- Posted December 20, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
100 places to eat like a local
Woku Blangan: The Fiery Indonesian Cuisine of Manado
Before leaving New York City to teach English in Jakarta in 2008, I thought based on previous visits that I knew the city well enough; Finding the man selling blowpipes means you've reached a diner that serves sugar on the side of milkshakes, no matter where you get lost another vendor will be hawking recycled oil fried rice, or "nasgor" if you're also privy, the bottle of water you bought that morning might be the same bottle you buy tomorrow.
Clearly, my first impressions were short-sighted- I wasn't just in the Indonesian capital to brush up on pejorative pluperfect phrases, but also to wander and eat, two highlights no matter where I currently am. Though endless traffic, fatalistic bike riders, mind-numbing pollution, and inefficient sewer systems make much of Jakarta a bit more advanced for casual walkers, its plethora of taxi companies will be more than glad to whisk (in an imaginative sense) you away to the restaurant of your (or their) choice.
Though, I neglected to mention that the metropolis is also afflicted by a rainy season, frequently beginning in November and lasting until it gives up (roughly in March). It was partially due to this, and also because my schedule was different everyday that I often at a restaurant in the building where I worked. Japanese food was available, as was Italian, but Indonesian, specifically regional Indonesian was not something I could easily find in my home.
One of these cuisines hails from the province of Sulawesi, in the city of Manado, most famous for its diving, but also one with a prominent Christian population, the Minahasa. The Minahasa may not have the same taste buds as you, or those of the Muslim majority in Indonesia- counting fruit bat and dog as fit for a fork- but their cooking is also known for seafood and a liberal use of chilies. In fact, it is arguably known as the spiciest of the regional cuisines in Indonesia.
My introduction to Manadonese food and its fiery reputation came at the mercy of my bule (foreigner) digestive tract, in a small eatery in the basement of where I worked. My order was relatively consistent: two dabu-dabu, the sambal (chili sauce) as it is known in the local lingo, cakalang pampis (dried skipjack tuna pieces mixed with peppers), mixed vegetables, and an avocado shake blended with palm sugar. Sometimes kue lapis, a steamed layer cake of tapioca/rice flour and coconut milk, would round off the meal. I couldn't get enough of the place, even if it meant I couldn't teach during some of my classes, courtesy of the generously propagated chilies.
A swell idea would be to carry around a few tissues with you, or a whole box if you want to draw even more attention to yourself.
When I went to visit friends in Jakarta in early 2010, I discovered that the restaurant had already closed. Time to leave. Not a chance. I searched all over the place for Manadonese food in New York, and where ever else I traveled to, even in Singapore and Malaysia, though decidedly without success. Excellent, another reason to return to one of my favorite cities.
Serendipitously, during one of my ambles around town, I encountered Woku Blangan, a Manado restaurant that was more spacious, brighter (as opposed to being stuck in a basement) and perhaps most importantly, halal. A bit of sleuthing informs us that woku refers to a seafood dish with a variety of spices, and blangan is a pot/pan in which to cook rice.
The perpetual language student in me appreciates the significance of the name, but the omnivorous side becomes immediately glued to the display case. Terong stuffed with ikan. Cakalang in many forms. Cucur. Rica roa. What do all of these potential expletives mean? It didn't matter, for I was too elated to have found this place so close to one of my common stomping grounds (you know, by the blowpipe man I mentioned earlier).
After a short time, the dishes appeared, surprisingly along with a box of tissues. How did they know? I proceeded to take my first bite, and then a second to corroborate with it- this was my go-to place in Jakarta. The dabu-dabu, with its tomatoes, bird's eye chilies and lime juice tasted fresh and humbling, the cakalang pampis well-seasoned, a bit smoky and without menacing bones, the mixed vegetables a stark contrast to the piquancy of the dabu-dabu, and the avocado shake a way to help mollify the heat. A slice of kue lapis sealed the deal, with their no-smoking policy being a definitive bonus.
On subsequent visits, I tried different items- other fish dishes, banana leaves, squid, chicken- rarely ending up disappointed. Also, I started to notice the usual customer base- some wore a hijab, some wore crosses. All I wore was a big grin, though simultaneously wished that these eats were as well-known in NYC as pizza, street meat (which sounds more dubious in NYC than elsewhere...) and heck, even "artisanal bone marrow." At the same time, how well would tear-inducing peppers and fruit bat go down with the Radio City area lunch crowd? To this I say, fantastic idea, yet resign myself to Woku Blangan's sole location, only 10, 000 miles (~ 16, 160 kilometers) away.
Selamat Makang! (Bon Appétit!)
Address: Jl. H. Agus Salim No. 19 Sabang Jakarta 10340
|This iReport is part of an assignment that we created with Travel + Leisure: 100 places to eat like a local|