Junk food of the week: Pangsit goreng

A pangsit goreng is a huge deep-fried wonton. Almost lost in its expanse of crunchy-crumbly dough is a tiny ball of chopped chicken.

I don’t think there can be any nutritional value in a pangsit goreng, other than whatever protein there is in the chicken. Luckily for my arteries, I don’t really find them all that alluring, but if you get them at Es Teler 77, my current favorite fast-food place, it’s kind of fun to make big puddles of sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) and chili sauce and use the pangsit as a vehicle to eat immoderate amounts of both.

Ten kitties: friend or foe?

Judging by the terrible howls we hear at night, cats here fight constantly over their territory. These two decided to be friends, at least temporarily.

Both of these kitties have short tails with a kink at the end, which is very common here. There are various theories for this, including some involving human cruelty, but I suspect it’s genetic.

Here’s a closer look at the kinky tail.


There are little offerings to gods, ancestors and spirits all over Bali, just sitting out on the sidewalks in front of the shops and houses. You often see people putting them out, like this woman who came onto the beach at sunset.

According to our chatty cab driver, you’re supposed to do three offerings a day, but some people cheat a bit. I wouldn’t be surprised; I bet the cost adds up!

The Balinese are mostly Hindus, practicing a form of the religion that developed distinct from Indian Hinduism. The Balinese version apparently places less emphasis on reincarnation and more on the interaction with deities and spirits.

The small offerings vary from village to village, but almost always include betel nut, which a mild stimulant, and is associated with the major gods. The ones we saw were made on palm-leaf plates and contained leaves, flowers, rice, and a little cracker or rice cake on top. There are more elaborate ones for temples, holidays and ceremonies. They must be a boon for the local animals; one late night we saw a cat perched atop a temple, maybe eight or nine feet in the air, having a snack.

Ten kitties: Andri’s cat

More on Bali in the next post but first —

I woke up early yesterday morning and the weather was really nice: sunny but cool, and the air felt clean. It was Sunday and the first morning of Ramadan, so the streets were really quiet. I decided to go for a walk and take pictures of cats. I wouldn’t look for cats; I would simply allow cats to happen. In Jakarta they happen with great frequency.

I ended up walking for 20 minutes, never getting more than three blocks from the apartment, and photographing thirteen kitties. I’ll be posting the ten best pics.

This is Andri, a boy who lives down the street from me. He’s sitting in front of a tiny shop that sells water; hence, the cooler in the background. Andri nominated himself to be my helper, and spent a few minutes running around finding cats for me. This was against the rules, but of course I didn’t mind.

The cat is called something like Gunam or Ganum. A lot of kitties here are feral, and run away from strangers, but Gunam/Ganum is at least partially domesticated. He was very relaxed and even let me scritch his head.

We came. We shredded. We crashed.

I have this tendency to open my mouth when I’m doing something difficult. I don’t talk, necessarily; I just open it. Maybe to relieve the pressure in my brain. I opened my mouth a lot during our surfing lesson, and perhaps that’s why I swallowed a fair amount of ocean water, but it didn’t matter because we were having so much fun.

The ocean off Kuta is a perfect playground for beginning surfers: the waves are big enough to give you a ride, but there aren’t a lot of sharp rocks or other nasty things to cut yourself on, and it’s so shallow you can just walk out instead of paddling. (“I hate paddling,” said our teacher Nyoman in his charming Balinese-Australian accent. “It’s so tiring.”)

For beginner lessons they use these big foam boards that are very forgiving, so it was pretty easy to scramble up there and start catching waves. The real boards are a little more difficult, as we discovered when we rented one the next day. But that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm. We are surfers now.


A fisherman casting his net at sunset, Jimbaran beach

All the cab drivers kept asking us: Have you been to Bali?
All our friends told us: Bali.
Blue skies, they said. Ocean. Trees. Good food. One-dollar beers.
So we went to Bali. And it was good.

Interview: Ramadan

This is the first in an occasional series of interviews with Indonesians about different aspects of life here.

The fasting month of Ramadan is coming. For a lot of Jakartans, that means no eating, drinking or smoking from sunrise to sundown. Some of the reasons for fasting include: focusing your thoughts on your relationship with god, increasing your self-control, and heightening your empathy for the poor.

(More on the philosophical underpinnings of fasting here.)

Ramadan ends with a big celebration called Idul Fitri or Lebaran, when lots of people in the city go home to their villages to visit their families, leading to traffic jams of epic proportions.

I talked with my Indonesian teacher, Ninit, who’s studying French literature in college. I don’t have a sense of how religious she is; it’s clear from the interview that she feels deeply about her faith, but otherwise we’ve never discussed religion and she’s not inclined to bring it up in conversation.

How do you feel about Ramadan?

When Ramadan comes I’m always happy, because I feel a more intense connection with god, and a closer connection with my family, because you have to do a lot of rituals together. It’s like one full month that I study my faith, I learn about myself, I look for what I really want to do in life.

People are calmer, too, they’re not in such a rush. For one month, the atmosphere is different, and people are different.

Ramadan scares me too! Because, what have I done this year? Have I been a good girl? It’s a reflection on your whole year.

Is it hard to fast?

It’s hard, very hard! (laughs) The hardest thing is the first week, because we haven’t fasted for eleven months. That first day is challenging because you’re tired and hot and hungry. After that, you get used to it.

Also, in my opinion, the important thing about fasting is the intention. I have this intention of fasting that first day because of my faith, and then it’s okay, then it doesn’t seem hard, and you don’t feel hungry.

Another difficult part is the three or four days before Lebaran – days 27, 28 and 29. It’s hard because people have started to leave for the villages. Everybody is shopping, everybody’s making food for Idul Fitri, people are buying stylish clothes, and we all pile into cars and trains and buses to get out of Jakarta. So you’re more tired, and on those last days you’re not as strong as you were the first day, so it really tests your sense of purpose.

After Ramadan is also difficult, because when Ramadan comes we have this connection but after that we will have ordinary life without fasting and without these special occasions. It’s like Christmas for a whole month, or Thanksgiving. That’s the hardest part. You become very connected and then it just stops.

During Ramadan, do you usually have the evening meal with your family?

Yes, we break the fast as a family, at home, or elsewhere if there’s something going on outside the house, like a Koran reading at a sibling’s house or somewhere with my friends. And there are some obligatory foods and drinks. Usually we have coconut juice, pumpkin juice, melon juice, and iced tea, and dates.