Hey hey, we are back with “Man in the Kitchen” series after a couple of detours here and there. I was pleased when Rona’s wife, Prima, raved about his cooking and nominated him for the series. I was even more pleased when she said his signature dish was the Indonesian classic tahu telur (alternative spelling: “tahu telor”).
Tahu telur is simply fried tofu scrambled with eggs, resembling an omelette in the end. There are many variations of this, depending where you’re eating in Indonesia. Rona’s specialty called for the addition of bean sprouts (fairly common), sliced cabbage (not so common to me), and a fermented prawn paste called petis udang, definitely not common to me, in the sense that I eat petis udang in a rujak, and never with tahu telur.
Petis udang is related to terasi, so it lends that umami kick to your dishes. It doesn’t emit a smell as strong as terasi when toasted or cooked, thankfully. Terasi is a staple in my pantry but I had to order petis udang online at Toko Indonesia.
Prima made the intros via Facebook, and I discovered that Rona is a Jogja-based artist and designer. The three of us had a really engaging conversation about food, the eating habits of urban Indonesians, and slow travel. It was a sanity check for me, since my observations are based only the one month I’m home each year.
So here we are with Rona in the kitchen!
As usual, I’ll have the Indonesian answer first, with the English translation below it in italics.
Tell me about yourself — something that Google can’t tell me. Aku anak ke dua dari empat bersaudara, lahir dan besar di pesisir Pantura. Move to Jogja untuk kuliah seni rupa sejak 1995 dan tinggal hingga kini. Keseharian banyak beraktivitas di rumah. Doing art project. Suka hal-hal baru, suka maen ke hutan, jalan kaki ke kuburan Cina yang teduh di atas bukit belakang rumah, minum air putih dan hari yang paling dibenci adalah hari libur (baca: gak ada kerjaan) :)
I’m the second of four siblings, born and raised in the northern shores of Central Java. I moved to Jogja to study art in 1995 and that’s where I’ve lived till now! Daily activities evolve around our home. Doing art projects. I like trying new things, going to the woods, taking walks in the old tree-lined Chinese cemetery in the hills behind our home, drinking water and the days I don’t enjoy are actually holidays when there isn’t much to be done.
How did you start cooking? Lupa sejak kapan suka melihat orang masak dan penasaran bahan ajaib apa yang ditambahkan sehingga masakannya menjadi lezat. Penasaran saat ibu masak cumi hitam, menggoreng gimbal (peyek udang), masak semur ikan pari atau membuat bumbu pecel. Penasaran sama bumbu lodeh tahu, sop udang atau sate kerbau di warung.
Misalnya diminta satu hal terkait sama ini, penginnya semua tempat makan enak dibuat open kitchen… :) Jadi bisa liat cara masak dan tahu bahannya. Dari suka liat dan ngerasain makanan jadi pengin bikin, tapi mulai memasak sejak menikah.
I’ve forgotten when exactly I’ve started to observe people cook and becoming curious about the ingredients they’re using to create such delicious dishes. I remember being curious when my mother cooked squid in its own ink, frying shrimp crackers, stewing manta (ray) fish or making pecel sauce. Curious about the spices that go into lodeh tahu, shrimp soup or buffalo sate in the street food stalls.
If you ask me about food and curiosity, I’d like that all places serving yummy cuisine to have an open kitchen so we can all watch and learn and understand the ingredients and how they all come together to make a dish. From watching and tasting food that others have made, I’ve always wanted to create the same, but I only really started cooking when my wife and I got married.
How did you grow to be the cook in the relationship/marriage? Kita berdua suka nyobain makanan. Setelah menikah, memasak menjadi kegiatan yang menyenangkan, berhasil atau tidak kita berdua aja yang tanggung akibatnya. So fun dengan segala pengetahuan yang didapat dari acara tv atau chef favorit, atau dari buku resep yang entah nemu dari mana. Sesekali mengundang teman-teman dekat untuk makan di rumah dan seneng denger mereka bilang masakanku enak. Memasak adalah berbagi kebahagiaan… :)
We both like to try new cuisines and dishes. After getting married, cooking together became a favourite past time, whether succesful or a flop, I mean, we didn’t lose anything, we just learned a lot in each other’s company. It was so fun to learn techniques and knowledge around food from TV shows or favourite chefs, or from whatever cookbook we could get our hands on. Sometimes we’d invite friends over to eat at ours and I love hearing their positive feedback on my cooking. Cooking, to me, is sharing joy :)
So, let’s talk about Indonesians, their relationship to food and their eating habits. Am I the only one who thinks urban Indonesians have unhealthy diets? Saya rasa kenyataannya begitu. Menurut saya, ada beberapa faktor yang mengakibatkan pola makan yang kurang sehat, yaitu:
- Produk makanan dan makanan instan (seperti Indomie, teh dan kopi sachet, etc) yang harganya relatif murah dan bisa dibeli dimanapun, sehingga orang-orang dari bermacam latar ekonomi berbeda membeli ini. Yang ekonomi lemah beli ini karena murah, yang ekonomi lebih oke beli ini karena langsung jadi. Ngga usah repot.
- Gaya hidup kota besar: pasangan suami-istri dua-duanya kerja, trus seringkali macet lalu lintas jadi waktu habis di jalan. Lebih gampang beli makanan daripada masak sendiri. Kayanya kalo kita ngga masak sendiri, cenderung untuk milih makanan yang kurang sehat, e.g fast-food.
- Orang-orang yang emang ngga tau soal gizi dan nutrisi, jadi ngga sadar bahwa makanan yang dikonsumsi kurang sehat apabila dimakan dalam frekuensi dan jumlah tinggi.
- Pola makan yang tidak teratur: kalo ngeliat ke sekeliling teman-teman kita aja nih, banyak yang skip breakfast. Padahal kan kalo ngga makan, metabolisme kita menurun. Trus karena lapar, kompensasi dengan makan siang yang banyak. Trus duduk di meja kantor dan ngga beraktifitas. Jadi, metabolisme rendah + kurang aktifitas + makanan yang mungkin high-calorie.
Intinya: kesadaran makan sehat sangat tipis, dan saya bayangkan pola ini sudah meluas, dan bukan di lingkungan kami saja. Alasannya bahkan sangat sepele: “Ah, yang penting kenyang…”
No, I think that’s a fair assumption. There are several factors that contribute to unhealthy modern diets in the urban Indonesian population:
- Food products and instant foods (like instant noodles, powdered milk, instant teas and coffees, etc) that are relatively cheaper in price and can be bought everywhere. So people from all economic backgrounds buy these, albeit for different reasons. The poor buy them because of the low cost, the wealthier purchase them for convenience, just pour hot water.
- The urban lifestyle: people are spending longer hours at work and on their commutes. It’s more convenient to buy food on their way. And when you buy food on-the-go, you tend to pick less-healthy foods, e.g fast-foods.
- People just don’t know what a healthy balanced diet is, the macronutrients and nourishments that their body needs. They’re unaware that certain foods, when eaten at high frequency and amount, can be very bad for their health.
- Skipping meals: if I look at my immediate friends, many of them skip breakfast. But you know, metabolism slows down with age, and also when your body thinks it’s starving. Then you eat a big lunch after skipping breakfast. Then you sit at your desk at work and you don’t get enough physical exercise. So, that’s a combination of slower metabolism + not enough physical activity + possibly high-calorie, high-fat foods.
In conclusion, the awareness around a balanced diet is really lacking, and I say this is a widespread pattern, not just in our social circles. The reason for eating like this is rather outrageous too: “Ah, as long as the food makes me full…”
How do you get your children to eat a healthy balanced diet and be non-picky eaters? Kayanya itu harus mulai dari keluarga. Kalo soal anak susah makan, sebenernya kita udah punya kesimpulan dari beberapa sample teman. Biasanya karena ortunya juga bermasalah dengan makanan. Misalnya anak-anak yang kita perhatikan susah makan dan pilih-pilih ternyata ortunya juga begitu… Jadi semacam masalah turunan, hahaha…
Soal gizi dan nutrisi yang membuat anak hingga ngga susah makan, kita berusaha memasak dengan menimbang komposisi gizinya. Terbukti anak kami mudah menerima sayur, karena terbiasa melihat kebiasaan kita makan sayur.
I think healthy eating and being non-picky starts from the family. About picky kids, we actually have a theory based on our observations of our friends and their kids. Usually, the “picky eater” kids have “picky eater” parents too.
We purposely balance the nutrition in our diets, especially when cooking for our growing kids. Our kids easily eat their vegetables because they see us eating vegetables a lot. They see it as a natural part of our food selection, not just something you have to eat.
What other food-related patterns have you observed? Ada lagi fenomena aneh soal minuman atau suplemen ajaib yang mungkin kandungannya memang bagus buat tubuh. Cuma banyak orang yang begitu nemu gituan seolah-olah kayak pake jimat yang sakti yang membuat mereka bisa selalu sehat tanpa mengubah pola makan yang buruk.
There’s the phenomenon of “magic” supplements and drinks that may have nutritious content for the consumer. However, many people, upon discovering this supplement or “super food”, act like it’s the miracle element that will balance out their unhealthy lifestyles in the past. It’s like, “If I drink/eat this, it’ll cross the bad stuff out so I don’t have to practice a balanced diet”.
A big thank you, Rona!
Rona’s Tahu Telur, serves 3
- 3 large eggs
- 2 stalks spring onions, take the green part, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons of sunflower and peanut oil mix
- 3 pieces of tofu, about 5x5x2,5 cm block
- 1 small clove of garlic, about 3-4 cm piece
- 1 Thai chilli, more if you prefer spicy, thinly sliced
- 50 grams fried cashew nuts
- 50 ml cooked water
- 1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons petis udang
- 3 ketupat or lontong, or rice for 3 people
- half a head of cabbage, thinly sliced
- 5 celery leaves, thinly sliced
- 50 gram beansprouts, blanched
- fried onions
Make the dressing
Using a pestle and mortar, mash the garlic and chilli. Add the fried cashew nuts and continue mashing till it forms a paste. Add the water and smooth the paste. Add the petis and soy sauce and mix well. Transfer into a mixing bowl.
Make the omelette
Beat the eggs, add the spring onion leaves, sprinkle with salt, and set aside. In a frying pan, heat the oil and fry the tofu till half cooked, about 1 minute each side on high fire. Drain, cut into quarters and add into the egg batter. Then, turn down the fire to medium, and fry the egg-tofu batter for about 2-3 minutes until egg is cooked through.
Drain, place the omelette in the mixing bowl and mash using the pestle. Yes, it’s supposed to look mashed and scrambled. Divide in thirds.
If using ketupat or lontong, cut them into bite-sized pieces. If using rice, scoop a bowl of rice for each person. Place on 2 plates, add the tahu telur on top, and sprinkle with bean sprouts, celery leaves, cabbage and fried onions.
Yes, yes, yes! I cooked this for lunch one day and served it to the handsome and talented husband, and a Japanese friend. She loved it, although she thought the cashew-petis paste was miso-based.
I am amazed that I didn’t try tahu telur with petis udang before! This might be the way I do it from now on. A savoury twist on the tahu telur that I know (I’m from Jakarta, forgive me).
Happy that the last recipes I made for the blog have all been a success!
See you in the next one!