Minahasan cuisine

One of our favorite things to do when visiting a new country is a past-time that just happens to be quite practical, mandatory even.  Yep, you guessed it, eating.

Now, the level to which one truly experiences the local cuisine of any destination relies heavily on a few deciding factors:  where you are traveling to - and for how long, who you are traveling with, and perhaps most importantly, whether or not you have access to hints and tips from those in the know.  Luckily, upon arriving to Indonesia for the very first time, we spent the first four days in the private home of a local family.  This allowed us quite a bit of ease when it came to asking questions about what we were eating and uh... how it was prepared.  This is very important data when visiting a corner of Indonesia world known for its daring livestock choices.  (Bat and dog meat, anyone?)

Manado, and most of North Sulawesi, is home to the Minahasan, a group of Indonesians that have chosen Christianity for their religion, and thankfully, a series of spicy and tasty dishes for their meals.  Some of the more popular Minahasan delights include ikan bakar (“burnt fish”), an intriguing dish of charcoal barbecued whole fish (usually tuna) that is sometimes wrapped in banana leaves and always garnished with spicy dabu-dabu (somewhat of a cross between harissa and pico de gallo and made from sliced chilis, tomatoes and shallots).

Babi, or pig, is everywhere, and we enjoyed devouring babi rendang on a number of occasions.  (The rendang spice mixture is popular throughout the region, including the nearby islands of Malaysia.)  Another fun Manadonese treat was created by our hosts Danny and Angelique on our final night in town.  The zesty dish consisted of chicken (ayam) that was barbecued on top of coconut shells in a fire pit! It was the perfect accompaniment to the hearty noodle soup on hand.

For a snack, may we recommend the small palm-sized breakfast pastries that are found throughout Manado.  Similar to empanadas, the fried dough-shelled pia kacang and pia temo treats come with a variety of different fillings that include green or red beans, peanuts and even meats.  They are inexpensive and readily available in most markets.  Try these little tasties for breakfast!

Set of Drifters tip:  Still care to enjoy the local foods even though you are not staying with a local family?  One restaurant worth noting is RM Glory.  Located in the town of Girian on the long road from Bitung to Manado, RM Glory serves some of the tastiest Minahasan food in the region, or at least so say the locals.  Our host Danny took us there with members from his dive center team, all of whom were excited for the meal.  RM Glory may be bit of an eyesore (its pink tiled interior is awash in florescent lighting and adorned with months-old Christmas decorations), but the food is excellent.  A display up at the front showcases the freshest dishes on offer for the evening.  Though you may have to swat some pesky flies throughout the duration of your meal, the annoyance is worth it once you get a sampling of the cakalang fufu (smoked fish on skewers).

RM Glory - Jalan Wolter Monginsidi, Girian, Bitung Barat, North Sulawesi

Dego Dego Manado Cafe

In the world of Set of Drifters, there ain’t much better than breakfast, and while pancakes and eggs are indeed warm ‘n fuzzy enough for us to eat any time of the day, while visiting Sulawesi we were hard-pressed to find any of the aforementioned comforts.  Nevertheless, the friendly Manadonese had us covered with a dish called tinutuan, a delicious pumpkin and corn porridge congee that is easily their most popular morning time meal.

Also known as bubur Manado (or simply “Manadonese porridge”), the soup-like dish can only be found in this region of Indonesia, and its popularity is so synonymous with Manado that the local government has even dubbed it the “iconic dish” of the city.  After having tried tinutuan on our host’s recommendation, it’s easy to see why the warming dish has been awarded such importance. 

Served hot, the base stock is a spicy mixture of rice porridge blended with various vegetables like spinach, kangkung, corn and cassava.  But what makes the dish so intriguing is that it is completely interactive - which is to say that the end result can be customized with any assortment of add-ons, from tofu or tempeh to fish or potato pancakes.

On our final morning in Manado, our hosts Danny and Angelique drove us to Dego Dego Manado Cafe, a charming, yet casual restaurant where tinutuan is a specialty.  The place was packed with smiling locals - always a good sign.  Danny ordered a bunch of side dishes to accompany the porridge and we had a wonderful time trying all of the combinations.  Set of Drifters tip:  Tinutuan goes down quite nicely with a couple bottles of FresTea, the Coca Cola Company’s answer to the most popular drink in Indonesia.  We were quite full before we knew it and can imagine how this hearty meal would certainly set you up for the rest of your busy day!

Dego Dego is open Monday through Saturday from 6:30 AM until 9:30 PM and on Sundays from 6:30 AM until 2:00 PM.  While tinutuan is clearly the favorite, we noticed several other unusual local dishes on the menu that might also be worth a try, including durian with avocado, bean ice milk and spicy chili banana fritters.  Dego Dego also offers free Wi-Fi and, if you time it right, live performances from their resident wooden gamelan orchestra.

Dego Dego Manado Cafe - Jalan Wakeke 11, Manado, North Sulawesi, 011 (62) 431-874824


the fruits of Indonesia’s labor

On our first morning in Sulawesi, our family friend told us that one of the reasons he decided to stay in Indonesia after visiting multiple times from the United States was simply because the bananas taste so much better  While he may have been joking, he is not far from the mark.  Fruit in Indonesia is simply divine, and it grows everywhere!  While our host’s family cultivates their own bananas and mangoes on the grounds of their home, a number of other indigenous fruits can be found virtually anywhere, lining the streets of any urban or rural landscape.

Thanks to its “foul” smell, durian certainly grabs most of the headlines.  According to the locals you do not want to end up in a closed car with this delicacy for more than 15 minutes for fear that you smell of it all day long!  (To be perfectly honest, we still think papaya has a more odorous aroma, but who are we to judge.)

Another “top-dog” in Indonesia is the jackfruit.  Somewhat similar to their smelly, spiky brethren in appearance, these lumpy football-shaped green beasts grow to incredible lengths, and since they only ripen while on the tree, must be covered up with burlap bags to protect their fleshy insides from the wrath of insects or other invasive animal species.  Check out any food market and you will see jackfruit battling for dominance against an unparalleled amount of coconuts!  We later enjoyed the meaty insides of a jackfruit within a savory dish from a Jogjakarta warung.  We never would have guessed that they came from a fruit!
Other species to watch out include the belimbing (or “star fruit”) and salak (known as “snake fruit” thanks to its brown scaly outer shell).  Both grow out in the open, the former from eye-level leafy canopies and the latter in the ruddy, dead leaf- and spider web-infested tree stumps that resemble palms.  We were advised not to chow down on salak until later in the evening since too much of it can give you an upset stomach - the last thing you want on any overseas trip.

Though we did not come into as much contact with them in Indonesia when compared to other Southeast Asian trips, the rambutan is also apparently readily available in Sulawesi and beyond.  If you have yet to try this whimsical lychee-like morsel, make sure to add it to your culinary experience “must list” for the trip. 

Set of Drifters tip: 
For more information on durian and the rambutan, visit the “eats” section from our Bangkok report.