Saturday, August 31, 2019

12 Indonesian Foods You Must Try Before You Die



Although Indonesia is currently bearing diverse problems to solve and scores of challenges to face, I feel, to some extent, lucky to have been born here since food-wise, it remains one of the best countries in the world (at least for me). With amazing spices such as ginger, turmeric, candlenuts, lemongrass, cilantro, tamarind and galangal galore, it is arguably extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find a legit contender for this archipelagic nation in the palate-spoiling arena. If you are a foodie, I can assure you that you will not rest peacefully in your grave if you haven't tried a good number of the Indonesian foods on the list below. Actually it is pretty brain-racking to pick only a dozen out of the innumerable scrumptious foodstuffs from Indonesia, but I did try to do my level best. So here you go, 12 Indonesian dishes you must try before you kick the bucket!

12. Bakso

Bakso Beranak in Kebon Kacang, Central Jakarta
"Bakso Beranak" literally means "Birth-Giving Bakso", referring to many small meatballs inside a massive one.

Let's start the list with bakso! The main element of this dish is meatballs. They are usually made with beef and the size varies from small to humongous (such as the one in the picture!). Bakso is usually served with bihun (rice noodles), mie (wheat noodles), choy sum, bean sprouts, celery, and crispy fried shallots. It is a classic Indonesian dish and the hot soup of bakso will make you return to it again and again!

Fun fact: The former U.S. president Barack Obama loved bakso as a child.

11. Nasi ulam

Nasi Ulam Bang Muhi in Mangga Besar, West Jakarta
Nasi ulam is a traditional Betawi dish.

Nasi ulam is a fantastic dish of Jakarta's indigenous tribe, the Betawi. This partly soup-based food is composed of rice, bihun, peanuts, basil, and side dishes such as perkedel (potato-based fritters), telur dadar (Indonesian omelettes), and dendeng (beef jerky), which you can choose from. You can also have tempe goreng (fried tempe) and tahu (tofu) added if you like. Nasi ulam is topped with kerupuk (crackers) and emping (Gnetum gnemon chips), which makes it a perfect dish to close your day! I would describe the overall taste of nasi ulam as "sweetilicious".

10. Pempek

Pempek Kenari in AEON MALL BSD, Tangerang
Pempek is originally from Palembang, South Sumatra

Are you a fan of spicy food? If so, pempek is sure to satisfy your appetite for fiery grub! This Palembang dish is basically all fish and served with black vinegar-based soup. Pempek types include pempek kapal selam (submarine pempek), pempek lenjer (long pempek), pempek adaan (Allium-filled pempek), pempek bulat (round pempek), and pempek kulit (fish skin pempek). You can opt to have your pempek fried or not, depending on your preference. Pempek is usually accompanied with mie and cucumber, and ebi (dry shrimp powder) may be sprinkled to enrich the already amazing taste!

9. Soto

Soto Betawi Daging in Canteena, Plaza Indonesia, Central Jakarta
When it comes to food, "daging" usually means "beef", although it can broadly mean "meat (of any kind)".

Soto is another classic dish from Indonesia and there are countless varieties of it: soto Betawi, soto tangkar, soto Medan, soto mie, soto ayam Ambengan, soto Lamongan, etc. The soup of soto can be coconut milk-based and the smell of this food is distinctively alluring. Soto is usually made with turmeric and can contain bihun, mie, meat (mostly beef or chicken), tomatoes, scallions, crispy fried shallots, cabbage and/or lumpia (spring rolls). Sweet soysauce is a condiment that people typically pour over soto, but however you eat it, your tummy will certainly be pleased by a plate of rice plus a bowl of soto!

8. Siomay

Siomay which my student Satria bought at or near his office
Siomay is suspectedly derived from xiao mai, a type of food that is part of the popular Chinese dish dim sum.

Siomay, also spelled "somay", is a delish dish that is thought to be a variant of the Chinese light dish xiao mai (notice the similar pronunciation). However, siomay is composed of more various food items than its Chinese counterpart: you can have siomay bulat (round siomay), siomay panjang (long siomay), siomay telor (egg siomay), siomay kentang (potato siomay), siomay pare (bitter melon siomay) and so on. The meat used in siomay is commonly fish, although you can find siomay made with shrimp or pork as well. Siomay is typically eaten with tasty peanut sauce and this will surely take you to seventh heaven! You won't want to miss the additional taste of lime juice poured over siomay either, which will make you relaxed and peaceful after a hard day's work.

7. Sekoteng

Sekoteng on Haji Agus Salim Street (Sabang), Central Jakarta
A bowl of sekoteng on a rainy day is just what the doctor ordered.

Sekoteng is a hot Indonesian dessert prominently flavored by ginger. Sekoteng can look like a motley of strange little food items, but once you try it, you will never stop! The components that make up sekoteng include bread cubes, peanuts, kolang-kaling/buah atep (Arenga pinnata fruit), and pacar cina (sago pearls). Sekoteng can also be enjoyed with condensed milk and, depending on the seller, sugar and ginger syrup may be available on the table for you to add as you wish.  If you don't have anyone to hug in order to warm your body, at least you can indulge in a bowl of sekoteng!

6. Rujak

Rujak Kolam in AEON MALL BSD, Tangerang
"Kolam" means "pond" and it may have been named this way because of the resemblance of the sauce to a pond.

Rujak is basically Indonesia's fruit salad. If you need an intake of fiber-rich food while you are in Indonesia, you are highly recommended to tuck into a portion of rujak. Imagine a mix of water apples, pineapple, mango, young papaya, kedondong (ambarella fruit), and starfruit bathed in spicy, shrimp-pasted peanut sauce -- hmmm, yummy! Rujak can also include vegetables such as sweet potatoes, yam, and cucumber, which add more tastes to it. I promise, you will be head over heels in love with this assorted dish!

5. Nasi goreng

Nasi Goreng Spesial Bewok on Haji Agus Salim Street (Sabang), Central Jakarta
"Nasi goreng" means "fried rice", referring to the main ingredient and the way this dish is cooked.

Nasi goreng is definitely the most popular Indonesian food and, aside from bakso, this dish fortunately received a boost of fame many years ago, thanks to the former U.S. president Barack Obama. Due to its staggering popularity, you can find it in almost every nook and cranny of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. Nasi goreng is primarily composed of rice and typically contains meat (mostly chicken or goat), egg, choy sum, scallions, and crispy fried shallots but it can also be enriched by cabbage, sausage, and meatballs. Nasi goreng is commonly served with acar (pickles), and kerupuk is an inseparable element of a plate of nasi goreng. You can't say you have visited Indonesia if you haven't tried this flavorsome dish!

Tip: As with many Indonesian foods, the best nasi goreng is cooked by street food sellers, not in restaurants or things of that nature.

Fun fact: Nasi goreng is the runner-up when it comes to the world's best foods according to CNN readers.

4. Indomie

Indomie Goreng Jumbo in Canteena, Plaza Indonesia, Central Jakarta

Indomie Double Telur in Canteena, Plaza Indonesia, Central Jakarta

Strictly speaking, Indomie is not really a type of food; it is an instant noodle brand. In fact, it is unarguably the most popular instant noodle brand in the country -- literally everyone knows what it is. Indomie is so well-known that it has become a master brand, in which case its name is well-established as an eponym for instant noodles in Indonesian society (you might hear someone say, "One bowl of Indomie, please!" although there are only other brands of instant noodles in the eatery). Indomie can be divided into two types: dry-based and soup-based Indomie. Which to eat depends on your preference and there are countless flavors to choose from, such as ayam spesial (special chicken), baso sapi (beef bakso), soto mie, rendang, and ayam geprek (bludgeoned chicken). What makes Indomie really special is the heavenly taste of its seasoning, which, in turn, debatably makes it the most delectable instant noodles on the planet.

Click here to read Amazon customer reviews of Indomie Mie Goreng (dry-based), showing how deeply in love they are with the legendary instant noodles.

Tip: As a popular adage goes, the more the merrier. Adding side elements such as choy sum and egg will make your Indomie even more tempting and mouth-watering.

3. Sate

Sate Ayam in Mangga Besar, West Jakarta
Other than sweet soysauce, you can eat sate with peanut sauce.

Sate (satay) is essentially Indonesia's meat skewers. It can be made with chicken, beef, pork or goat and is typically covered with soysauce or peanut sauce. Sate can be aptly accompanied with chili, raw shallots, tomatoes, and crisp fried shallots, especially it is lavaed by soysauce. Just like soto, there is a diverse range of sate types, e.g., sate Padang, sate taichan, and sate maranggi. Although sate can be reveled in without a carbo-based dish, it is usually consumed with rice or lontong (rice cake). Generally, one portion of sate consists of 10 sticks, but in no time you will have devoured all of them as pieces of luscious juicy meat wildly dance in your orifice!

Fun fact: Sate is ranked 14th on the list of the world's best foods according to CNN readers.

2. Ketoprak

Ketoprak in Dwiwarna, Central Jakarta
Ketoprak is another traditional Betawi dish.

Ketoprak is the runner-up on this list largely because this dish is what I (and my first brother) would call a manifestation of "perfection" in culinary terms. Typical ketoprak comprises lontong/ketupat (rice cake), bihun, tahu, bean sprouts, crispy fried shallots, cucumber, and kerupuk. Ketoprak sauce, which is crafted by combining ground peanuts & palm sugar with salt, garlic, chili, and sometimes lime juice, is simply incredible and will leave you addicted. Even though tahu is the usual "companion", you can find ketoprak with sunny-side up eggs and even tempe & potatoes. I would consider ketoprak to be my comfort food and it is one of the Indonesian foods I miss the most after a few days of not chowing down on it.

Tip: You can find the best ketoprak in the area of Mangga Besar and its vicinity.

Fun fact: American paleontologist Steve Brusatte, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, accepted my invitation to talk with me over a ketoprak dinner in Jakarta. I am still waiting for that day... 😊

1. Nasi Padang

Nasi Padang in Canteena, Plaza Indonesia, Central Jakarta
Nasi Padang, as suggested by its name, hails from Padang, the capital of West Sumatra. 

To me, nothing is comparable to the taste of nasi Padang, as yet. I'd say nasi Padang represents the pinnacle of Indonesian food taste. This West Sumatran dish is piquant such that a Norwegian guy made a song about his infatuation with it. Nasi Padang actually refers to rice and numerous side dishes which you can choose from. Rice in nasi Padang is typically served with the vegetables cassava leaves or a combination of cabbage & string beans, and the side dish options are comprised of rendang, ayam bakar (roasted chicken), ayam goreng (fried chicken) perkedel, telur dadar, telur balado (balado egg), terong balado (balado eggplant), bakwan udang (shrimp fritters), and many more. Tucking into this coconut milk-rich dish is not complete without the legendary green chili paste (which tastes superbly unforgettable!), and topped with kerupuk kulit (cow skin crackers), nasi Padang is an absolutely perfect meal for every food lover! If, for some reason, you could eat only one Indonesian food, go for nasi Padang, hands down.

Fun fact: Rendang, an important element in nasi Padang, is the world's best food according to CNN readers.

So, which dishes look the most appealing to you? Which would you like to first try if you come to Indonesia? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Bon appétit!
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Monday, August 12, 2019

Quote #55

"Knowing the truth is important, but accepting it is far more important." - Klinsman Hinjaya
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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Is Grammar Important?

Grammar is not important. As long as you understand what I say, it's enough.

The text above represents a comment that I sometimes hear from English learners -- odds are you have heard this kind of utterance as well. However, does this statement hold true? Is grammar not important?


The quick answer is yes. Grammar is important indeed. Let's use two different approaches to answering this question.

We can be sure that grammar is important by looking around and realizing how many grammar books there are and how diverse they are on the market. ELT (English Language Teaching) publishers such as Cambridge, Oxford, Longman, and Collins have collectively produced numerous grammars, which are aimed, without a doubt, at English learners. These include the classic Understanding and Using English Grammar and Fundamentals of English Grammar by Betty S. Azar and Stacy A. Hagen and COBUILD English Grammar, which I am about to order a copy of. The existence of such books demonstrates how important grammar is in communication. This is not to mention that most, if not all, non-grammar-focused ELT books also discuss grammar, albeit not comprehensively and thoroughly.

Now, let's take a look at this mini-conversation between two old friends, Paul and Karen, which takes place at a subway station:
1. Paul: Hi Karen! Long time no see! How are you?
2. Karen: Hi Paul! I'm good. And you?
3. Paul: I'm all right. It's been 5 years. By the way, what do you do after you graduated from university?
4. Karen: You mean what I do now?
5. Paul: No, that time after we graduated from university.
6. Karen: Oh, I see. I worked as a salesperson for a kitchenware company for about two years. I was getting bored, so I decided to leave the job. Now I teach chemistry in a high school in my hometown. How about you?
7. Paul: ...
This made-up dialog illustrates how our use of grammar can affect the effectiveness of our communication. Paul doesn't use the right auxiliary verb, "did", (line 3) and it leads Karen to ask for clarification (line 4). This means Paul needs to give Karen clarification (line 5). Although Karen finally understands what Paul intends to know, this series of unnecessary actions takes (and wastes) some time and, therefore, reduces communication efficiency.

It is sometimes argued that grammar is important only when it comes to speaking, not writing. The example above shows that grammar matters whether you are speaking or writing -- the only difference is that people are more likely to get embarrassed by what they write because writings tend to be recorded or stored and making corrections is not always possible, while on most occasions once you speak, it is gone.

I always believe that when you love something, it is going to be easy. This has resulted in me coming up with an unpublished, Bible-referencing quote: "The love of grammar is the root of English proficiency". This may not be wholly true, but it will certainly boost your English skills more than you would without such passion.

If you find it hard to learn grammar (or, more generally, English) and think that grammar is too complicated to master, you might want to read my other articles How to Be Good at English (Part 1) and Language Is an Illusion. I wish you the best of luck on your grammar-learning journey!
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Monday, July 15, 2019

Work on your Idioms – Book Review


Work on your Idioms
by Sandra Anderson & Cheryl Pelteret

Before flying to Bangkok for the first time, I didn't expect at all that I would bring English treasures home from the Thai capital. The 47th National Book Fair & Bangkok International Book Fair 2019, at which I exhumed this idiom book as well as an illustrated dictionary, was definitely a highlight of my first-ever trip to Mario Maurer's homeland (click here to read about some of my experiences there). If you are trying to improve your vocabulary and in search of an idiom book, go get Work on your Idioms by Sandra Anderson & Cheryl Pelteret and here's why:

First of all, Work on your Idioms by Sandra Anderson & Cheryl Pelteret focuses on over 300 most commonly used idioms, those which you are highly likely to encounter in life. These idioms are grouped into 25 units based on their meanings or functions. For example, unit 1 deals with idioms related to knowledge and understanding, whilst unit 15 covers idioms that you can use to talk about success and failure. One of the most incredible features of this book is that the definitions are written in very simple English, which guarantees easy absorption and understanding of the idioms. Each entry is also accompanied with at least one example which will help you internalize the idiom in question. Not enough? Every unit is equipped with two-page exercises (with an answer key) to reinforce your learning -- the exercises I've done have been really helpful for me. This book is also peppered with Note sections, which give you more information about certain idioms. For instance, you can learn about the origins or other varieties of a particular idiom.

It seems too good to be true but this book really goes the extra mile. At the back of book, you can find three appendices. The first one gives ideas on how to understand idioms easily, the second one provides tips for learning idioms effectively (which I think can be applied more generally), and the third one covers the American versions of some of the idioms in the book (Collins is a publisher from the UK; thus, the contents of this book are British English-oriented).

All in all, Work on your Idioms is an absolute must-read if you need a vocabulary booster, particularly when it comes to idioms. Believe me, you will have a whale of a time reading this amazing book and make headway towards your vocab-enriching goal! This is straight from the horse's mouth. 😉

Have you read Work on your Idioms? What is your opinion of this book? Share what you think in the comment section below!
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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Your Smile

The cluttered streets of Jakarta
Would instantly give dizziness to anyone
A snap of your smile
Is always the focal point of my attention
Diverting the insanity I would otherwise experience

I share my world with you
Going on a fantastic ride every day
M life is brimming with bliss
I can see eternal love from your beautiful gaze
Your tenderness is what I need every second

Am I utterly crazy myself?
I have fallen into an abyss of romance
Your prodigious beauty has trapped me
I will reside in your realm forevermore
And I love it

The creation of this poem was inspired by Ta De Jie Mao (她的睫毛) by Jay Chou.
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Sunday, June 2, 2019

McGraw-Hill Education: English Illustrated Dictionary – Book Review


McGraw-Hill Education: English Illustrated Dictionary
by LiveABC

What surprises can you get from a trip abroad? At least for me, they are books! This English dictionary is one of two books -- the other being an idiom book -- that I brought home from the unexpectedly known 47th National Book Fair & Bangkok International Book Fair 2019, during my first visit to Thailand (click here to read about some of my experiences there). Now that I've finished imbibing it, here are my thoughts on McGraw-Hill Education: English Illustrated Dictionary by LiveABC:

McGraw-Hill Education: English Illustrated Dictionary by LiveABC is a shortcut to enlarging your English vocabulary at a fast pace. This dictionary contains scores of illustrations with the matching words and phrases, mostly conveying their meanings clearly. This book is chopped up into 15 sections, covering a wide range of lexical items used in our daily life (around the house, people, foods, clothing, education, animals & plants, etc.). It is written and designed for beginner-level learners but I found some vocabulary quite uncommon/difficult, for example "trapezoid", "fjord", and "French horn", so I reckon it could be be fitting for pre-intermediate learners as well. McGraw-Hill Education: English Illustrated Dictionary is also equipped with an accompanying MP3 disk filled with audio files to help you with the native-speaker pronunciation of each entry -- nevertheless, I didn't make use of this feature and employed my favorite online dictionary, Macmillan Dictionary, instead. One thing of this book that could be improved is consistency, as a bit lack of it can be confusing for low-level learners. For instance, the entries "hiking" (a gerund) and "to fish" (a to-infinitive) in the Pastimes and Hobbies sub-section can be baffling in respect of how to use them in a sentence. Please notice that this dictionary presents the vocabulary in American English (if you are looking for one that is written in British English, I'd suggest Oxford Picture Dictionary (OPD). Keep in mind that OPD is written in a more detailed and more complex fashion; thus, it is more suitable for higher-level learners).

Have you read McGraw-Hill Education: English Illustrated Dictionary? What is your take on this book? Share what you think in the comment section below!
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Friday, May 10, 2019

King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand: From Prince to King (Vol. 1) – Book Review


King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand: From Prince to King (Vol. 1)
by Danai Chanchaochai

Thailand is a wonderful country. My first trip to the "land of white elephants" has left me hungry for more exciting experiences (you can read my account of the adventure here). This little book about the late king of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is also known as King Rama IX, is a gift from my kind and generous Thai sister, who happens to have the same name: Gift. Pee Gift ("Pee" means "sister" in Thai) is literally a gift, and the trip would not have been as thrilling without her (khob khun khab!).

King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand: From Prince to King (Vol. 1) by Danai Chanchaochai is the first of a three-volume biographical series of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. As the title suggests, this volume tells readers about the early years of the Thai monarch, but it is more than that. It is a concise yet highly informative book, and I have learned a great deal of knowledge from it, not only about the king himself, but also the history of Thailand. Made up of 17 chapters, this book, in large part, covers King Bhumibol Adulyadej's life stages such as his birth in the U.S., his childhood in Switzerland, as well as his first meeting with Queen Sirikit in France. On top of that, it touches on the origin of Bangkok as the capital city, the transition of the country from Siam to Thailand as we know it today, and some predecessors of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, such as his own grandfather King Chulalongkorn. Before I started reading this book, I had already heard the great reputation of the king and after finishing it, I find it easier to understand why Thai people love this king so much. This book is written in simple English, so readers should not be afraid of having considerable difficulty comprehending the contents. Nevertheless, certain vocabulary might not be familiar to some readers, in which case a glossary is provided at the back of the book as a help. Moreover, there are also exercises at the very end of the book to reinforce your learning and understanding. If you are curious about Thailand and especially the much loved King Bhumibol Adulyadej, this is an excellent source from which to learn.

Have you read King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand: From Prince to King (Vol. 1)? What do you think of this book? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!
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