Vegetarian Tucker in Indonesia

by Barrie on June 24, 2006

by Barrie | June 24th, 2006  

One of the first dishes I ever tried when I first started travelling around Indonesia was Gado-Gado. At that time I was a Steak and Chips man and the mere thought of a plate of veggies smothered in a tangy peanut sauce was definitely not appealing.

But I was sold 'at first bite' and often enjoy this delightful dish wherever I am in Indonesia. In Gang Ronta just off Poppies Lane 2 there is a small warung called Warung Nice and they serve a yummy gado-gado. But to try a real top notch gado-gado then head out to the night markets at the end of Gang Tuan Langga in South Kuta. In fact, gado-gado off any of the kaki lima is great tucker.

Wherever you go in the archipelago it seems to be cooked differently. Tucker expert Suyatini N. Ganie discusses this delicious Indonesian dish:

Gado-gado: Healthy veggies on the go
Suryatini N. Ganie

Want to become a vegetarian? No problem. Make yourself an expert on mixing and matching local veggies in this tropical land and enjoy it with a nutty sauce whether made from kacang tanah (peanuts) or from kenari nuts like in eastern Indonesia.

The result is called gado-gado. Actually gado-gado refers to a habit common to many Indonesian ethnic groups of snacking between main meals or in Bahasa Indonesia menggado, from the Javanese nggado, meaning to eat without rice or other staple foods.

Though it is also known as gado-gado in restaurants abroad that serve Indonesian food the dish has many regional varieties. The vegetables in a gado-gado can vary, are sometimes cooked or blanched and in some varieties, the gado-gado even consists of finely cut raw vegetables like in the Sunda highlands of West Java. This Sundanese version is called karedok.

In addition the dressing varies from region to region and use a different variety of nuts and grades of brown sugar because brown sugar as a sweetening agent is also made from different raw ingredients from coconut water to aren palm liquid.

The most basic vegetables in gado-gado are kangkung (water convolvulus), bayam (local spinach), kacang panjang (long beans), tauge (mung bean sprouts) and mentimun (cucumber). Because there are no set rules people choose the vegetables they like.

Other varieties use kecipir (winged beans) and slices of cooked paria (bitter melon) which is said to be good for those suffering from diabetes. For those who prefer bitter leave young papaya leaves are one of the most popular ingredients for gado-gado.

Eating around the globe in restaurants professing to serve food from Indonesia the vegetable varieties also change: from finely sliced carrots and red cabbage in Germany to yam beans in Kuala Lumpur and to French beans in Kota Kinabalu - the latter makes it very colorful indeed although it seems a bit strange at first. I had broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and other salad vegetables in Queensland served in a real Indonesian bakul - a traditional woven bamboo rice container - fusion food at its best. My hostess Jenny and I talked hours over the Australian gado-gado bakul served with a luscious dressing of peanut butter, chili and sweet soy sauce, and had a great time.

While the ingredients for a gado-gado in Indonesia are normally very easy and cheap to get some varieties of gado-gado are really of royal descent!

In audience at the Kasepuhan Palace of the Sultan Kasepuhan Pakuningrat from Cirebon, we were talking about the Sultan's hobby: his favourite food to cook is gado-gado.

As he served it he said: "I named it not gado-gado but rujak, which is actually a mix of fruit or vegetables too. Enjoy the rujak sedap!.

Indeed the royal vegetable mix-and-match was sedap (delicious). The tart taste of the plantains gave it a special touch.

Worthy of mention is also the pecel, a variation from Central Java: kencur (lesser galangal), a special root, is added to the peanut sauce.

A root with a rather distinctive smell, the kencur is multifunctional, because it can be used as a root for enhancing flavour, but also as a medicinal agent. If you have a bruised spot, take 4 centimeters of a kencur and make into a paste with 2 tablespoons of rice grains and 2 tablespoons of water. This ointment will quickly lessen the pain and swelling.

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