Prior to going to Yogya in 1997, food poisoning was always a concern
and Packing Lomotil and Stemetyl to combat Bali belly was an essential
part of every trip to Indonesia. We ate only in "proper" Western style
restaurants and Western Hotels. Street food hawkers were places of
suspicion and deemed to be sources of certain food poisoning. They
were places where only locals ate. Their stomachs were accustomed to
the local bacteria.
Yogyakarta is a city surviving and thriving on it's street food. Food
hawkers provide daily sustenance to the thousands of UNI students as
well as the local residents. Street food, i learnt in 1997, is the
freshest and healthiest food available. The hawkers have no
refrigeration so food has to be freshly killed, picked, bought and
cooked. I soon realized why we had often suffered from Bali belly in
the past - we had never eaten where the locals ate, we ate at "western
style" restaurants where steak may have been in the fridge for ...
Well, I hate to think.
My life and my approach to food turned a corner. I ate at street food
stalls and tents daily, trying a new taste sensation every day.
Students compared notes on which Warung Tenda sold the tastiest Fried
Chicken (Ayam Goreng) or the best Gado Gado (mixed vegetables) and who
gave the biggest portions.
Easter arrived and i had a week of holidays. My husband and daughter
flew to Jakarta to meet up with me for the holiday. Evening approached
on our first day together and it was time for dinner. "You are going
to have to trust me," I told them. "I am going to introduce you to a
We walked the streets until I found a Pedlar selling a meal that i
knew neither of them had ever tried before and one I was sure they
"Here we are, we'll try this one," I approached the Asongan trolley
and placed our order with the peddler.
"Are you sure this is safe?" John asked.
"Just trust me, i will take you on a new food journey this week" I told him.
"But are you it's safe?" he queried, no doubt recalling his last bout
of Bali belly.
"Here, have some." I handed them both some of the first Martabak off
After the first mouthful, their faces lit in appreciation and they
tucked into the Martabak. Martabak is still one of my daughters
favorite Indonesian foods. That day our families journey discovering
street food began. Today where ever we travel we seek out where the
locals eat and track down street food to experience the true culinary
journey of the country we are visiting.
Yogyakarta, pronounced " Jogja," for short, is one of the oldest
cities in Java and is the centre of education in Indonesia with many
universities. Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) is the oldest university
in Indonesia and one of the largest universities in Southeast Asia and
it was UGM that brought me to Jogja back in 1997.
Back then my focus was on learning the Indonesian language and
understanding the complexities of family life. Today I have asked Ibu
to help me understand the complexities of the street food. Ibu has
accepted the challenge with delight and being very proud of her city
set about showing me the local specialities.
Some Local Jogja delicacies include Gudeg, Jogja's most famous dish.
It is a curry of jackfruit, chicken and egg served with rice.
Ayam goreng ( fried chicken). Bubur which is a rice porridge. Es
rujak , a fruit salad made from mangos, papayas, apples, pineapples,
cucumbers mixed with palm sugar, lime juice, salt, chillies and ice
cream (es krim). It is sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, salty all in one.
There are three main types of street food hawkers in Jogja: Warung
Tenda, Angkringan and Asongan. Warung Tenda is a restaurant in a tent
on the pavement. They set up at 5pm to serve a full evening meal.
Angkringan is also a restaurant under a tent set up on the pavement or
on a small side road. They are there for the whole day and serve a
much more limited menu., normally a Nasi Kucing (Cat Rice) that
consists of a small serving of rice with a sambal (chili salsa) and
is wrapped into a small bundle using a piece of paper or banana leaf.
Asongan, is the third type and is a portable food trolley pushed
around the streets selling snacks or drinks or Bakso (meat balls) or
Mie Ayam (chicken noodles), simple snack meals.
Morning in Jogja starts with the sound of the Bubur (rice porridge)
Man cycling past tapping a spoon against a plate to let residents know
he is passing. If you want bubur you go out and signal to him and he
serves you from a big container on the back of his bicycle.
On Sunday morning Lesehan food stalls set up their tent restaurants on
the pavement with low tables and mats so customers can sit on the mat
on the ground and have their meal. The menus typically include Opor
Ayam (chicken curry with rice cake), Bubur Ayam (Chicken Porridge),
Siomay (fish dumplings), and Sate Ambal (chicken satay with tempeh
One of Ibu's Favourite breakfast dishes is Lengko. This is her recipe:
1.5 cups mung bean sprouts, washed, Add 1/2 cup boiling water to
sprouts in a bowl
Half a Cucumber chopped into fine dice
1 large Tomato chopped into fine dice
Tofu cubes fried then diced
to serve: layer on boiled rice on a plate
First layer bean sprouts on top of the boiled rice
then layer with tomato and cucumber that has been gently mixed together first
Then add salsa made from garlic, salt and chilli - fry chilli and
garlic which has been ground in mortar and pestle for few minutes
before adding salt.
Add soy sauce sprinkled over top
Sprinkle with fried onion
Serve with krupuks (crackers) made from tapioca flour
Yogyakarta saved my life.
At least that is what it seemed like back in 1997.
I'd had a stress breakdown five years prior that left me unable to get
out of bed because everything outside my Doona was too terrifying. It
took time. A lot of time. Gradually my bedroom became safe and i could
crawl out of my bed, but i could not leave my bedroom as the rest of
the house was too unsafe. Then the house became safe and i could walk
around from room to room, but outside the house was too terrifying for
me to venture to. Slowly my boundaries expanded . It took a year
before I could go into our little town of Kalamunda.
I have no idea how mybfamily coped. The two big girls were teenagers,
they must have taken over caring for the little one who was 5 when the
I felt fearful and incompetent and it devastated me to be so useless.
My self confidence had hit sub zero. After three years of painstaking
progress a counsellor suggested that taking up some study may help
restore my self esteem and assist in general recovery. I enrolled in
Indonesian studies at university. The counsellor was right, it helped
a lot to have a planned routine where I knew what was expected of me
and when it was expected. I threw myself into the studies and with the
formal structure i began to be able to handle life, sort of.
I saw my husband (and business partner) as the centre and cause of my
stress. He wasn't, but that is the way I saw it at the time. I told
him I wanted to separate. He understood how ill I was and knew it was
useless to fight me on this issue. He moved out and rented a home
nearby and we functioned as friends as we figured out how to continue
to run family life.
I was barely coping and felt that I wanted to run away and escape to a
deserted island .
Eighteen months into the studies a scholarship became available that
meant living in Indonesia for 6 months in Java. It would condense the
last 18 months of the Indonesian degree into six months. It entailed
living in Yogyakarta and studying Indonesian language and culture at
the University of Gadga Mada. Not exactly a deserted island, but it
fitted my need to escape. I applied and got the scholarship.
I planned on taking my then 9 year old with me and enrolling her in
an international school in Yogyakarta . But my husband felt it would
be better for her to stay at her school in Australia with her friends
and family around her. He suggested he give up our consultancy
business and take a full time job in Perth so he could be home every
day for her. After a great deal of discussion that is what we agreed
on. I was not sure I would emotionally handle being parted from her
for so long, she was a thread of sanity in my otherwise crumbled life,
but my husbands argument that it would be best for her won in the end.
A few months Later i was on my way to Yogyakarta alone and wondering
how life had led me to that point.
The first week in Yogyakarta was the induction week. We were told what
to expect and what not to expect, several students left at the end of
that first week.
"Javanese are extremely polite people," we were told."They never lose
their temper and smile at everything. If you get hit by a car, and it
is highly likely you will, get up smiling, dust yourself off and carry
on," our professor told us that week. " I am your mother hen, if you
have any personal issues you bring them to me, otherwise all your
study issues you take to your Indonesian teachers at the university.
Now you need tofind your own accommodation. You can go and door knock
and tell them you are looking for 'kos'. Everyone will want to
practice their English on you. Tell them you don't want to speak
English, you have come here to improve your indonesian and you only
want to speak Indonesian."
With that he waved us goodbye and off we went. I walked to the suburb
surrounding the university and went from house to house door knocking
until I found a home 100 meters from the UNI.
"We don't do kos," the man at the door said, "but wait here and my
wife will speak with you."
The lady came and we sat in her front parlor and chatted. I realized
later that she was interviewing me to check on my suitability to be
taken into their household. I must have passed the test as she offered
me a room. I think telling me that they did not do 'kos' was to save
any loss of "face" on either side if she deemed me unsuitable.
That lady I found over the coming months was the most loving person i
have ever met and she became my closest friend.
That lady (Ibu) and i over the following months spent many evenings
analysing each others societies, cultures and traditions as I sought
to make sense of the culture I found myself in. I would ask her
questions like why does Bapak (her husband ) give his seat at the
table to his son when his son comes to visit.
Bapak asked me once "don't you know how to eat food with your fingers?
In Indonesia we think it is more hygienic to eat food with our
fingers. We know where our fingers have been, we dont know where the
cutlery has been." I didnt use a fork again for the duration of my
stay after that comment. It's amazing how quickly you can learn to eat
rice with your fingers.
Over time my friendship with Ibu deepened. it became more important to
Ibu and I to share our thoughts and feelings than it was for me to
practice speaking Indonesian and much to Bapaks disgust we would speak
in what Ibu would refer to as "campur" meaning it was a mix of English
and Indonesian as we sought words to describe feelings or situations
for which there was no suitable word in Indonesian.
Bapak was a highly intelligent man and from the very first he more
than made up for Ibu and my "campur" conversations. Bapak invited me
to sit on the terrace with him after dinner to chat. The first chat he
asked me "So tell me about the aboriginal situation in Australia?" I
struggled through that chat seeking ways to explain concepts or words
that I did not yet have in my Indonesian vocabulary. That night after
the excruciating "chat" had come to an end I went to my room and wrote
all the words and concepts down that I had needed for that
conversation, found the Indonesian translation and spent several hours
memorizing those 150 words until I knew them by heart. I would be
prepared for bapak the next time he asked about the aboriginal
situation in Australia.
The second night when bapak asked me to join him on the terrace to
chat, I was happy that I was prepared. "Tell me," said Bapak, "about
the Gold rush Days in Australia?"
That night I wrote the 150 words I had needed and struggled to
describe about the gold rush days, and spent several hours after our
chat, memorizing those words.
Bapak did that to me every night. He changed the topic in order to to
push and stretch my language skills. Every night another 150 words
that were outside my normal vocab were written down and memorized.
After three months our nightly chats came to an end. Bapak had some
university friends come to visit and I was formally introduced to his
guests as was the etiquette of the family. His guests greeted me
formally in English. Bapak beamed with pride and his chest puffed as
he explained to them " You may speak to Linda in Indonesian, she is
"You Wiley old fox," I thought, "you have been the one to thank for that."
Ibu became not only my best friend but also my counsellor. The time
away from "hats" , the hat of being wife, the hat of being mum,
business partner, sister or aunt, gave me time to heal. Ibu talked me
through my anxieties, and being a devout Muslim, taught me to
surrender my problems to Allah / God. With Ibu's encouragement I
learnt to let my worries go, to give them to God, and take each day as
a brand new journey. I went home a different person and having
realized that my husband was not the cause of my stresses the rift in
my marriage was also healed and our family reunited again.
Ibu is the reason i am back in Yogyakarta today. In Ibu's words, "it
is to lose the missingness."
I look at her now and know it has indeed been much too long since we
lost the missingness and sat and talked "campur".