Indofood series: Hawker fare

I woke up before the morning prayers, at 4a.m. Bindy was still asleep and I did not call her to say goodbye. My transport was coming to pick me up at 4.30a.m. for the ride to Surabaya and a flight back to Singapore. It had been a pleasant three-day holiday, catching up with an old friend from university.

The transport came as scheduled and we went on to pick up several other passengers. Though it was still dark, the streets were already stirring. The little shops selling food were already open and in business by 5a.m. Early for me, but clearly the norm for them. I thought I saw a homeless man in the wee hours of the morning. Indonesia may be seen as a poor third world country, but I do not recall seeing a homeless person before – not once during the few times I visited. Hmm… interesting. A poor country without the ‘visible’ poor. Yet so many other ‘first world’ countries have those who are visibly poor.

The streets were soon roaring to life, with motorbikes scooting, cars and larger vehicles tooting and honking. The odd horse-drawn cart seemed so out-of-place in the busy streets. But it is still a dependable mode of transport that leaves no carbon footprint.

The economy of Indonesia seems to lie as much with the little entrepreneurs — who line the streets or any available space where they set up shop in an instant, sometimes with gas cylinders, woks, tables, stools and all — as much as those who own large businesses who employ the hundreds and thousands. But the life of Indonesia must surely lie with these hawkers. They add a novelty to the country; unique to the country, yet commonplace for a developing nation.

On this trip, I had the chance to try the food from two such folks. One had set up shop in a van that is parked at a location that did not obstruct traffic — she sells out her nasi kuning just after noon. I loved the chilli. I had the nasi kuning (yellow rice) with a piece of beef. It was homemade goodness, affordably priced. The other was a young man who grilled satay off the side of his motorbike and sold them to-order door-to-door. I’ll talk about him another day. Both foods were well-prepared; no concerns about hygiene.

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