Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

Chic picnic overlooking Borobudur temple
Our Borobudur temple tour lasted more than an hour so by the time it finished, we had been up and about for four hours and were starving.  We were taken to nearby Dagi hill which is still inside the archaeological park. Up a winding one-lane dirt road until we reached the top and came to a large clearing.  It was here that a Buddhist monk from Thailand was cremated in fulfillment of his dying wish to finish his life overlooking Borobudur temple.  We walked a little way down the side of the hill and were amazed at the delightful picnic spread before us – a rather ordinary concrete bench and table for those who wished to take a rest after the climb was covered in cotton batik.  Laid out on the table were two covered rectangular baskets, bottles of orange juice and rattan-covered thermoses of coffee and milk.  As soon as they served our juice, they discreetly left us alone to enjoy our early morning picnic – blueberry muffin, jam doughnut, fresh fruit, muesli and an egg and ham on an English muffin.  Then for an hour or so, it was just us both, the chirping birds and Borobudur in the distance.
Fruits and vegetables at the Borobudur market

Post-breakfast we were scheduled to go an andong (horse-drawn cart) and do a little tour of the villages nearby but we opted to go and visit the market instead.  It was a large local market already bustling with shoppers rushing around with baskets and vendors setting up their wares.  Markets are a great place to see the produce and understand what ingredients are typical in the local cuisine.  This was my first visit to an Indonesian market and it was an interesting experience of noise, colors and lots of different smells.  There were colorfully-attired ladies separating red and green chilies while chatting away, fresh egg noodles piled up on shallow round baskets, lots of red-skinned shallots and mounds of garlic, knobby galangal and ginger, palm sugar, tempeh (a tofu cake), tofu  and even small fish packed in matching baskets tied up and ready to go.  Tiny stalls on wheels were offering fresh-cooked breakfasts of fried melinjo crackers, rice and vegetables were wrapped in banana leaf cone-shaped packets, soups with bakso (meatballs) and noodles being ladled out and eaten on the spot and lots of tiny coconut husk grills smoky with the smell of chicken satay cooking.

Colorful market vendors

Despite the noise and heat, everyone was getting on with their business.  It was a pity that we couldn’t do a bit of food shopping and cook our own lunch.  We circled the outdoor portion of the market then went inside the covered area down dimly-lit alleys to see what the rest of the market had to offer.  It was cooler and surprisingly more calm with the vendors slowly and quietly measuring things out on antique metal scales.

Clockwise from top left: shallots and garlic, red and green chilis, palm sugar, fish in baskets, local oranges

We spent an hour in the market poking around and having a look at everything.  I was surprised to see so many fruits, vegetables and delicacies that I knew and recognized since as we have them in the  Philippines as well – sweetened rice cakes (we call them suman), organic red rice, green-skinned dalandan oranges,tiny red and green bird’s eye chilies or  siling labuyo, and bitter melon (ampalaya) used in a classic Philippine vegetable dish.  If we hadn’t just eaten a big breakfast, 

I wouldn’t have been able to resist buying a few snacks to try.
Pak Bilal making palm sugar
Our gourmet tour ended with a visit to Pak Bilal’s house where we were also going to have my birthday dinner later that same day.  Seventy-year old Pak Bilal makes palm sugar daily in his hut using a bamboo-stoked clay six-burner stove where his pots and paraphernalia are set.  This special coconut sugar is made from the sweet coconut juice collected in tiny bamboo containers at the top of the coconut tree.  Pak Bilal himself climbs to the top of the coconut tree and to siphon off the sap collected near the bottom of the palm fronds.  This sap is then cooked over high heat and made into palm sugar.  When the desired consistency is reached, Pak Bilal then pours the boiling hot liquid into empty dried-out coconut husks and leaves them there to harden.
Crispy Melinjo crackers and javanese tea with freshly-made palm sugar at Pak Bilal’s home

We ended our morning there where we sat at the rough-hewn wooden table to have some hot Javanese tea sweetened with a small chunk of palm sugar.  Along with this, Pak Bilal’s wife gave us some crispy melinjo crackers and palm-sugar sweetened rice cakes.  So in the end, I did get my snacks after all. 
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