I heard from a local man that the Dalai Lama was coming to meditate at Borobudur, a UNESCO-preserved Buddhist “shrine” built during the 8th century in Indonesia. That news got me so excited that I barely slept that night. I set my alarm to wake up early in the morning and go meet him. At sunrise, I dressed myself up in the clothes I had neatly folded up and placed by my bedside the night before. I left the hostel and got on the bus. When I arrived at Borobudur, I gasped at the sight of the Tibetan monks dressed in red robes gathered around the gray Buddha statues. I quickly ran towards them, and while catching my breath, I said, “I’m Diane. I’m here to meet the Dalai Lama.” One of monks smiled at me and said, “we’re lamas (Tibetan Buddhist teachers). The Dalai Lama (Chief Tibetan Buddhist teacher) unfortunately isn’t here with us. I know you would have liked to meet him. He’s very kind and compassionate.” I was quite disappointed to find no Dalai Lama, but I enjoyed hanging out with the group of lamas and climbing up the breathtaking Borobudur shrine.
It was amazing to see how these contemporary lamas beautifully blended into the 1300-year-old Borobudur shrine as if time hadn’t passed at all. Much like how the 1700 diverse Indonesian islands, each with its own “rich” past and “somewhat modernized” present, appeared to co-exist with ease. Like the local island cultures, the regional dishes were also distinct. Yet the blending of cumin, coriander and ginger seemed to be used as a standard spice mix throughout many different Indonesian islands.
One word to describe the Indonesian cuisine is “user-friendly”. Not only are many Indonesian dishes simple to make, but restaurants also serve them in a very “user-friendly” style. A variety of cooked dishes are usually displayed in the front windows (similar to bakeries here) and are brought to customers for them to pick and choose. People will eat from a full range of dishes (15-20 kinds) right at their tables . At the end of the meal, the restaurant charge their customers for the food portions that they ate off of the serving plates. And then, the same serving plates get rebuilt to “fullness” and passed onto another table for new customers to eat. It sounds pretty “convenient”, “intimate” & “economical”, but I wonder what grade they would get from our health department in the US.
Contrary to this too “user-friendly” image, Indonesian foods are too delicious to pass up. Tonight I’m making delicious stir-fried chicken with tamarind sauce. First, I cut 2.5 lbs skinless chicken breast into small cubes and make the thick tamarind sauce with 3 cloves garlic (crushed), 2 teaspoons sea salt, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 1 Tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons ground coriander, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, ½ teaspoon ground turmeric & 1/3 cup tamarind pulp (softened in warm water to make a thick tamarind juice). I then marinate the chicken cubes in the tamarind mixture at room temperature for 30 minutes. Subsequently, I heat peanut oil in a frying pan and cook the chicken over medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Lastly, I serve it with some white rice and steamed bok choy.
I am pairing this Indonesian stir-fried chicken with a 2009 Vina Santa Maria Torrentes from Mendoza, Argentina. Pale gold in color and intensely tropical (i.e. papaya, ripe pineapple & honeydew) on the nose and palate, this wine goes extremely well with the tangy tamarind sauce. The viscosity of the wine also pairs well with the thickness of the sauce, while its great balanced acidity makes it generally very food-friendly. So, next time when you feel like drinking something other than Gewurztraminer, Viognier or Riesling with your South East Asian foods, give Torrentes a try. It will pleasantly surprise you with its seductive tropical personality. Enjoy the discovery of Indonesian cooking & a great “new” wine to pair with it. Happy cooking!