Back to my Indonesian roots part1

Updated: May 28

Like many Western-European countries between the 15th and 20th century the Dutch had their share in colonizing other countries. During the peak of Dutch influence in the 17th century (the so-called 'Golden Age'), the Dutch East-India Company (VOC in Dutch) and West-India Company (WIC in Dutch) established trading posts all over the world and were seen as rulers of trade. In the 19th century the English and their East-India Company conquered most of Dutch colonies and trading posts but present-day Indonesia (then called the Dutch-Indies) remained Dutch.


After WWII the Indonesians established their own independent country and the Dutch had to leave. Over the centuries a mixed culture between native Dutch people and native Indonesian people who lived in Indonesia was formed, the so-called Indo-Europeans, or Indo's in Dutch. After WWII the sentiment towards Dutch and Indo-European people changed and most of them repatriated to the Netherlands. Approximately 300.000 Indo-Europeans arrived in the Netherlands and they took their customs and cooking with them. Over the years Indonesian cuisine has been incorporated in Dutch cuisine and nowadays around 1,2 million Dutch people - like me - have Indonesian roots.


In 2017 I made a trip to Indonesia with my mother. We want back to our roots! It was my first time travelling to Indonesia, although I visited other Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam before. My mother wanted to show me in which house she was born and to which school she went. Besides visiting places where she grew up, we tried a lot of delicious foods of course! Indonesia has a very distinguished cuisine, and apart from the dishes we already knew and cooked at home, we wanted to try dishes we did not yet know about.


Street food Soto Ayam in Yogyakarta

We started our journey in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. We had lunch at Café Batavia, which is located in ‘Kota Tua’ (or Old Batavia), the original downtown area of Jakarta which the Dutch build when they ruled over Indonesia.

Pematangsiantar, Sumatra: former home of my father

After enjoying Jakarta, we flew to Medan on the island of Sumatra. My father grew up near the village of Pematangsiantar south of Medan, because his father managed tea plantations and a tea factory nearby.


Former tea factory in Sidamanik, near Pematangsiantar on the island of Sumatra

My mother and me in front of the house where my father grew up
Orangutans, jungle trekking ....and nasi goreng!

Sumatra is also home to lots of wildlife like the Sumatran Orangutan. Travelling back from the tea plantation we couldn’t miss out on them of course! The easiest way to see these great apes is to visit Bukit Lawang, home of Leuser Natural Park, where a mix of wild and semi-wild Orangutans live.

Orangutans @ Leuser National Park
Bukit Lawang – Sumatra

During our jungle trekking we tried the home made 'Nasi Goreng' (Indonesian fried rice) our guide provided for us. It was one of the best we had! The fact that we were really hungry from walking up and down the slopes in the jungle could have been the reason it tasted that good of course...


Nasi Goreng straight from a paper bag!
Bandung, Java: birthplace of my mother

Next stop: birthplace of my mother, the city of Bandung at Java. When the Dutch governed Indonesia, Bandung was called the 'Paris of Java', partly because of its many art deco buildings and other European-style architecture.


Gado Gado, Kangkung, Nasi Putih, Sate Kambing at Warung Cepot - Bandung

During our trips to the active volcanoes Kawah Putih and Tangkuban Perahu we came across this ginger-like root which is actually called wild ginger. It is however unrelated to the ginger we use in our kitchen nowadays but it does have a similar taste and smell of the roots. Apparently early Dutch settlers used to dry the root stalk, grind it to a powder and use it as a spice. Read more about spices in my post about key ingredients of Indonesian cuisine and cooking!

Wild Ginger root nearby Tangkuban Perahu volcanoe

Yogyakarta: Buddhist temples and street food

Yogyakarta is world-famous because the largest Buddhist temple in the world - Borobudur - lies in its vicinity. The temple was built in the 9th century and demonstrates the influences of Gupta art that reflects India's influence on the region. But there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to make Borobudur uniquely Indonesian.

View from Borobudur

After some amazing cultural and historical experiences we fortunately still had a few days left to discover Yogyakarta's local food spots - and I'm glad we did! We really had some delicious bites and meals. Yogyakarta is famous for its 'Gudeg', unripe jackfruit cooked with palm sugar, coconut milk, teak leaf and spices. Back home I use jackfruit for my vegan Rendang dish - it's a fantastic meat substitute! We also had the best 'Sate Kambing' (goat satay skewers) and 'Soto Ayam' (chicken turmeric soup) at street food stalls like the one pictured below.

Soto Ayam stall at the streets of Yogyakarta

Another reason why I was interested in exploring the food scene in Yogyakarta was that some restaurants offered varieties of one of my favorite Indonesian dishes: 'Ayam Rica'. This specialty originates from Manado, North Sulawesi but people in Yogyakarta do love their Ayam Rica too! 'Rica' means chilli in local Manado language and often another 'Rica' is added to the name to let people know that its really spicy. Sometimes even sambal is added to the rica rica bumbu to make it even more spicier.

Ayam Rica Rica!

The Ayam Rica Rica as pictured above was mighty spicy and could be too hot to handle for some people. In my Indonesian cooking workshops I prefer another version of Ayam Rica Rica, where coconut milk is added to the spice paste (bumbu) and chicken thighs. After simmering and thickening the curry will be spicy, but milder because of the coconut milk.


Before heading back to the Netherlands, we visited Semarang where my grandmather and her siblings used to go to school, Bali and Flores (Komodo archipelago), the latter being one on my favorite travel experiences to date. Read about it in part 2.


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