Cooking in Makassar

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June 7th 2018
Published: June 7th 2018
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Today we have a 9 hour drive back to Makassar. It’s every bit as wearing as that sounds, broken only by a few comfort breaks at petrol stations, a cup of tea in a cafe with a spectacular mountain view, and a very tasty lunch pre-arranged in somebody’s home (we rather enjoy these lunches the travel agent has arranged, so much nicer than a roadside cafe, not that any are open in Ramadan). We’re grateful to get to the hotel and have the first chance all holiday to use the swimming pool and relax for a little while. As we had lunch at 11.15, we head for the restaurant at 6.30. The hotel has two, one on the 20th floor with good views. We arrive to be told it is full with a 2 hour wait. But we’re important guests!.... that counts for nothing. We retreat to the 1st floor restaurant only to be told they are also full. We protest, quite firmly, and miraculously a table is found. We order two beef rendang and two beers. The waitress’s face falls. ‘This is a halal restaurant, no alcohol allowed. But let me ask.’ How much worse can it get? Fortunately her manager has a solution. If we order a large beer, it can be served in two teapots and poured into tea cups. That way, we get our beer and nobody’s sensibilities are damaged. An excellent solution!

Next morning, we set off on another culinary tour. Our guide takes us for a walk along the seafront (the part for visitors, not the massive container port!). We eventually reach the fish market which is doing brisk business in the widest selection of fish we have ever seen. There are fish of all sizes and a veritable rainbow of colours. We see some large marlin and tuna, together with squid and huge prawns, but most of the fish are quite small. They don’t see foreigners in this market so there is much hilarity and invitations to “photo photo” the vendors and their wares, all good humoured. We pick our way carefully across the soaking wet floors, keen not to slip and fall into a pile of fish guts or blood. Sandi our guide buys a bag of tiny sardines and half a tuna for our lunch. The tuna is too big, so the seller uses his cleaver to fillet it into two halves and invites us to take our pick. One vendor insists on David photographing Sara with his biggest fish.

Now it’s time to buy the rest of our ingredients. Sandi hails a peti-peti, a tiny minibus which follows a defined route and stops whenever hailed. It has more rust than bodywork, and a tangle of wires is visible behind the steering wheel, but it still moves. You can see the cables connecting the gear stick to the gearbox. There’s one lady in it already, who is clearly asking Sandi all about us. He eventually turns to us and says she is pleased to see that despite the fact we are clearly very hot, we are dressed respectfully. In fact, sweat is pouring off us in an unstoppable torrent. We are wearing our standard hot weather holiday clothes of long sleeved shirt and trekking trousers, plus sun hat and a scarf to mop sweat, so we are certainly well covered. This is primarily to protect us from the sun and mosquitoes, though we would try to be respectful anyway and are glad to be taken for thoughtful visitors. At least it is better than being laughed at!

At the market we buy a range of vegetables, together with flour and oil. Again, white faces are a source of amazement. Fortunately we don’t have to buy a chicken, which is slaughtered to order. Two more peti-peti rides later, we’re walking through a tiny village until we reach a wooden platform on the river. Our cookery lesson will be in a house in a village in the river delta, and we need to wait for the local ferry. After about 15 minutes, a motorcyclist turns up and says the ferry will be here soon. He is followed by a man staggering under the weight if a box containing a fridge freezer. David has virtually passed out from the heat by this time. The ferry comprises two canoes with a wooden platform mounted across and between them made from pallets, so it resembles a primitive catamaran. It has a canopy but, surprise surprise, we are not offered life jackets. The freezer man has mysteriously vanished, but the motorcyclist’s family disembark and load onto the bike with him – mother and two children, and they depart with smiles and waves. We get on the ferry and Sandi offers the ferryman a few rupiah extra to depart without waiting for other passengers. We set off down the river for 15 minutes or so past the nipa palms lining the bank. Once off, we walk along paths through ponds used as fish farms, and reach a peaceful village. There are no cars, only motorbikes, so there’s just a narrow paved path that serves as both road and pavement. We reach our destination, which is quite a large house that is in the process of being extended. We’re invited to sit down and have a cup of tea and a sweet made of banana covered in sugar paste, served in juice with ice and some syrup poured over it. We tell ourselves that the travel agent will have ensured to ice is made from clean water, and enjoy the refreshment.

In the kitchen, mother cleans the tuna and puts it in a pan with water and tamarind to cook. She then sets about making corn fritters, a delicious part of almost every Indonesian meal. The tiny sardines are also cooked as fritters. She then peels some aubergine, using just a cleaver with no chopping board, at great speed and without looking. True skill. She chops up some of the longest runner beans we have ever seen, and adds spinach to make some steamed vegetables. Finally, she chops tomatoes with chilli and mixes them with kepak manis, the local sweet soy sauce, and a taste of sugar. Five dishes in under half an hour – very impressive, and very tasty too.

Our hosts and guide head off to the mosque for midday prayers while we eat, though the younger son stays home and chats to his mate on his phone. Farewells said, we are shown a Japanese bunker that the Japs constructed in 1945 when they were resisting the Indonesians and the Allies who were trying to clear them out of the delta. A man appears and shines his torch into the hole, at the bottom of which is a huge black snake devouring a mouse for lunch. We march through more fishponds and a large lizard – maybe three feet long – shoots out of the bushes and hurries down the path before veering off into the scrub. We catch another ferry back to the other bank of the river where our driver is waiting with the car. Air conditioned bliss! We stop for half an hour to visit Fort Rotterdam, the trading post and defensive position built by the Dutch in the early seventeenth century when they defeated the ruling Gowa sultan with the help of the Bugis tribe. The building are all recognisably Dutch. We have a short walk on the defensive wall, and then meander through the museum. This is on the pattern of local museums the world over, with glass cabinets devoted to paleolithic man, Neolithic man and so on. Virtually nothing about the 350 years the Dutch were here, nothing about the Japanese occupation apart from a samurai sword found in a paddy field. It doesn’t take long, and we get back to our hotel room at the luxuriously early hour of 3pm! Time for a much needed shower and a rest.

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