It’s no secret that one of the things I love most about traveling is trying new foods. Give me some piping hot street food made with ingredients I can’t pronounce, and I’m a happy camper. However, until the last two years or so, I was pretty woefully inadequate at recreating those dishes when I returned home to my own kitchen. My culinary skills have developed by leaps and bounds since I moved to Japan, and during my trip to Indonesia, I decided to take a cooking class for some hands-on experience.
If you’re ever in Senggigi, I can’t recommend the Anggrek Putih cooking class enthusiastically enough. The woman who runs it, Nining, is one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, and her home (which also doubles as small homestay) was beautiful. Cooking together with her was absolutely one of the highlights of my trip. And it wasn’t just because of the amazing food, either. The other two people in my class were a married couple from Germany, which I hadn’t known until the day of class. Nining spent 15 years living in Switzerland, so it’s a bit of an understatement that her German is excellent. If you’d asked me before my trip to name something that I didn’t expect to happen, “taking an Indonesian cooking class in German” probably would have topped the list. Rather than have Nining give directions and explanations twice in German and English, I bit the bullet and told her I’d be fine with just the German. And for the most part, I was. Thankfully, she learned to recognize my “deer in headlights” look when she threw out a German cooking term with which I wasn’t familiar.
So, what was on the menu? So. Much. Food. And just about all of it was amazing. Usually I’m not a huge fan of spicy food, but I threw caution to the wind this time. My mouth may have been on fire by the end of dinner, but I enjoyed every fiery bite.
The highlight, at least in terms of “wait, I’m eating what?! No way, really?!” was definitely the main course of barracuda steaks marinated in a paste made of tomato, chili, garlic, shallots, and candlenuts and then grilled over an open fire.
Candlenuts were a new ingredient for me; I’ve never seen or heard of them in Japan or America. Their name comes their slightly waxy outer layer. It’s a good thing that Nining told us straight off that they’ll make you ill when eaten raw; otherwise, I’d have been snacking on them throughout the preparations.
A good portion of the beginning of the class was spent learning about the ingredients and then combining them to form different pastes or marinades for our dishes. I would have been content to just smell those all day. The combinations of turmeric, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, onion, tomato, and chili were intoxicatingly good.
I was in charge of making corn fritters. I always get a bit nervous when cooking for others, even if I’m being giving directions by someone else. I can’t help but worry that I’ll screw something up and leave everyone putting on a brave face as they try to choke down my culinary disaster.
The barracuda was the star the show for me, but the other dishes were equally delicious. By the end of the meal, my stomach was straining. Every time I cleaned off my plate, my brain urged me to take more of the food, while my stomach groaned in protest.
Usually, dessert is my absolute favorite part of any meal. In hindsight, though, I should have stopped while I was ahead. Dessert was crepe-like pancakes colored by pandan leaves, spread with a mixture of palm sugar and coconut, and then rolled up. My sweet tooth is pretty boundless, but for whatever reason, I think these made me dreadfully ill the next day. Even now, I can’t think about eating them without gagging a bit.
There’s no way I’ll be able to recreate these dishes to the perfect degree that Nining coached out of us, but I’m definitely looking forward to trying a few of them at home. Unfortunately, I don’t think that my local grocery store carries barracuda…I think I’ll have to find a replacement that’s just a little less tropical and exotic.