BANDUNG, West Java: From beef udder satays to volleyball-size meatballs, the city of Bandung has always been known for its buzzing culinary scene, feeding hungry locals and tourists.
It is a safe bet that someone, somewhere in this city of 2.4 million inhabitants is concocting a dish, snack or drink no one has ever seen. Over the years, Bandung has gained a reputation for one-of-a-kind and bizarre dishes.
“What makes the Bandung culinary scene unique is its creativity. And its been that way for a long time,” food blogger, Sepsa Zulkaida Subhi told CNA.
Citing an example, Mr Subhi said batagor, or deep fried meat tofu was first sold in Bandung in 1970s. It is now popular in many parts of the country.
The dish was born when a street hawker named Mr Ikhsan, who like many Indonesians go with one name, could not sell his tofu and decided to stuff meat in them.
To cook the meat, he deep-fried the stuffed tofu. He then decided to complement the snack with peanut sauce.
The dish has since spread to other parts of Indonesia and came to define Bandungs spirit of culinary invention.
“No other (Indonesian) city has such creative and innovative spirit. Not even Jakarta. No other city has so many people trying to create something new,” the 39-year-old blogger said.
SPIRIT OF EXPERIMENTATION
Just like batagor, many of Bandung's famous dishes and snacks came from finding a new twist to classic delicacies.
The humble surabi is an Indonesian pancake made with rice flour and coconut milk.
Elsewhere in Indonesia, Surabi is traditionally eaten with caramelised palm sugar or sweetened coconut milk sauce and served as as a sweet treat.
But in the hands of vendors in Bandung, they became savoury snacks after someone had the idea in the 1980s of topping them off with oncom, spicy fermented soybeans native to the people of West Java.
Today, some restaurants serve their surabis with oreos, nutella and chocolate chips while for the savoury version, some have gone as far as to experiment with surabi carbonara and smoked beef surabi.
Restaurant owner, Mr Muhammad Rifky said the people of Bandung are always looking for the next culinary invention or rare delicacy, putting pressure on businesses like his Dapur Suami Isteri (Husband and Wifes Kitchen) to think out of the box.
When the former television commercial director started his business in 2018, he sought advice from his friends and customers on how to put his small cafe on the map.
“They all said that I should either create something unique and new. If I want to go traditional, I should find dishes which are getting harder and harder to find,” Mr Rifky told CNA.
Eventually, the cafe grew from exclusively selling authentic Indonesian cuisine, to coming up with one-of-a-kind dishes such as its signature beef rendang sandwich, served with over easy egg and poached papaya leaves.
A more recent invention is the katsu coffee, made out of espresso mixed with kaya jam and tiramisu syrup (hence the acronym “katsu”). The concoction is stirred until the kaya jam is completely dissolved before ice and cold milk are added.
The drink was created just one week before CNAs visit to the cafe, located in an upscale residential area in the western part of Bandung.
“We used to offer kaya toast. But it didnt sell very well and we were left with jars of kaya jam. So we experimented with ways to use it,” Mr Rifky said.
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Bandungs love for anything unique and strange also means that dishes that became out of favour in their native places could find a new lease of life in West Java.
The jando satay, made out of cows udder is one such example. The dish hailed from Klaten, Central Java and was on the verge of becoming extinct.
“My father brought it to Bandung in 1975 and we have been selling it since,” Mr Agung Suganda told CNA at his street side stall behind the governors office.
Mr Suganda said the dish was not an immediate success but over time, through word of mouth, people began to look for it, drawn by its soft, juicy texture and savoury taste.
“No one sells jando satay in Klaten anymore. But here in Bandung, people love it so much, they would queue for more than an hour. Sometimes people from out of town travel all the way here just to taste it. Because you cant find it anywhere else any more,” the man said, adding that he can sell up to 14,000 sticks of satay per day.
While some like Mr Suganda have insisted on keeping the traditional recipe, others like Mr Laman who hails from Solo, Central Java, have injected new elements into his Solo-style meatball soup.
The 71-year-old has been selling meatballs since 1985 and competition from similar businesses made him think big, quite literally.
Almost 20 years ago, he began selling meatballs the size of an adult mans fist.
That was enough to attract a loyal following among local foodies, but he did not stop there. In 2012, he created an even larger meatball the size of a volley ball. And this put his stall on the map.
Weighing in at 2.5kg and filled with chunks of minced meat at the centre, the giant meatball can easily feed a family of five.
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