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REDISCOVERING BANDUNG

First impressions last and my impression of Bandung as a place nothing to rave about lasted for several years. My colleagues and students were always scurrying to Bandung every chance they got notwithstanding the snarled traffic to and fro much to my consternation. My first foray into Bandung was to a volcanic crater which wasn’t disappointing. The grey landscape was a dramatic departure from the usual green scenery I am used to, but which nonetheless piqued my interest. It was a stark flip to the presence of life; I now had an idea of how Demeter unleashed her vengeance on mankind for Hades’ concupiscence. Adding to my incredulity was the incongruous presence of hawkers with bonnets, scarves, and boa. Commercialism had found its place near the crater.

It wasn’t until only this May that I set foot again in Bandung. The invitation came from my gal-pal Theresia to join her church group, Wanita Katolik RI Ranting St Maria Ratu Pengantara segala Rahmat, from Cabang St Servasius, Kampung Sawah, on their annual outing. The gaggle of mature and young ladies was grass widows relishing the break from their duties as wife, mother, or padre de familia for a whole day. The journey wasn’t lacking in giggles and guffaws, complaints and ruffled feathers, and good old-fashioned camaraderie. I was witness to a tableau of familial ties in its rawness, which, being a recluse, opened a whole new appreciation in me for human interaction and Bandung.

BAMBOO VILLAGE

Dusun Bamboo, or Bamboo Village, is a green sanctuary located in Lembang. The relaxing effect of nature begins at the right of the entrance where your sight falls on rice paddies so green you’d think the landscape was photo shopped by the universe; to the left are vehicles to take one around the family leisure park. It is best to go on foot to take in nature and its cool air especially coming from scorching Bekasi where the temperature is a few degrees higher. Most travellers stay a night or more at Dusun Bamboo to get away from the madness of the city, as facilities are not lacking and restaurants abound. One restaurant, Lutung Kasarung, caught my attention because of its design: a birdcage. The dining “birdcages”, which fit two or more diners, are suspended in mid-air and accessible by walk ways several meters from the ground.  Further exploring Dusun Bamboo led Theresia and me to a lake with a floating platform surrounded by villas – presumably private dining rooms – accessible by a short ride in a decorated bumboat.

rice paddy 1 at Dusun Bamboo

the view that greets you as you emerge from the entrance


rice paddy 2 at Dusun Bamboo

I have mellowed so much – a rice paddy is a thrill to see now.


women on a day trip

Photo op on the walk way


with gal pal Theresia

with gal pal Theresia


floating platform and villas

stand or sit on the floating platform


bunga terompet

bunga terompet are everywhere at Dusun Bamboo


birdcage dining

book a birdcage for dinner for two or more at Lutung Kasarung


bamboo structure

exploring Dusun Bamboo

Naturally, like the millennials, the Wanita Katolik was not oblivious to selfies and group shots which weren’t just confined to the lake or rice paddies. The women know that immediate documentation on social media platform is imperative in today’s travels.

FLOATING MARKET

Next on the itinerary was lunch at the floating market. On account of being Ramadan, the floating market was easy to navigate: one could leisurely peruse the floating boat-kitchens on their offerings, exchange money for tokens, and secure a table. Apparently, the weekends – the time local tourists descend upon the place – are filled with mobs of diners jostling to, say, order a plate of satay and get a table.

Floating market sign

row of boat kitchen vendors 1

row of boat kitchen vendors 2

Which boat kitchen do you get lunch and dessert?


tokens at the Floating Market

exchange your rupiah for tokens to buy food and drinks


satay boat kitchen

“Do you want lontong with your satay ayam?” asks Theresia.


satay ayam vendor

preparing satay ayam on the spot


crispy tahu vendor

the tahu lost its crunchiness


pisang goreng

freshly cooked pisang goreng


lunch at Floating Market

Lunch is ready – dig in!


Cepot

Cepot, a wayang golek character, serves as scare crow too in an area of the Floating Market.

Unlike the floating market of Thailand, the boat-kitchens are moored to their places, the vendors – cranky or not – waiting for customers so they could fire up their stoves. Others are a little too swift in their cooking that their dishes are exposed way too much than they should. That was my mistake in buying crispy tahu (tofu) which had lost its crunchiness. Fortunately, the chocolate-cheese pisang goreng (banana fritters) was cooked on the spot hence it was still crispy when it was time to have dessert. Similarly, the skewered satay ayam (grilled chicken) were placed on the grill only after we had placed our order. The satay ayam was good, but its proportion to the lontong (rice cake) was a disappointment compared to the wonderfully balanced portion at Satay Ayam Madura, a satay stall at Summarecon Mall Bekasi.

The language barrier broke down a bit as I caught snippets of the Wanita Katolik’s stories in between bites: a crabby member’s endless complaints, how good the es cendol (cold Indonesian drink), who is ordering pisang goreng again, the oleh-oleh (gift; food or not) and kue (cake) they should buy at the floating market, etc.

KEBUN BEGONIA

Majority of the women had a penchant for gardening so Kebun Begonia, a garden-and-vegetable market, was the last stop. The whole lot was divided into the garden, or what I call the selfie place with its various picture stations, and vegetable patches. It was every woman for herself at this point: some scrutinized the flowers, evaluating which ones to add to their garden; Theresia et al took selfies; and I went for ginger tea. Ginger tea is ubiquitous in Indonesia particularly hot or cold wedang jahe. My hot wedang jahe helped to chase away the cold seeping into my body and rejuvenate my flagging energy (I had been up since 4am). Some joined me for a cuppa and quickly put me to shame. They downed it like water to the last drop while I struggled with the strong, biting taste and only finished half of my cup.

welfie moment at Kebub Begonia

Strike a pose!


Selfie moment among the flowers

an Instagram-worthy shot

Walk through flower beds


Or walk around pots of flowers


First impressions do last but they can quickly change when the opportunity presents itself. Bandung was a revelation with its greenery and cool weather. Fortunately, traffic was smooth because of Ramadan thus no delays in the itinerary. It was a bonus too to have been part of a group of women who, despite the language barrier, made an extrovert-introvert agnostic feel very much part of their close-knit group.

TOM’S HIGH-RISE UNIT

The impetus to read J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise was admittedly because of Tom Hiddleston who talked about it in one interview as he was part of the movie cast. But somehow life got in the way and reading High-Rise took a backseat until I saw a reissue of it at Kinokuniya, Plaza Senayan. The impetus kicked in again because gracing the cover was Tom Hiddleston who played one of the primary characters in the book, Dr Robert Laing.

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Hiddleston aside, the opening paragraph on Dr Laing’s meal had me riveted – stunned but riveted. I had to be certain that what I read about the Alsatian was correct. The prose is straightforward in its description of what happens in the modern tower block and the tenant-characters’ physical attributes and emotions as chaos descended upon the expensive high-rise. Written in the mid ‘70s, I was struck by its verisimilitude with the current world situation of, among other things, society plummeting into the abyss of primal behavior, of the disintegration of order, and of the triviality of human lives. The chaos is almost palpable; it’s as if you’re watching it but through the novel.

Plot-wise, you push on to see how the narrative would come to an end. I personally like to read how a plot comes to its denouement if there is one. In High-rise, you read the breakdown in the high-tech 43-storey London skyscraper, a microcosm of society in general, which burst the bubble of tension long present in the socially-demarcated high-rise giving rise to mayhem. Tenants fight tooth and nail for survival and domination; most are caught up in their narcissistic visions of entitlement while some, like Laing, walk the thin line of sanity and insanity. Who wouldn’t be interested in finding out the resolution?

Character-wise, each comes alive with his/her idiosyncrasy, i.e. the truculent television producer Richard Wilder and his mousy wife, Helen; Anthony Royal, architect of the tower block, who seem to revel at the disintegration of order within his creation; and Laing who struggles between rationality and going off the deep end.

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Human behavior has always fascinated me and learning how each character turned out, how each dealt with the bedlam, kept me turning the page onto the next until the last page. There is something interesting about characters falling into the abyss of irrational behavior while trying to be less foolish in their actions.

A JOURNEY WITH MATHEW

Katnook wines

I would like to think that Chef Mathew Macartney was preoccupied with the food prep during his one-night culinary event that he could only address one section of the diners at Il Mare at Hotel Mulia. It would have been nice to exchange pleasantries with him even just to say how I enjoyed his dinner. Nonetheless, Theresia and I did have the pleasure of meeting Alison from Katnook vineyards, the night’s supplier of red and white wines for the five-course wine-pairing dinner. I am not much of a wine lover, but Katnook took my palate by surprise. Unfortunately, Katnook is not yet available in Indonesia said Alison. However, she assured us before moving on to the next table that their wines will be on the shelves of stores, bars, and hotels in Jakarta soon.

bread

A bowl of an assortment of freshly baked bread got the ball rolling for the 7 pm culinary journey. Chef Macartney’s opening salvo was Eggplant “Tofu” with pickled vegetables and burnt bread paired with Katnook Founders Block Sauvignon Blanc 2015. Creativity is a strong suit of Macartney. I was fooled by what I thought were mushrooms, which turned out to be cream cheese balls after I’d popped them into my mouth. His creative juices went into high gear in the next course. The plating of the Shiso Cured Salmon with kohlrabi, passion fruit, and roasted sesame resembled a miniature Japanese garden that had me forget my heart’s ache. Its taste had a light, minty flavour to it that complemented the Katnook Founders Block Chardonnay 2014 that was light on the palate as well.

Eggplant tofu

Eggplant “Tofu”

shiso cured salmon

Shiso Cured Salmon

Segueing into the third course, the strong – at least to my taste – Katnook Estate Merlot 2014 provided a good partnership to the succulent Canadian Lobster with avocado, chicken dashi, and kombu. There was this unfamiliar, but merry tap dance of flavours on my tongue that egged me on to take sip after sip of the merlot.

Canadian lobster

Canadian lobster

Chef Macartney veered away from seafood for the fourth course, opting to serve duck that brimmed with succulence just by looking at it. The Roasted Grimaud Duck Breast with banana purée, foie gras, and Pedro Ximenez glaze had this sweetish taste that jived well with Katnook’s stellar wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon 2013.

duck breast ver 3

Roasted Grimaud Duck Breast

As the night rushed through the hours, my table teemed with glasses of white and red wines that Akhsin, a staff of Il Mare, made sure was never empty. At one point, I forgot which wine paired with which dish, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore. Each sip of wine and each bite of the dish engaged in a thrilling dance of flavours that put a zing in Macartney’s culinary journey. My conversation with gal-pal Theresia circumvented the tedious trials at work – without effort – and focused on the positive such as the food, the ambience of Il Mare, plans for the future, and hopes as well.

Keep the wine coming

Akhsin

Akhsin made certain our wine glasses were always full.

Katnook ShirAZ

Akhsin presents the Katnook Estate Prodigy Shiraz 2010

Chef Macartney wasn’t done yet. His second main course was Char-grilled Black Angus Sirloin – the braised short rib with morel purée and onion jus was any meat-lover’s delight with its juiciness. This dish was partnered with Katnook’s Prodigy Shiraz 2010, which went well with my alternative dish of chicken. The kitchen was, unfortunately, way too busy to even tell me how the chicken was done. Was Chef Macartney miffed that I eschewed his Angus sirloin?

chicken-alternative to Angus sirloin

an alternative to the Char-grilled Black Angus Sirloin – chicken

The chef brought his culinary journey to an end close to 10pm with his sweet coup de grace of a quartet of desserts that would more than satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth. Led by the caramelised white chocolate mousse, the foursome was completed by the chiboust, Mandarin, and chocolate sorbet. It was a merry-go-round of taste – chocolaty, fruity, and creamy – finished with any sip of wine of your picking.

quartet of dessert

the quartet of dessert

Bottoms up

Despite being unable to meet Chef Macartney, it was a flavourful, palate-tickling experience that changed my perception of wine as my last option for drinks. Katnook’s wines are now part of my to-go-to drinks alongside vodka and champagne.

MARTABAK MANIA II

The analogy is simple: cupcake is to the West as martabak is to the Indonesians. Think of a thick pancake that can be the size of a medium or large skillet that can be sweet or savory. The flavors are endless especially at Eat Happens where the combinations are mind boggling. One or two visits are not enough to savor all the martabak – sweet or otherwise. This particular visit to Eat Happens had my attention towards a “new” martabak which had an eyebrow raising name, Men in Black. Apropos name or not (from the top of my head I am thinking Oreo Overload or Oreo Treat or Oreo Kick), my curiosity was absolutely piqued. Men in Black turned out to be a good choice. The taste was an intermingling of cream cheese, crushed oreo, and condensed milk, which to my surprise, blended into a smooth-on-the-palate, harmonious tug of war between sour and sweet. A “pizza” slice and a half is more than enough to satisfy that martabak craving. A bonus: it is light on the wallet. It is only IDR90,000 (PhilP371) for a medium size Men in Black.

Men in Black martabak by Eat Happens



SMORES BY CARAMIA 

One of the words of wisdom from Word Porn (@wordsporn) is do something that makes you happy. Heeding its words, these days I try and remember what makes me happy as a way to move on after a break up which wasn’t mutual. One such activity is having a slice of cake from Amici, a renowned pasta place with an outlet in Tomas Morato. Their pasta menu undoubtedly is amazing too, but a slice of cake or gelato cake is instant happiness (I’d worry about the calories later.) it is a partnership that only spells sweetness. The pasta is solely Amici but the cakes and gelato cakes are from Caramia bakery that introduced gelato cakes to Filipinos. I find a quaintness to the name, which is Italian for “my dear”, because you can look at the cake and consider it a dear or your precious. Conversely, it is a way of saying you are important to me when a Caramia cake is presented as a gift. 

The one cake that got my attention was Smores, a whole cake of chocolate butter cake smothered with torched marshmallow and topped with meringue-shaped torched marshmallows. A slice with one meringue-shaped marshmallow makes for a delicious tea break; half a slice – half of the “meringue” marshmallow – is a great meal ender. Looks are deceiving – Smores might look cloying but it is the furthest from the truth. The sweetness is just enough to tickle your palate pleasantly.



Prior to digging into a slice is the thrill of opening the box. I think of unwrapping a present during Christmas or a birthday. There is always that thrill that surges through me throwing me back to my childhood when the world seemed a better place and people were less prone to duplicity. Combined with the pleasure of eating a slice of Smores, a broken heart aches less and all is good in the world.

THE BEAUTY OF KUTA BEACH 

First timers to Bali are always told to head to Kuta Beach, one of the more popular beaches on the island. It is, I have been told, a favorite of foreign surfers, who are mostly from Australia as the flight from one of its cities is just an hour plus, and local surfers who double up as surfing coaches. It wasn’t on the nth visit and as I watched the surfers gear up to ride the wave that it finally dawned on me why it is a surfer’s paradise. The waves are every surfer’s dream: glassy surface (read: nice and smooth), rolls in one direction, big, and powerful. If the surfers find the waves thrilling I find them on top of the waves absolutely amazing.

Kuta beach in April


At first glance, Kuta beach can be off-putting. First is the huge crowd at the entrance. Finding a parking space is a nightmare unless you have a scooter. Behind the entrance are legions of vendors plying anything under the shaded sun – accessories, beach wear, temporary tattoo (think henna), braiding and massage services, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. In fact, the beverage vendors have set up makeshift “bars” of plastic chairs under a huge beach umbrella and drinks in a cooler box. 

Second push-factor are the aggressive vendors. I cannot forget the mistake I made in browsing this woman’s accessories only to change my mind because the woven bracelet I fancied looked worn out. She threw a hissy fit and followed me around the beach for a time. Lesson learned: never entertain a vendor unless you are certain of buying. 

However, hurdle the crowd and the vendors, and you will come face-to-face with the pulchritude of Kuta Beach. A divine, majestic landscape of blues – light blue, cerulean, aquamarine – intermingled with yellow, gold, and white play before your eyes that is completely mesmerizing. Standing or sitting, it is almost meditative as you slowly breathe in and breathe out the fresh sea breeze. The sun on your face, the breeze dancing with you, and the sound of waves rushing to shore is like a welcomed benediction from the universe and your guardian angels that you thought had abandoned you. A tingling, vivifying feeling shoots through you and you feel a smile tugging at the sides of your lips. For a moment everything is copacetic in your topsy-turvy world – the veil of sadness has been lifted and your heart has stopped crying.

Scanning the area, I people-watch: smiling at the lovers strolling by the water, laughing at the failed acrobatic stunts, staring at those sunbathing wondering if they had put on sufficient sunblock lotion. Then my gaze falls on the horizon and my thoughts take a different direction. In due time the beauty of Kuta Beach will permeate my gray-tinged world.

PHILIPPINE BREAD 

A traditional Filipino breakfast is someone’s version of lunch or dinner: sinangag (garlic fried rice), tocino (Philippine version of the Spanish bacon) or corned beef, and fried egg (usually sunny side up) washed down with black coffee. This is too heavy for me so I opt for two pieces of pan de sal slathered with jam, cream cheese, peanut butter, or butter. Pan de sal is part of any Filipino’s breakfast or merienda (roughly translated as snack) if you’re going for a lighter fare. Unfortunately, it is difficult looking for pan de sal outside of the Philippines unless you’re somewhere in the US where Filipino bakeries and convenience stores are ubiquitous.

pan de sal by Kamuning Bakery


In the Philippines, pan de sal is now usually sold in major bakeries in the malls and supermarkets in the cities which means that they are not the usual piping hot, fresh-from-the-oven bread that is less on sweetness which is normally expected of Filipino bread. As its name would have it – pan de sal translates to salt bread – it’s leaning on the salty side, but not enough to give you blood pressure problems. However, French Baker, a bakery cum cafe located in most SM malls, has bucked the trend and has been selling huge, fresh-from-the-oven cracked pan de sal (it cracks when you pinch it).

Outside of the malls and within residential areas, Kamuning Bakery in Quezon City is still the to-go to place for freshly baked pan de sal which is available early in the morning. This small mom-and-pop store, which opened its doors in 1939 on the corner of K-1st and Judge Jimenez streets, is still standing but has since gone through major upgrades and expansion. For one thing, they now have an outlet at SM North Edsa, one of the major malls under the SM group. Another noted difference is the absence of the homey, neighborhood store vibe which has been replaced by a more formal bakery ambience complete with a glass display of refrigerated cakes and drinks, and several racks filled with an array of wrapped breads. 

The sale of pan de sal is an open secret.There is no sign advertising its sale. One simply goes up to the counter and places an order with the crew (sadly, a grumpy one) who then asks monotonously how many pieces you want and proceeds to pick up the pan de sal with tongs and drop them in a paper bag. The carb-conscious eater shuns the regular pan de sal because it primarily uses white flour, but Kamuning Bakery has got its ear on the ground about healthy eating and has come with wheat pan de sal. Regrettably, it wasn’t available that day. 

pan de suelo by Kamuning Bakery


Looking around the bakery, I spotted what I thought was a bag of wheat pan de sal. I was mistaken and was immediately corrected by grumpy chops who said it was pan de suelo. Pan de suelo is, as my research yielded, a precursor of pan de sal. Made from wheat flour, its consistency resembles a bagel or a softer French baguette. My Spanish should have kicked in after hearing the name: pan de suelo translates to “floor bread” thus one gets an inkling of its texture. Not a fan of the French baguette, the pan de suelo, I discovered, was a good alternative to the pan de sal. A few minutes in the toaster oven and you have a softer pan de suelo ready to be smothered with one’s spread of choice. This time I went for pineapple jam from The Fruit Garden.

The pan de sal and pan de suelo are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the pantheon of tinapay (Filipino for bread which is pronounced as tee-na-pie). Word of caution: you need to love carbs to discover them.

What is for breakfast- pan de suelo (back) or pan de sal?