Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 16 March 2013 • Destination
If someone was to ask me what I wanted to eat during my travels, I would answer the obnoxious travel blogger cliche: ‘Something local!’ And hell yeah I’ll fall through as long as it’s not pork. I gave the same answer to the hifalobrain.net gang when they asked us what we wanted to eat after roaming cemeteries (those guys are weird! LOL!). I yes-ed their offer to enjoy Tahu Tek, a local dish from Surabaya. I believe one way of getting to know the locals is to eat what they eat. If traveling is a journey for your senses, then food is not to be missed.
Tahu Tek consists of tofu, rice cake, potatoes, bean sprout, diced cucumber, and crackers. Pretty basic,hey? But the signature taste lies within its sauce made of manually grounded peanuts, chili, garlic, water, and the almighty East Javanese shrimp paste: ‘petis’. I’ve always wanted to taste ‘petis’ to prove the rumors right: does it really taste like Vegemite (Marmite for the Brits)? I know, a lot of people hate Vegemite! But as a kid who had a few years down under, I have grown accustomed to this bread spread and even loving it. I can’t say no to Vegemite on toast with melted butter, hence I will not reject an offer to taste Vegemite in another form of culinary delight. Yes, I imagined it to be a delight.
The sauce is just thick and dark as Vegemite
The sauce looked pretty dark as does Vegemite as a thick dark brown paste. The smell? Yep, there was a hint of that sour smell of rotten yeast (OK! OK! Fermented!). I was kinda nervous tasting it considering I really really like Vegemite. Would I love it or would it ruin my love for the Australian spread?
Chomp! BAM! I could spot the Vegemite taste in the sauce on my first bite. The dish surely tasted different compared to ‘Kupat Tahu’ from West Java and ‘Ketoprak’ from Jakarta, although the basic ingredients were similar. Well, I didn’t love the dish but I didn’t hate it either. It was interesting. On the surface, I think ‘petis’ is different to the usual shrimp paste or ‘terasi’ that Indonesians are accustomed to. As I am no foodie, I can’t explain the taste of Vegemite or ‘petis’ other than that it’s sour and has that fishy taste. I managed to finish the lot on my plate trying to have a comprehensive experience of it and to be as responsible as I could towards my food, to then announce it as good; A good experience to be exact! It wasn’t my cup of tea with Vegemite toast, but looking at the jar half full, my taste buds had a good taste of local food and I had something different.
The whole experience got me thinking, how are the East Surabaya people connected to the Australians when it comes to this yeasty taste? Is there a historical correlation between that we haven’t discovered amongst them? I dunnow, maybe. Considering Vegemite is a product used within the commonwealth countries, it was interesting to find something tasting similar outside of their area. We were invaded by the Brits for a tad bit but not sure if that was enough time for them to invade our taste buds as significantly as Vegemite/Marmite.
Try it? Sure! Give it a whirl! Why not taste the local dish? Vegemite lovers would have something new to talk about while the haters just might like it. What does it say about the East Javanese? They’re about fermented yeast. And yes, I still love Vegemite.