Junk food of the week: Curry puff

It pains me to characterize the curry puff as junk food, when in fact it is the greatest snack ever invented, representing the culmination of thousands of years of snack research. But curry puffs are deep-fried, and fair is fair.

The curry puff is sold all over Singapore, in places ranging from roadside stalls to upscale bakeries. The dough can be a simple flour-and-butter crust or a fancier puff pastry. The one pictured below is a humble but especially tasty version from a food stall (the Tip Top stall at Ang Mo Kio, if you’re wondering).

Inside are chunks of chicken, potato and hard-boiled egg, bound with a thick, non-leaky curry sauce. The sauce is usually not very incendiary; the emphasis is on earthier spices like cumin and cloves.

Curry puffs are substantial; one puff makes for a quick, cheap lunch. A good one is not too buttery and not too oily, and has a complex curry flavor. Luckily a chain of Singapore pufferies has opened some stalls here in Jakarta, so I don’t have to take an international flight to get my fix.

Island getaway

We had some stuff to do in Singapore, so we decided to take a little extra time and make a trip of it. Chad convinced me to go out to a lovely little island just off the mainland, called Ubin.

Bikes, too, come in “regular” and “good” versions

It takes about ten minutes to get to Ubin on a motorboat, and then you rent a bike. There’s a whole network of paved and dirt roads to ride on, and plenty of places to buy cold drinks. You’ll need those, because the island is as hot and humid as a greenhouse.

Then you can park the bike, stroll around a nature preserve, and climb a tower to look out over the rain forest.

A boardwalk brings you along mangrove forests and then out to the beach.

It’s really a lovely place, and a perfect antidote to the intense urban-ness of Jakarta. I’ve been a little lukewarm on Singapore in the past, because it’s mainly marketed as a shopping destination, but Ubin is great – I’d go back anytime, and I hope we will soon.

Ferris wheel on wheels

We saw this while sitting in a taxi in traffic: a four-seat Ferris wheel mounted on a platform attached to a bicycle. It’s a more highly-evolved version of the kiddie cart I blogged about last month. Could anything be cooler? Unfortunately we only had time to shoot this one blurry photo as we went by.

Later that we realized we should have jumped out and asked the guy for his business card. I’d love to rent this thing and put it out on our street for half a day.

Junk food of the week: Bubur Sumsum

The word bubur tells you this is a rice porridge, but while most bubur dishes are savory, this one is sweet. The porridge, which has a pudding-like consistency, is topped with palm sugar syrup.

According to The Food of Indonesia, “Bubur Sumsum is the Indonesian equivalent of a Jewish mother’s chicken soup: if you have a problem, eat a bowl of Bubur Sumsum and all will be well.”

This version, which I got from at the Benhill traditional market, certainly meets the definition of a comfort food: blandly sweet, not too complicated, and easy to eat even if you have a toothache or a sore throat. The porridge was a bit salty and the syrup quite sweet, with a slightly caramelized flavor. If I were designing my own, I’d use more bubur and less syrup, because I found this version very sugary.

I’ve never made Bubur Sumsum, but the recipe looks pretty easy. The surprise ingredient is chalk. According to the recipe, Indonesian cooks say it adds a “gentle, soft flavor.”

Look for rice flour and palm sugar at Asian grocery stores, and chalk at an office supply store (or have a child pilfer some from school). You could substitute brown sugar for the palm sugar, but it won’t be as flavorful.

1.5 cups rice flour
6 cups water
1 teaspoon powdered white writing chalk
grated coconut
1/2 teaspoon salt
Palm sugar syrup (simmer equal parts palm sugar and water together for ten minutes; strain)

Mix first three ingredients and strain through a fine sieve. Bring to a boil in a heavy pan. Simmer for about 30 minutes until thick. Cool to room temperature, top with coconut mixed with salt, and pour palm sugar syrup over.

An unnatural disaster

The seismic upheavals seem to be quieting in Sumatra, so I’m going to step back and write about a different sort of calamity: Jakarta traffic.

A tight squeeze on Jl. Bendungan Hilir

The concept of “lanes” is viewed as more of a suggestion than a rule here, and vehicles just pack in as close to each other as they can. This bajai (small three-wheeled vehicle) was maybe 4 inches from our bemo (slightly larger three-wheeled vehicle). Motorcycles constantly weave in and out, squeezing through any opening wide enough to fit them — and sometimes openings that turn out not to be wide enough. I often wonder how long the average side-view mirror survives here.

On a two lane street, with one line of cars in each direction, there is a sort of “shadow” lane right down the middle that may be used for passing in either direction. Of course, if vehicles in both lanes are trying to use it at the same time, things can get a bit tense. Drivers here are pretty aware of what’s going on around them, though, and they’re generally willing to give way to each other. Plus the traffic is so jammed nobody can go very fast.

Some people say Jakarta traffic will reach total gridlock in 2014. Others maintain that this has already happened.

Election rallies messed up the traffic even more ahead of the August gubernatorial vote

Mentawai quake update

For those who are curious, here’s some news about the Mentawai islands from employees of the health and development NGO Surf Aid, off their webpage. Sounds like things are scary but in pretty good shape considering the pounding they’ve taken over the last two days. I imagine tsunami warnings are uniquely frightening when you’re on a small island.

Sunset from a thatched bridge, Sipora Island, Mentawais

“I’m back in Tuapejat from Siberut [writes one Surf Aid staffer]. Bit scary up there but no victims, and houses rattled and damaged but mostly standing. The communities are scared and sleeping outside close to evacuation routes.

“No one left in Tuapejat. All have evacuated to higher ground. Very eerie, no power.”

“90% of houses in Siberut island were damaged.”

and earlier:

“Earthquake just after 7am local time this morning was a really big one. … Ground fully shaking, women and children cowering in the street.

“SurfAid’s Mentawai program manager Praem Poobalan just sent a message saying about 20 houses fully damaged in Tuapejat. … SurfAid staff are at her house, plus some of the community in her garden – all on higher ground as there were tsunami warnings after big shake this morning. People really scared.”