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.

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Junk food of the week: I Will Follow snacks

These little crispy things often show up at the Please Sit Down store in our neighborhood. I think they’re made by a local small business. These ones are labeled “WHERE YOU GO I WILL FOLLOW.” Maybe the owner of the company is a U2 fan or even a Little Peggy March fan. Or maybe s/he’s just a creepy, stalker-ish type.

Which reminds me of Sting, who once said he was disturbed to learn that people were playing his marvelously creepy stalker anthem “Every Breath You Take” at their weddings. I guess there’s a thin line between love and craziness. Maybe thinner for some than others.


Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, I Will Follow snacks don’t come close to the line. They’re basically little bits of fried dough sprinkled with sugar. They were okay, but I wouldn’t follow them wherever they went … unless it was to a good chocolate shop or something.

Junk food of the week: Biskuit Kelapa


Biskuit Kelapa are crunchy little coconut-flavored cookies. They are comfort food: uncomplicated, pleasant, but not so addictive that you’re in danger of eating the whole box. They taste a bit like Sea ‘n Ski suntan lotion, but in a good way.

Bintang mug shown for size comparison

As you may have noticed on the package, Biskuit Kelapa are fortified with vitamins. A lot of cookies are marketed as a nutrition supplement here, especially for kids. There are TV ads showing kids eating cookies and then leaping impossible distances or facing down tigers or whatever. I wouldn’t mind, as long as the cookie companies were required to buy an equal number of ads showing kids doing miraculous feats after eating broccoli or spinach. Unfortunately, my Equal Time for Vegetables bill has not yet been passed by any legislature in the world.

Junk food of the week: Garuda Katom

Garuda Katom (short for “Atomic Peanuts) are one of your quintessential Indonesian processed foods.

They’re peanuts covered with a thick, crunchy tapioca-flour coating that’s slightly sweet and slightly salty, and flavored with a ton of garlic extract to give you killer breath.

Garuda started in the tapioca business, then branched into roasted peanuts. When the son of the founder joined the company in the mid-90s, he started experimenting with ways to combine the two products. Eureka! A junk food was born!

Junk food of the week: Ginger brittle


These are known as “Ginger-Flavored Chips” (Kripik Rasa Jahe), but they’re really like peanut brittle, minus the peanuts, plus coconut, ginger and sesame seeds. They’re sweet and so gingery that they’re almost hot like chilis. Ginger brittle is very sticky and should not be consumed by small children, unless you like having gluey sugar contrails on the walls and furniture.

Junk food of the week: BK Taro pie


OK, here’s one cross-cultural experiment I don’t think you’ll find in the U.S. anytime soon: The Burger King Hot Taro Pie.


Taro root
is pretty bland, so they’ve helpfully added a lot of sugar. The result is a pile of creamy-mushy stuff in a fried shell. It’s good if you like that kind of thing, which I do. What’s off-putting is the purply-gray color of the filling; it looks like some kind of industrial material.

Junk food of the week: Kueku

Kueku (KWAY-koo) means “my pastry.” The remarkable sticky-chewiness of the outer layer can only come from glutinous rice flour, and I assume the violent pink is from food coloring. But what’s inside is a mystery to me. Anybody know? It’s like some kind of bean paste, but more crumbly. It’s pleasantly bland and mushy, and just a little sweet.


Kueku comes on a little piece of banana leaf to keep it from glomming onto everything in its path.


It’s sometimes for sale in the lunchroom at work, on the honor system. The jar lid says “Don’t forget to pay,” which seems awfully polite for a newsroom. I think the American version would be more like “Fork it over, lunkheads!”