Group Update from Indonesia: Makanan dan Minuman

Makanan dan Minuman (Food and Drink)

Written December 19, 2022


Introduction (by Ife)

My first time meeting with fellow members of our Bridge Year “Indogang” in person was over lunch at a resto (restaurant) in Jogja. I had become accustomed to interacting with my peers a few weeks prior to our first physical encounter, but only through a computer screen. This was because I arrived about a week late in Indonesia due to visa complications. When we finally sat together for the first time as a complete group, awkward yet welcoming smiles and laughter filled the air as we conversed over a table of freshly prepared nasi (white rice), ayam goreng (fried chicken), sayur hijau (green vegetables), and sambal (chili sauce). In a bid to foster closer connections among ourselves, we challenged each other’s levels of spice tolerance and exchanged excitement, hopes, and fears about what our next few months in Indonesia might look like. 

Now that the whole group has spent about three months in Jogja, the food here remains a significant part of our everyday lives, in both intentional and unplanned ways. In an effort to build deeper relationships with the different communities and people we interact and engage with in Jogja, food has oftentimes become more than just a means of sustenance. It continues to help us gain a better understanding and appreciation of the day-to-day life needed to adjust and adapt to our new surroundings. 

Each group member has written about personal experiences they’ve had with food and how it has assisted them in reflecting on their time in Jogja, and in Indonesia at large. Nivan writes about his appreciation for his homestay family’s restaurant. Izi writes about her memorable interactions with community members fostered by her love of jahe (a hot ginger drink). Katriona focuses on how the pasar (traditional food market) teaches her about community and bonding with her homestay family. Lilia reflects on how learning to like spicy Indonesian meals pushes her to challenge herself more. Calvin talks about using food as an avenue to deliberately seek out a legitimate Indonesian experience. Clara explains how food brings her closer to her homestay family. Finally, Mell talks about finding comfort in routines through food, drinks, and other activities. We hope you enjoy reading!


AJS (by Nivan)

Street-view of AJS with a pink sky above

My homestay family’s angkringan (small street side restaurant) feels like an extension of home. Ibu Ifah and Pak Wafik (my homestay mother and father) named it after a British motorcycle brand, AJS. They use the acronym to signify “angkringan jenak semanak” (a place to chill). It is decorated with vintage styles and antiques that Pak Wafik is always willing to explain the history of. The dim lighting creates a warm ambience and makes it the perfect place to just sit down and relax. Most nights from 10pm until midnight, I make myself a drink – usually an iced tea or lemonade – and snack on some tempe (traditional food made from fermented soybeans) and sosis (sausage). Pak Wafik is almost always winding down with a black coffee and cigarette. We talk about the day and comment about being capek (tired) but belum mau pulang (not wanting to go home yet). 

Wide view of the inside of AJS, with large tables for sitting and a central table with food

Some days, the angkringan is busy with college students and lively conversations. Other days, it’s just a few people strumming a guitar and figuring out what to play. Over the past few months, I’ve had conversations with many different types of people in broken Indonesian and occasional English. I’ve learned about politics, life in Jogja, the best food and where to find it, and even Indonesian curse words that I probably won’t get to use. I’ve formed friendships that led to long nighttime bike rides around the city of Jogja and extended games of badminton. All of this from conversations beginning over some fried noodles and a cold drink. Eating traditional Javanese food and being in the space of AJS makes me feel more deeply connected to Kotagede every night.


Nivan sitting at a table hanging out with his friends and family at AJS
Nivan and friends standing together with there bikes at nighttime












Jahe in the Rain (by Izi)

There’s nothing better than a large mug of jahe (a hot ginger drink) while it pours. When I’m on the road and the skies suddenly open, I find shelter in the closest little wooden stand. I lock my bike; I’ve learnt my lesson after my bike was “borrowed” for a couple days and left by the river the one time I left it unsecured. I sit on a little wooden bench under the makeshift canopy and order a jahe. The gingery drink is both spicy and sweet, simply consisting of a large grilled ginger root and gula rocks (rock sugar) in a glass mug. 

One day when it was raining particularly hard, the roads had become rivers, and I was drenched to the skin. A man on a motorbike came up alongside me and, while we were moving, handed me a plastic bag with a poncho in it. I shouted, “terima kasih! (thank you!),” over the downpour as he sped off without a word. Although I was already soaked to the skin within minutes of being in the rain, it was the kind of gesture that’s distinctive to the Jogja community, and the kindness left me grinning. I stopped at a roadside wooden stand and ordered a jahe to wait for the rain to slow down. A little old man behind the counter nodded and poured a large glass of steaming gingery tea from a huge metal kettle that sat on the edge of the tabletop. The small table was piled high with fried tempe and sticks of marinated quail eggs, with three kettles squeezed precariously on the far-left edge. I sat on the wooden bench that wrapped around the table under the canopy (which looked like it used to be some sort of poster). Meeting the street sellers and other customers who come by always begins with the same question: “dari mana?” (where are you from?), and I launch into my familiar chorus of, “Siprus; Eropa... dekat Yunani (Cyprus; Europe... close to Greece). The street seller was quite shy and seemed perfectly content watching motorbikes wading through the river in an almost meditative state. I watched with him.

When I told my homestay I wanted to learn how to make jahe late that evening, they said they’d show me “nanti” (later). I stumbled into the kitchen the next morning and saw my bapak (father) grinning with two abnormally large ginger roots in his hand; before I was fully out of my dream state, we were making jahe as the sun rose. He picked up his blowtorch and aimed it at the two large ginger roots without hesitation. He grinned as fire engulfed the roots, turning them from beige to black. The tabletop is indented and damaged from his daily job as a silver jewelry maker, where he uses the same blowtorch to melt little balls of solid silver and process the metal into thick cuboids, then thin rounds of wire, and then finally an intricate ring. He picked up the hot ginger roots and began rinsing the charred outer layer off. He peeled the root with a knife, rinsed it again, and placed it into a large glass mug. Two translucent, rock-like clumps of sugar joined the ginger, and hot water filled the mug to the brim. The strong, distinctive smell of jahe filled our small kitchen as he placed a little red hat to cover the mug. We waited ten minutes for the drink to brew before tasting it.  

As a light rain tapped rhythmically on the roofs, we sat on the porch and sipped our fresh jahes. Drifting in and out of conversation, I pushed my broken Indonesian to its limits while chickens clucked and waddled up and down the street with purpose. With each neighbor that passed by, a friendly, enthusiastic good morning (or other form of vocal greeting) would be shared – whether my homestay dad knew them or not. Eventually, I reluctantly left my seat to get ready for the day. My bapak insisted on me taking a 1L thermos of jahe with me, which I drank with a smile throughout my morning, filling our group’s classroom with the distinctive sweet, gingery smell.  


Pasar (by Katriona)

View of the market looking down the long line of snacks on the table, with lots of shoppers on either side

Every day, I pass Pasar Kotagede at least twice. Usually, though, it’s more like four or six times, depending on how often I have to leave the house. Located a quarter mile from my homestay, Pasar Kotagede is a traditional market that has become a familiar, reassuring part of my routine, sending me off in the mornings -– a few vendors have taken to yelling “Hati-hati” (“Good bye” and “Be careful”) as I pass -– and welcoming me home at night. But the pasar is more than just the bustling, lively market I pass en route to somewhere else. It is a fundamental part of my life here, dictating the rhythm of my homestay’s daily life — and, by extension, mine — and teaching me about the community where I live.

For my homestay parents, the day starts at 4 a.m. with fajar, the first of five daily calls to prayer. Not long after, it’s time to head to the pasar. I have yet to accompany my ibu (mother) on a market run (the prospect of waking up before 5 is still daunting), but the early start is how she gets her pick of the best fruits, vegetables, and produce. By the time I wake up, she’s usually finished shopping, and her motorcycle is laden with bags of fresh carrots, spinach, tofu, and potatoes: ingredients she needs to make her many vegetable dishes. Meanwhile, my bapak (father) is also busy, already helping her peel garlic. Ibu then spends the day cooking lodeh (soup), sayur oseng-oseng (stir-fry), and lots of other delicious local fare to sell at the pasar in the evening. 

Ibu leaves around 4 p.m., this time her motorcycle laden with the results of her labors. Bapak follows behind, pushing the wooden food stall and carrying to-go containers. I understand why he likes to accompany her, accepting customers’ cash while she portions out food. The pasar is a community hub, the center of the neighborhood. For many locals, it’s the place they pick up dinner on the way home, buy treats for their kids, and learn the latest gossip. Transactions are peppered with jokes and life updates,  

people calling out greetings and farewells as they spot their neighbors, friends, or cousins (or, as is not uncommon in Kotagede, all three). Vendors’ colorful lights illuminate regular customers on motorbikes, who honk impatiently as they try to reach their preferred seller and swerve around teenagers searching for snacks.

Close-up photo of the snacks at the market, with shoppers behind the table

When I first joined my homestay family, these very same pasar snacks offered a means of connecting. Since I didn’t yet have the language capabilities to explain which kinds of foods I liked and didn’t like, ibu experimented by bringing back different fruits and snacks for my breakfast. She and my bapak delighted in presenting me with the latest rice/coconut/brown sugar treat. As I quickly learned, there are endless ways to combine these three seemingly-basic ingredients; you can get them as brown squares, green balls, or even pink rectangles, all with slightly different flavors. Trying these pasar snacks became an easy – and tasty – initial way to bond.  

Now that my language skills have developed and I’ve found my place in my homestay family’s routine, we have other ways of bonding. Bapak comes back from the pasar early and waits for me to get home from my NGO so we can talk and eat dinner together. This means I eat much earlier than I’m accustomed to, but I appreciate the opportunity to debrief the day or hear his take on the latest political news. And just as the pasar is a staple of my commute, it is also a staple of our conversations. It is the one topic we discuss every day, without fail: I ask, “Pasar baik hari ini?” (“Was the pasar good today?”), and invariably, he responds, “Ya, baik” (“Yes, good”) or, “Sedikit orang karena hujan” (“Few people because of rain”). 

My schedule does not overlap much with ibu’s on weeknights, but every Sunday morning, she, bapak, and I jalan-jalan (just walk). We spend about two hours meandering our way through Kotagede, stopping at the river to feed catfish, the soccer field to sip iced tea, and the neighbor’s house to chat. On one recent walk, we made an extra stop at the pasar so I could pick out my own snacks. Ibu showed me where she buys them: three long tables at the front of the market packed with every kind of pastry and treat imaginable. Together, we examined the options, which included tri-colored squares of jelly, miniature cakes dusted with cheese, and yellow half-moons of spongy bread. I pointed at ones that caught my eye, asking ibu for the names and ingredients, and selected a few to add to the breakfast rotation. I especially look forward to trying the mini fruit salad with “mayonnaise” (fortunately, mayonnaise in Indonesia is sweet), grilled sweet rice, and sesame balls. 

And when I do polish off those snacks, I’ll be reminded of my Sunday trip to the pasar and the sense of community I feel every time I go. Because perhaps that’s what makes life in Kotagede special: even the quotidian – even a routine trip to the market – is imbued with a sense of community, with a comfortable, familial familiarity that has come to characterize my experience here and make this neighborhood feel like home. 


Suka pedas?” (by Lilia)

My kakak’s (older sister’s) voice winds around the corner of the kitchen as she puts one, two, three chilies into the round stone basin and starts grinding them with a pestle. "Suka pedas?" ("Do you like spice?") A year ago I would have been afraid of those unassuming seeds and colorful wrappings of orange, red, and green. Yet only three and a half months of a new cuisine have changed my taste buds in a both surprising and delightful way. 

I didn’t grow up as much of a spice person. It was somewhat of a source of personal shame, what with having an Indian family on my dad’s side. Every time we went to visit our relatives in Mumbai or Panchgani, my father would call ahead to ask for the mildest option of meal. I have always had overly-sensitive taste buds – a “supertaster” in our family lingo, from a childhood song album (No! by They Might Be Giants). I’ve been known to shed tears of pain from a pepper in Chipotle salsa that my brother and dad couldn’t taste. I’ve wished for years that I could consume spicy foods with the same level of enjoyment they get out of topping everything with hot sauce, and in recent times, I’ve gotten up to packing on a little of their precious red sauce myself. But overall, the environment for most of my life hasn’t been one conducive to building up the level of spice tolerance I feel I should have.

The first meal we had in Indonesia, at a roadside warung (local restaurant/market) straight from the Jakarta International Airport, we were introduced to chilies. It was there our education started, with a challenge to try a tiny green chili that came alongside the then-new, now-classic piled nasi (rice) with kangkung (water spinach), ayam (chicken), and tempe. We had been properly briefed with a horror story of our peer mentor Isaac being given an extremely hot pepper by his homestay dad and the mirrored tears of laughter and pain between them. Still, it was a day of leaps: arriving in a new country, halfway across the world from everything I knew, with a group of semi-strangers. If I don’t take risks sometimes, I’ll never know how much I can grow. So somehow, even after our warning, I still chose to take the leap (or bite, as the case may be), and I haven’t looked back.

Rice-based dish with peppers

Learning to like spice has been a learning curve, much like learning how to survive and flourish in a new culture. I never used to understand the attraction of willingly putting something into your mouth that would bring you pain. I had enough pain already from various injuries, and I wasn’t looking for more. But since jumping tongue-first into the world of pedas (spicy), I’ve come to perceive the nuances of the sensation. At first, it seems foreign, uncomfortable. Something shocks your senses, and your first instinct is to turn away, to wash it down. But in the end, that only makes the sensation worse. You can’t run away, and so the only thing you can do is to lean into the new feeling, to listen to it and to examine it like a strange piece of art. Only after you do this will you start to feel the way the spice mixes with the nasi, garlic, and onions, everything coming together to bring new meaning to the familiar ingredients. It’s a feeling that lingers long after you take the first bite, pushing you into the moment and reminding you of both the good and the bad that have resulted from pushing yourself. 

It’s only after I got to Indonesia that I understood the enjoyment of the slow-spreading burn. My eyes now light up at seeing the snacks that come with those same small green peppers from our first day. I’ve had a bit of time training through what order and technique to use when consuming raw peppers with meals or snacks, and I still shed tears when one too many are added to dinner. Nevertheless, I’ve gained a new appreciation for their kind of pain that you can’t relieve with anything but time, the laughter from smiling at your host family though glistening eyes, and the control it takes to take things slowly, not washing down sensations, and knowing your limits while pushing them little by little, day by day.

So, “suka pedas?” 

“Ya. Suka.”


Gorengan (Fried Food) (by Calvin)

I know how to make french fries by heart. That skill was drilled into me by two summers of working as a cook in a local mom-and-pop restaurant in Maine. In Indonesia, they tend to be the cheapest familiar menu item, so I tend to order them when I end up in a setting that caters to western audiences, like the expensive restaurants (relative to most local cuisine) located at the top of the tall, environmentally destructive hotels that dominate the low-rise skyline of Jogja. Thanks to the forces of globalization, these rooftop enclaves of Americana are a rare chance for me to take a deep breath and step out of “real life” in Indonesia, slipping into a life of luxury that would be prohibitively expensive for me in any city in America. 

Squatting on the linoleum floor mats of a one-room house hidden in the alleyways of Kotagede, Ibu and I practiced rolling green bean paste into tiny spheres. Under the tutelage of a seller from the market, we were learning how to make onde-onde, a delicious type of East Asian fried sesame balls. In his house, there was not much room to move around, running water was unavailable, and the room smelled like gas from the propane stove outside warming up the fry oil. The seller had strongly accented Bahasa Indonesia, and preferred to speak Bahasa Jawa (Javanese) with Ibu (mother), so I had very little clue what was going on. The language differences, the residue of fry oil covering everything I touched, the sweat running down my back, and the new setting all combined to overwhelm me. It was a reminder that I was an outsider, ten thousand miles away from home.

Calvin's view from the top of highrise building where he gets french fries, with the city lights far below

When I plant two feet on solid ground and bend over a wok filled with onde-onde, I feel that I am having a much more legitimate Indonesian experience than when I sit on a terrace of economic status and ridiculously skewed purchasing power, like in a high-rise hotel restaurant. Yet no matter how close I am to the earth, there is still a separation between me and the “real” experience. Wherever I plant my feet, I am still an outsider with the ability to easily drop in from a foreign land to pay a market seller enough to show me the recipe by which he makes his living. And that is a unique and conflicting privilege.

I definitely want to continue to seek out “legitimate” food experiences in the future, but I also must recognize the separation that always exists between me and the food on my plate. Whether it is spelled out clearly in neon letters on the side of a hotel, or coating my hands while I cook, my privileged position - like fry oil - colors nearly everything I do and eat here. Onde-onde and french fries may be prepared in the same wok, but I still have a choice of which one to make.


Language of Lotek (by Clara)

From the first day I spent with my homestay family, food has been a unique mode of communication. In fact, the moment I arrived at the house, we sat down to eat together. Upon seeing that the meal was sate ayam (chicken skewers with peanut sauce) – one of my favorite Indonesian foods – much of my apprehension melted away. This was already a way that I fit into the family. 

After getting through that first night, I faced a daunting prospect: spending an entire day with my homestay sister, Diva, a person I didn’t know at all and couldn’t easily communicate with due to my extremely limited Bahasa Indonesia. One of the very first things we did together was head to the kitchen so she could show me how to make fresh mango juice. After cutting the mangos and running them through the blender, we kept adding more and more sugar, attempting to balance out the sour flavor of the mangos. I thought the sourness was still delicious but Diva remained dissatisfied – nonetheless, we managed to bond quickly through the juice-making process. Even though we haven’t been able to spend a ton of quality time together since then due to both of our busy daily routines, the mango juice adventure laid a strong foundation for our relationship. 

From the first day I ventured out into Jogja with the rest of the group, my ibu (mother) ensured I was prepared for makan siang (lunch) with a carefully-packed bento lunch box. Every day, I open the lid to find the largest compartment filled with rice, but my ibu keeps me on my toes as I guess what will fill the other compartments. Will I have tempe or a chicken leg? Spicy eggplant or mixed vegetable soup? No matter what the food is, I know it’s prepared for me with great care. 

When I arrive home, after washing out my bento box and putting away my bag, I sit down for makan malam (dinner). I almost always eat with at least one of my homestay parents; it’s the perfect time to chat and reflect on our days. Whether I’m listening to a story about the kindergarten children my ibu teaches, learning new Bahasa Indonesia vocab from my bapak (father), or explaining the availability and prices of different fruits in America, these dinner conversations are a highlight of my day. On the weekends, we also have a mealtime routine: most Sundays, I venture from the house to a nearby warung (local restaurant/market) with my homestay parents to enjoy lotek (vegetables in peanut sauce). I’ve gotten to know the seller so well that I wave and greet her every time I pass by during my commute the rest of the week.  

Even when I’m not home, my homestay parents communicate their care through food. Ahead of excursions, they give me extra fruit and snacks – especially the Beng-Beng candy bars that are always present in the living room. When the group cooked dinner together at the program house, my homestay parents made sure to let me know they were going to have food for me at home, just in case I wasn’t completely satisfied by the meal we made. 

However, food isn’t always a perfect communication device. In Indonesia, it’s very common to eat food constantly throughout the day. Confused by my lack of snacking – I usually like to eat three meals a day rather than many smaller servings – my ibu and bapak kept reminding me that I was free to take food whenever I wanted. They were worried that I didn’t feel comfortable navigating meals in the homestay since they didn’t quite understand my eating habits. “Kalau saya lapar, saya akan makan lagi” (“If I’m hungry, I’ll eat more”), I reassure them constantly, often pointing out the specific foods I know are available. I’ve also had to adjust my eating expectations. After seeing a movie with Diva and some other relatives, I was confused when we stopped at a warung. We’d already eaten dinner and it was close to 10pm, so what were we doing there? We were having a second dinner, of course! I just rolled with it, consuming whatever I could fit into my already-full stomach – a practice that I’ve continued to use when navigating similar situations. 

Although food hasn’t been a perfect mode of communication, sometimes creating these slight conflicts or misunderstandings, it has been an overall positive in my homestay family. It has helped me feel at ease and cared for, bond with the family members, and learn about Indonesian culture. I can’t wait to see what the food here teaches me next.


Reiteration (by Mell)

Before leaving the US, I would eat 3 scrambled eggs for breakfast, a plate from The Halal Guys for lunch, and my mom’s arroz e feijão (rice and beans) for dinner. I appreciated the consistency. Once settled into my new home in Kotagede, the first food I attached myself to was dragon fruit: a tropical purple fruit that grows on cacti. For the first one or two months, I was eating nearly 5 dragon fruits per day- about 3 pounds of it. 

Though my dragon fruit consumption has long come to a stop- I think I developed an allergy- my diet remains equally patterned. Each night my homestay sister, Tika, and I nongkrong (an umbrella term for hanging out) around the kitchen together until 1 or 2am, a part of our day that’s always accompanied by a glass or two of Chocolatos, a hot chocolate sachet. Some days, after following Tika and my ibu (mother) to our aunt Bu Susanti’s house, I take 4 glasses to the angkringan a few meters away for some hot jasmine tea- the same one I order everytime we visit a warung.


Mell's batik design, within yellow and blue pattern, hanging to dry

On Sunday mornings I bike to Bu Susi’s batik studio, nestled in the bright, sunlit space between her and the neighbors’ house. Batik both refers to the process- a technique of wax resist dyeing- and to the product itself- a uniquely Javanese cloth. A classic batik pattern is Parang, which decorates some of the stone pathways crossing Kotagede and is often worn by students around the university where we take language classes. The wave-like motif on this batik is interpreted as the way people face challenges in life: again and again, with persistent resilience. The batik process itself reflects its meaning, as lines of wax must be placed repeatedly, slowly and carefully, onto the cloth, using a small wooden tool that must be refilled every three lines. While browsing a store selling Islamic garments with my ibu and Tika--and after we laughed at how I looked in a hijab--Tika spotted a batik travel prayer mat and asked that I try and make her one. The results weren’t perfect, but she got the edges tailored the same night I brought it home, and I promised to try and make a neater one next time. 

Mell's batik design, with a black and gold cathedral pattern, hanging to dry
Mell's batik design, with gold and black marble pattern, hanging to dry












Back home in Boston, I found comfort in my routines: eating the same things, taking the same sequence of trains on my commute to school, and even wearing a variation of one outfit every day. I loved playing the saxophone at church, as Brazilian gospel songs often follow similar chord changes; the foundation of the genre provided the support necessary for myself and the band to add, change, and create. Similarly, I’ve been leaning into fostering patterns in Kotagede through makanan (food), minuman (drinks), and even kegiatan (activities) so as to allow a new form of comfort to emerge: a sense of belonging in my homestay family, and beyond that, in a segment of Jogjakarta. 

Novogratz Bridge Year Program