Pecel Madiun in Surabaya

Congratulations Surabaya. I have just returned from a long weekend from this bustling centre of commerce in East Java. I am impressed with the clean streets and rivers and the overall tidiness, thanks to Tri Rismaharini, Surabaya’s first female mayor, who is running Indonesia’s second largest city like a well-managed household. Well done!

But let’s start talking about food. One thing Surabaya is busy doing, is eating. And why not, when the food is fabulous.


East Java is in love with peanuts and krupuk. Add bean sprouts to that. Pecel Madiun marries the two, or three that is, to create culinary romance: the krupuk in this case is rempeyek, a large wisp of a cracker studded with peanuts. Pecel is the name of the peanut sauce and Madiun is the region. Sprouts, slivered cabbage, spinach, snake beans, tofu and tempe are topped with a generous serve of peanut sauce in a banana leaf. Hard to beat that kind of presentation!

The garnish is kemangi, a local basil that tastes like a delicate mix of lemongrass, mint and lemon balm, and krupuk. To western eyes, it’s gado-gado, but in Indonesia, there are many dishes serving vegetables mixed with peanut sauce. I order Pecel Madiun with petai cina, small bright green beans like miniature pete, that add an intriguing flavour and extra chew to this nutty salad. The peanut sauce is robust, slightly chunky and bouncing with the scent of lime leaves.


Peanut sauce

This is my fool-proof peanut sauce recipe that it is exceedingly simple to make and can be stored in the fridge for a few days. For a successful sauce, the trick is not to reheat it, as it is inclined to curdle. Make sure the skin is left on the peanuts for extra flavour and texture.

150 gms. raw unsalted peanuts or Nobby’s salted beer nuts, skin on

1 tablespoon kecap manis (optional)

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large red chilli, seeds removed

2 small chillies, chopped

1/4-1/2 warm water

sea salt to taste                         

3 lime leaves, finely shredded

1-2 cups oil for frying

1 tablespoon palm sugar

2-3 tablespoons fried shallots                      

Heat the oil in a wok over a medium flame.

Fry the peanuts in the oil, a handful at a time until golden brown.  Remember that they keep cooking after they’ve been taken from the wok.

Remove the peanuts with a slotted spoon. Sprinkle with sea salt to keep dry.

In a food processor, blend all the ingredients, adding the fried peanuts and liquids last.  If you’re using a mortar and pestle, grind the peanuts last or separately.

Check seasonings, balancing sweet, sour, salty and spicy. Add kecap manis for a deeper, brown colour. Serve: Garnish with fried shallots.


Perth Writers Festival : Andrea Hirata in conversation with Janet DeNeefe

Andrea Hirata: The Rainbow Troops

source : ABC Australia |


Indonesian writer Andrea Hirata has had spectacular success with his debut novel, The Rainbow Troops, selling 5 million copies in Indonesia alone. But he’s a modest man, pointing out that the population of Indonesia is 247 million.

Born on the island of Gantong in east Sumatra, he did graduate studies in economic theory at Sheffield University in the UK. This book The Rainbow Troops is based on his primary school education and the overwhelming desire and motivation to learn no matter how poor the resources.

The school in his book is Muhammadiyah Elementary – they’ve got nothing! But what they do have is a few brilliant students and a couple of great teachers. In the long run, it’s not the school buildings – in this instance there aren’t even toilets, the kids use the bush – but they do have the educational basic building blocks: inspiring teachers and dedicated kids. The rainbow troops are the 10 kids in this elementary school.

This book has been a publishing phenomenon, translated and distributed across 78 countries and the theme is a significant departure from some of the more gut wrenching third world post colonial novels.

Hirata is in conversation at the 2013 Perth Writers Festival with Janet de Neefe, the co founder of the Ubud Writers Festival.