Monday, February 8, 2010

A Day in Gorontalo (Part III)

Saturday, February 6th 2010

8:00 a.m. I meet Ibu Elsje in front of Amanda Jaya and we head off to the Liluwo market, which is held every Saturday morning from 6-11. Ibu Elsje tells me that this market is where everyone in town gets their food because they have the cheapest prices. Even the slightly more expensive food that is sold daily at Pasar Sentral (Central Market) originally comes from here.

8:15 a.m. This is my first trip to the traditional market and I am instantly enamored by the sights, sounds and smells. As far as the eye can see there are tables piled high with fresh vegetables, beautiful baskets full of eye-catching fruit, and large sacks of rice and grains. In the back there are long tables covered with fish of all shapes and sizes and in one corner there is a meat stand with large slabs of meat hanging from hooks. The stands are so tightly packed together that there is barely enough space to walk around. Vendors beckon me to examine their food while shouting out prices. Young boys constantly tug on my sleeve to ask if I want to buy a bag or if they can help carry my bags back to the bentor. Women touch my arms and excitedly call to their friends, “bule, bule!” I pause to smell some fresh herbs and am distracted by the sight of a woman carrying a large dead chicken by its feet.

9:30 a.m. With my backpack filled with eggplants, bananas, langsats, rambutans, sadri, limes and a couple of kilos of rice, Ibu Elsje and I head back to my place for a cooking lesson. She is going to show me how to make poki-poki, a local eggplant dish in a coconut/chili paste sauce. And I have to admit that I love the name of this dish just as much as I love the taste.

9:45 a.m. When we arrive at my place, Ibu Elsje surprises me by asking my cleaning lady to make the poki-poki instead. She thinks I am overpaying her for the work that she does and instructs Uni to cut the eggplants, grind the chili peppers and clean the rice cooker that I inherited from Jonna but have never used. And then it turns out that I don’t even own the required mortar and pestle to make the chili paste, so Uni quietly disappears to her own house down the street to make the paste and purchase some coconut milk at Pak Thalib’s store and then comes back.

10:15 a.m. While Uni is cooking, Ibu Elsje gives me a vocabulary lesson on food:

Rempah-rempah campur – mixed spices used in poki-poki; Kemiri – candle nut; Kemangi – basil; Kangkung – water spinach; Bayam – spinach; Sadri – leafy green for soups; Tinutuan – a porridge from Manado with pumpkin, sweet potato, corn, rice and various leafy greens

And some useful phrases: Ayo kita makan! – Let’s go eat; Nasi sudah masak – The rice is done; Karna enak sekali, saya makan banyak – Because it’s delicious, I eat a lot; Saya sudah kenyang – I’m full!

11:00 a.m. We eat a delicious early lunch. I have to admit that maybe I overgeneralized when I declared that all Indonesian food is horrible. Clearly, there are exceptions such as terong belanda, ikan bakar with fresh dabu-dabu iris sauce and now poki-poki. I genuinely LOVE these things and hopefully I will continue to discover foods here that I can truly enjoy.

1:00 p.m. Ibu Elsje and Uni have both left so I decide to nap. A lazy Saturday afternoon nap is a wonderful thing indeed.

6:10 p.m. I hop on a bentor and head to the De La Rosa salon where I’m meeting Sarah and Alexa for a girls’ night of pampering. Alexa gets a pedicure, Sarah gets her long hair cut and saves it to give to Ismail who requested it for fishing line (only in Indonesia!) and I get a cream bath. A cream bath is a delightful Indonesian spa specialty where you get your hair washed and deep conditioned with a creamy conditioner (hence the name) AND a head, neck, shoulder, back, arm and finger massage at the same time. It lasts for about an hour and is one of the most relaxing experiences you can find in Indonesia. And it only costs about $5.

8:00 p.m. The salon officially closes at 8, but we’re still not done with our treatments. I imagine that in other places in the world, the staff might try to hurry things along to get you out the door, but not here. They take their time blow drying our hair and also serve us dinner! Sarah and I burst out laughing at the ridiculousness but also wonderfulness of being surprised with free nasi kuning (yellow rice with meat) while sitting on salon chairs getting our hair styled. After we finish our dinners and our hair is done, the three of us pose for pictures with the entire ensemble of staff and their friends and family members who have somehow magically appeared during the two hours we are there. Then they follow us out the door and stand waving to us as we ride away in our bentors. We will definitely be back.

8:30 p.m. The night is young and we’re feeling pretty so we round off the evening with a drink at the rooftop cafĂ© above the Mega Zanur mall. Nothing alcoholic mind you - Alexa has an apple juice, Sarah has some sort of mixed fruit cholesterol reducing juice and I have a very good papaya juice, which I have been making more of an effort to drink since Wayan, the Balinese healer, told me I needed to.

10:30 p.m. I crawl into bed and start to read my new book, Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story by Tony and Maureen Wheeler, the couple who founded the Lonely Planet series of travel guides. I only get through about two pages before I feel the gentle exhaustion of a day well spent settle over me.

Epilogue: The next morning I found out that my cousin's second baby, Ella Ruth, was born on the other side of the world on February 5th, 2010 in Maryland, USA at 11:09 p.m. EST. So, with the time difference that would have been just after I had had my delicious eggplant lunch on February 6th in Indonesia. Welcome to the world, Ella! And welcome to the family. I hope you have a long and happy life full of marvelous adventures before you.


  1. Many questions. But first: delicious. Chili and coconut make almost anything taste good. And I love Asian eggplant: no need to peel, softer and faster cooking.

    Questions. Just how was the hair going to be used for fishing? Would anyone's hair work? Is longer hair better? Is this a practical thing or is there some idea that female or bule hair works better?

    You mention this was your first trip to the traditional market. Before this, were you going to other markets or instead eating in restaurants?

    In India, I'd wanted to cook but found out that the markets all ran out of good veggies far too early for me and my student schedule. In Korea, I cooked some but the gap between retail foodstuffs and restaurant meals was so slight that it made more sense to dine out.

  2. Yes, I'm almost embarrassed that I've been here for five months already without venturing to the market. But it's not a place I would have felt comfortable navigating alone. So, up until now I've been doing my shopping myself at one of the local supermarkets that has staples like pasta and tomato sauce but is lacking a large selection of fruits and veggies. And I do my fair share of eating out as well, although the restaurant selection here is rather limited.

    I don't really know too much about why Ismail wanted Sarah's hair in particular. Maybe she'll blog about it soon! Her blog, Mangos for Breakfast, is on my blogroll.