My dear cousin Sami. What can I say?
Our moms are sisters and he is almost six months older than me. We’d always been close, a steady balance of getting along and then driving each other crazy. Most of our activities together involve food: cooking together or consuming it.
Sami’s the rare guy in my family, in that he’s the cook in the marriage. My male cousins are, still to this day, useless in the kitchen kitchen-shy. Could be because the family on both sides are overrun by dominating, accomplished female homecooks.
To me, Sami seems like a super husband. Monday-Friday he works out of town, away from his family and flies home every weekend where he cooks fantastic meals for his lovely wife and daughter or the three of them are eating their way across town and filling up my Instagram with food pictures. He holds cooking competitions with his colleagues! He experiments with baking and smoking meats! He pops up food stands, and still has time to take his daughter to swimming and tennis lessons and helps his wife with her small business, especially when she has a weekend market stand.
So here is Sami : )
Sami in the Kitchen
*English version in italics below the Indonesian answers — it’s just that Sami answered in mixed Indonesian-English, exactly how we speak to each other, so it’s more natural to me to leave it the way he answered — the Indonesian readers are at least bilingual anyway*
How did you start cooking? How did you grow to be the cook in the marriage? I started cooking when I was 9 years old, Mama bikin gado-gado, dan gw bantuin dengan ngulek all the bumbu kacang for the gado-gado. Cook in the relationship, berawal dari honeymoon karena kita dapat apartment hotel jadi kita bisa masak di unit kita, nothing fancy, kadang pasta with carbonara sauce, ayam goreng, telor gelembung.
Dari situ pas udah punya rumah sendiri makin sering masak, awalnya ngintip ke dapur setiap kita ke warung Cina trus pulangnya dicoba di rumah.
I started cooking when I was 9 years old. Mom was making gado-gado and I helped by crushing all the spices and peanut sauce ingredients in the pestle and mortar. As for the cook in the relationship, it started from our honeymoon because we had an apartment hotel so we could cook. Nothing fancy, sometimes pasta with carbonara sauce, fried chicken, fried eggs.
From there, when we bought our own home and had our own kitchen, I just cooked more and more. At the beginning I’d peek into our favourite Chinese eatery’s kitchen and would apply it at home.
What is/are your favourite food(s) to eat and is this what you ate while growing up? My favourite food always Sundanese! Berakar kuat dari sisi Mama tapi banyak pengaruh pesisir Jawa Timur seperti sambal petis, rawon etc. Selain itu gw suka Padang! Who doesn’t? Favorit gw ikan salais (ikan kecil diasap dan digoreng kering biasanya dimakan pake sambel balado) sama gulai kepala kakap.
Mama juga suka ber-eksperimen dengan Western food. Mama punya buku masak Betty Crocker yang dikasih Tante Lin tahun 70-an. Buku masaknya seperti novel, bentuk tebal dan buntet, isinya teks aja, ngga ada foto-foto atau gambar seperti buku masak jaman sekarang. Tahun 70-an masih susah nyari bahan makanan Barat — untungnya ya tahun 80-an lebih gampang beli bangsanya keju, yoghurt, karena di Kemang ada Hero Kemang untuk para expat.
My favourite food is always Sundanese! It stems from Mom’s side of the family but with a lot of coastal East Javan influences like sambal petis and rawon. Apart from that I like Padang food; what Indonesian person doesn’t?! My favourite is ikan salais, which is small dish that’s been smoked and deep fried, and eaten with sambal balado, and the snapper head curry.
My mom experimented with Western food too. My mom cherished her Betty Crocker cookbook that Tante Lin (my dad’s youngest sister) gave her in the 70’s. It’s one of those thick novel-looking books, with just text and no pictures. This is a big deal in the 70’s as Western food like burgers, steaks and potatoes were viewed as super exotic in Indonesia. My mom used this as a base for her cooking and since we lived in an expat area of Jakarta, in the 80’s it got easier to get products like cheese and yoghurt.
What’s your favourite cuisine to cook? Why? Hmmm hard to tell… I love all my cooking.
Kalo disuruh milih, gw bakal bilang nasi liwet Sunda karena menurut gw, it goes with everything dan nasinya sendiri udah wangi dan gurih jadi nambah nafsu makan. Selain itu gulai kepala kakap. Agak aneh sih karena gulai kepala kakap itu dari Padang. Kenapa gw suka masak itu? Karena gw suka sama gulai kepala kakap dan ngga semua resto padang punya menu ini, walaupun punya ngga semuanya enak dan cocok di lidah gw. Jadi gw buat gulai ini untuk memuaskan hawa nafsu gw dan ini salah satu makanan favorite Ata.
If I had to choose, it would have to be Sundanese fragrant rice (cooked with lemongrass and coconut milk), because to me, it goes with everything and the rice itself is already so savoury and fragrant that it just rouses your appetite. Apart from that, I like to make a curry of snapper head. A bit odd because it’s a traditionally Padang dish. Why do I like to make this dish? It’s mostly because I love it and not every Padang eatery has this on their menu. Even when they do, it’s not always up to my standards and doesn’t always taste good to me. So I have to make this dish to match my own expectations of the dish and it’s one of my daughter Ata’s favourite dishes to eat.
What’s the dish you cook that your daughter loves best? Gulai Kepala Ikan – ini Ata yang jawab Mama Asti (my daughter’s nickname for Yasmina).
Pas gw tanya dia lagi pinjem hp untuk jawab sendiri. Hahaha.. Awalnya dia dilema antara si gulai ini sama roast chicken gw (kita bilangnya chicken dance karena pas dibumbuin kita mainin chickennya jadi nari-nari gitu — gak penting ya?) tapi akhirnya dia milih si gulai.
Curry of snapper head — this is Ata typing, Mama Asti (her nickname for Yasmina).
When I asked my daughter your question, she immediately borrowed my phone to answer your email. At first, she was indecisive between my curry of snapper head and my roast chicken. We call my roast chicken “the dancing chicken” because when we marinate and spice it, we play a bit with the chicken so it looks like it’s doing a sexy striptease dance before it goes in the oven. But in the end, she picked the curry.
Advice you’d give a homecook enthusiast or first-time dad starting out with cooking? Ummmm, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just start cooking and you’ll learn as you go along. It’s OK to make mistakes; if it totally flops, you can always order delivery/take-away and have a laugh about it later.
Funniest kitchen incident? Ini yang selalu diinget sama Angki. Inget cerita tentang masak waktu honeymoon? Di malem terakhir ada sisa telor, bawang daun & bawang lainnya dan tepung bumbu untuk ayam tepung dan sisa bahan lainnya (saus tomat and all sauce in sachet). Supaya abis semua gw mau bikin kayak big omelet pake seluruh bahan-bahan itu. Wanginya sih cukup oke tapi pas jadi rasanya kayak bakso yang benyek, rasanya gak karuan akhirnya ngga kemakan. Karena gagal kita ngga jadi makan malem dan baru makan besok paginya.
This is something that my wife always remembers. Remember the story of us cooking during our honeymoon? On our last night, we had leftovers: eggs, spring onions and other onions and a spiced flour mix for fried chicken and other ingredients. So in order to use everything up, I decided to make a large omelet with all the ingredients we had. The aroma was delicious, but when we took a bite, it tasted like a very soft gooey meatball! Was disgusting so we didn’t finish it and ended up not having dinner that night and just had a big breakfast to compensate.
Who in the food world do you most admire/find inspiring? Untuk real life, ada Engkoh-engkoh yang punya warung Cina; nama warungnya itu Warung Shanghai. Gw banyak nyolong ilmu masakan Cina dari dia terutama untuk masakan Cina klasik seperti Ayam Jahe dan Mun-Tahu. Kalo ada masakan yang gw belom pernah bikin, gw akan pesan itu dan nonton si Engkoh masak. Selain Engkoh tadi, kalo celebrity chef mungkin Jamie Oliver, most of my western cooking started from his book.
In real-life, there is this old Grandpa who owns a Chinese eatery called “Shanghai Hut”. We used to order a lot of our dinners from him. I “stole” a lot of his techniques and methods for classic Chinese dishes like ginger chicken and braised tofu. If there was a dish I wanted to learn to make, I’d order it and watch how he does it. Apart from him, I guess Jamie Oliver is a celebrity chef that I learned a lot of my western cooking from.
Favourite kitchen equipment/gadget? My ulekan, my knife and my wok. Hehehe, harus satu ya? Klo cuma boleh satu, gw pilih ulekan deh…
My pestle and mortar, my chef’s knife and my wok. If I can only pick one, then my pestle and mortar.
What’s your “Last Supper”/deathrow meal? Nasi liwet sunda + semur jengkol + gurame goreng kering + pete bakar + sambel dadak + kerupuk aci dibanjur sambel oncom! Minumnya es kopyor!!! Aaah… Lejat!! Please translate.. Hahahaha…
Sundanese fragrant rice (cooked with lemongrass and coconut milk), jengkol stew, deep-fried gurame fish (a variation of carp), grilled pete (stink bean/bitter bean), fresh sambal, tapioca crackers drizzled in oncom chilli sauce! Fresh young coconut with ice as the drink! Ahhh delicious, I’m salivating, please translate all this for me, hahahaha!
Sami’s Fish Soup
This is Sami’s take on the Manadonese fish soup. Translated and published with permission. The “I” below refers to Sami, not Yasmina ;-)
1 kilo of fish, usually this translates to 4 whole fish, cleaned. I take off the head, fins and tail. Chop into 3 or 4 pieces each.
You can use any fish, although I use the blue-spotted mullet/ikan belanak, which is common in Indonesia. I like using ikan belanak because it’s tender and doesn’t have too much bones. I prefer using saltwater fish with smooth texture and isn’t too thick like grouper/ikan kerapu, although snapper/ikan gurame works too. For freshwater fish maybe you can use catfish.
Mise en place
5 shallots, finely diced. 4 cloves of garlic, finely diced. 4 green tomatoes, diced. 1 red tomato, diced. A 4-cm piece of fresh ginger root, smashed. A 4-cm piece of fresh galangal root, smashed. 5 whole red Thai bird’s eye chilli. 1 large red chilli, sliced. 1 large green chilli, sliced. 1 bouquet of lemon basil, take just the leaves. 4-5 kaffir lime leaves. 3 lemongrass stalks, smashed. 1 teaspoon of white/brown sugar. 1 tablespoon cooking oil (peanut, vegetable or coconut) for sauteéing. 2 litres of water. Salt and pepper to taste.
To garnish, I have a spare bouquet of lemon basil and limes, which I squeeze over the final dish as it’s being served.
Note: I use my pestle or potato masher to smash the fresh roots.
In a large pot (enough to hold all of your ingredients), heat the cooking oil. Sauteé the shallots with the garlic until they are soft and fragrant, then add the kaffir lime leaves along with the trio of chillies. Sauteé a bit longer and then add the water.
As you’re bringing the water to the boil, add the tomatoes, the ginger, the galangal and the lemongrass. Season to taste.
Once the liquid has boiled, add the fish along with half of the lemon basil. When serving, I get rid of the old lemon basil leaves and use the fresh leaves to serve.
Since mullet is fairly quick to cook, I don’t cook it too long otherwise it falls apart. If you’re using a thicker fish like snapper or grouper, they will take longer to cook.
Divide up over 4 plates, serve over rice. Right before serving, I give each a squeeze of lime.
The extra chilli condiment
5 Thai bird’s eye chillies. 1 clove of garlic, whole. Fry or boil until soft. Then mash with a pestle and mortar and add to the dish, spooned over with some of the soup liquid.
Delicioso! This one’s a winner! Just a perfect taste of home on this chilly, rainy Berlin afternoon.
My mom used to make this too, and I never knew it originated from Manado. There is just something about galangal, lemongrass, chilli and garlic, that when combined, gives a “very Indonesian” flavour… I’m super Javanese so I added Indonesian fried onions to my bowl of soup and rice.
I really had to go round Berlin looking for fresh galangal, lemon basil leaves and the mullet. It’s annoyingly challenging to find good fish in Berlin sometimes, and I didn’t want to go all the way to Rogacki in Charlottenburg. I was lucky to get some really fresh char! I think my gamble for using char paid off, but if you can get mullet, stick with mullet : )
See you next Friday!
I plan on publishing the Man in the Kitchen series every Friday, and my other on-going series and posts on other days. Maybe I’m being German but this system adds structure to my week and makes my life easier to manage : )