my time.

Adam, who lives and works in Jakarta as AAP's South-East Asia Correspondent, says Indonesia's third biggest city and the capital of North Sumatra province, has

no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

From arrival at the hellhole of Polonia airport, and possibly getting off on the entirely wrong foot by paying a visit to the airport toilets consistently rated among the filthiest in the country (2007, 2009) the nightmare begins, with Medan said to be a city bereft of the important things like taxis, trees, good hotels, and restaurants. No mention of whether the girls of Medan are as miserably unappealing as the rest of the place however.

Big mosque
Big mosque

Medan's closest claim to fame and the only thing to be considered a tourist attraction is its "big mosque", he says, but that is not nearly enough to make up for its heinous deficiencies.

I understand now why you consistently feature on people's "Worst. City. Ever." lists.

While out one night scouring the streets in vain search of food fit to be eaten by a white man Adam's hotel room is broken into and thousands of dollars stolen. Later, the hotel staff are distinctly and suspiciously unhelpful

Can you say "inside job"?

Medan doesn't just bite you in the wallet however, as a night later after moving to another hotel Adam is assailed by a swarm of Medanese mosquitoes in his bed.

Mozzies never take any interest in me but your Medan mozzies made quite a frenzied exception.

The side effects of a visit to Medan can even last for weeks afterwards, as Adam some time after returning to Jakarta is struck down by a terrible illness put down to the workings of an intestinal parasite of Medan origin, but happily

I didn't get malaria

He ends on a suitably bitter note [1]

I've never been so happy to board a plane as I was the one that whisked me away from you, Medan. And I never want to see you again.

Medan, Worst City Ever is brought to you by Indonesia Matters, where you can book domestic flights in Indonesia, and features listings of Indonesia hotels, like Kuta hotels, Sanur hotels, hotels in Jakarta, and more.

Lounging Around in Indonesia

LoungeMeasuring up Indonesia's many airport executive lounges, waiting around in luxury.

One of the few things I like about Indonesian airports is that executive lounges are in general much less exclusive and cheaper to visit.

Where visiting the executive lounge overseas can cost hundreds of dollars in an annual membership, in Indonesia all you need is the correct type of credit card, VIP mobile phone membership, premium bank account or (with Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air, Mandala Air) an executive class/priority ticket. Or you just pay a nominal fee in cash, often about Rp50 000.

Garuda Citi Bank Indosat VIP Card
Mandala Card Rp50 000 small

What you need: some ways to enter an executive lounge

Plus - as many Indonesian airports are often dirty, very crowded and/or in poor condition - the benefits of visiting an executive lounge are perhaps greater than normal.

You can:

free food

  • Enjoy unlimited free food and drinks. (Like in other countries, food at airports is often very expensive, so the price of a meal could be the same as entrance to the lounge).
  • Comfy Chair

  • Sit in comfort. (Despite Indonesia being home to a major furniture export industry, airports' seating is often insufficient, uncomfortable and/or dirty).
  • Get extra value for money when flights are delayed. (Late departures are a frequent occurrence for domestic flights, especially during the wet season - Nov to Mar).
  • In some lounges, free wi-fi internet or computers with internet access, phone chargers, newspapers, magazines, etc. (Facilities you almost never find elsewhere in airports).
  • CGK toilets
    A 3-star toilet at Soekarno-Hatta Airport, Jakarta

  • Use a clean airport toilet. (Many airports' public toilets are often dirty, smelly and/or out of order).
  • Enjoy other priceless benefits: some rare peace and quiet, good customer service, along with personal space and anonymity/not being stared at. (For tourists and expats at airports, the latter two can be an issue; the first two can be problems for everyone).

However, I am aware from my own experiences travelling in Indonesia that quality at some airport executive lounges is ummmm... variable.

So let's rate the best and the worst of Indonesia's airport executive lounges, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Please include the following information:

Name and/or Location: It's handy to know, especially when there are multiple lounges in the one area. With the latter, please be as specific as possible.

What you need to enter: Which airline's or credit card's executive lounge, and/or how much you need to pay.

Special features: What you particularly liked/disliked about it

Footnote: If you travel by train, you may not be aware that many trains stations also have executive lounges also. However, these are just nicer waiting rooms with e.g. a/c, nicer chairs and a communal TV.

Lounging Around in Indonesia is brought to you by Indonesia Matters, which also features listings of Indonesia hotels, special discounts on Bali hotels, Kuta hotels, Ubud hotels, hotels in Jakarta, and more.