Surabaya: 5 Foods & What They Say About Indonesia Culture

Katie T: Bachelor of Property Economics
University of Surabaya, Indonesia (Semester 2, 2016)
New Colombo Plan Mobility Student

  1. Nasi Campur (pronounced Nasi champur)
    I’m starting with a dish meaning ‘mixed rice’ as it was one of the first dishes I had during my exchange in Surabaya. It is a dish which you can usually order and add whatever sides you like, be it fried egg, boiled egg, fried boiled egg, tempe or grilled fish – the list goes on. However, the core of the dish is their staple, rice – it wouldn’t be a meal without it according to many Surabayans. Like Nasi Campur itself, Surabaya is a city mixed with different cultures. Many of the students I studied with came to study in Surabaya from the small towns that border it, or from other Indonesian islands. Within the student body there is also a mix of ethnic backgrounds, languages and classes. That said, there staple traits they all share: politeness, hospitality and a willingness to meet new people.

    No spoons or forks for this one! I learned to eat with my hands for some traditional dishes

  2. Sate (pronounced sar-tay)
    To be honest, I’m mostly including sate because it’s delicious. It’s most common as grilled chicken skewers, but I also had goat in Lombok, and got to experience pork sate as cooked by my classmate’s grandmother in her hometown in north Sulawesi. I didn’t try the rabbit one sold just on my street. The first time I had sate was when the girl who lived next to me in the guesthouse suggested we go to the market for dinner. So I hopped on the back of her scooter and headed over to the street stall. Unfortunately, it was also the plan of many others who had ducked out and waited pyjama-clad with their friends on the side of the road. The thirty-minute wait seemed a lot longer with the delicious smell lingering around us! Sate is great as it’s so easy to share with people, which is great in a culture where everyone wants to show off their great food and meet new people.

    An unusual but delicious tucker

  3.  Mi Ayam (pronounced me-ai-yum)
    One of my favourite street stalls was a stroll down the busy street from my apartment. It had a banner as simple as ‘Mi Ayam’ or ‘chicken noodle’. Nothing mysterious about this shop: they sold a pot of Mi Ayam and a side of a sweet drink as protocol. What’s great about this dish is there’s only one type of ‘Mi Ayam’ which is a balance of chicken, soy sauce and a handful of spices. It’s a fair game for restaurants and food stalls that way, a game of who can balance the taste best. There’s no one arguing that the avocado mash a different dish to the smashed Avo on baked sourdough.

    Wet season would sometimes make the walk to the stall quite a challenge

  4. SambalI
    Wouldn’t be doing Indonesia justice if I didn’t mention the thing they do best – sambal. This paste is added to just about every dish and I can tell you it’s a lot more exciting than salt and pepper. In most restaurants in Surabaya, this will be a simple side of freshly ground chilies, shrimp paste and lime. However, as I travelled around Indonesia I learned that the meaning of ‘sambal’ changed. For example, in the island of Sulawesi, the spice was more intense and it had taken on more fresh seafood, which is the main diet in that region. Bali also has its version of sambal, with lemongrass and lime. Across the 17,000 islands of Indonesia, there are many different versions of this paste to check out!

    Glad I could bring myself to try the deep-fried banana with sambal in Manado

  5. Indomie – mi goreng
    We’re all students here – who hasn’t dived into a quick packet of mi goreng and even added and egg as a challenge for your kitchen skills? This meal is included with gratefulness to the Indonesian producer of two-minute noodles. I have had this dish since childhood in Australia, but the very same package can taste different in Indonesia. I had a bowl of mi goreng at the top of a mountain in Batu, sitting on a mat with friends I made during my internship. Music was blasting through speakers in the background and there was a selection of instant coffees hanging from the wall.

    So many more flavours to find in grocery and convenience stores. Try the green (ijo) one while over there!

    There are so many of these little cafes across Indonesia that are, like the dish, so very simple, but it’s the relaxed and friendly people that add to the experience.

    Resting in the mountains before lunch with my new friends in Batu, Malang