Asinan the Indonesian Pickle
Back in the old days, long before refrigeration, families worked together to preserve their foods. In Europe, and especially where I come from there were times when the crops came in with abundance and there were times when nothing came from the ground or the sea, bad weather, drought, heavy seas could all make a dent in what was available for the table.
Pickling food for lean times was something kids learnt at an early age right up until the 1950's when home refrigeration became common.
Pickles are the result of immersing fruits, fish and vegetables in a salty liquid or brine that prevents the growth of bacteria and preserves their viability whilst creating a change in taste and texture. In these days of year round abundance we don't use pickling process like we used to but it does suit certain vegetables, fruits and fish. The taste and texture of pickles is very appealing, especially, some believe, to pregnant women. My wife craved for the salty goodness of Asinan's brine, when she was pregnant. She put me in trouble because of it.
In Indonesia, much like the rest of Asia pickles have a special place at the table. The “Asinan" made from pickled vegetables and fruits is a very popular dish in West Java, especially in Cianjur, Sukabumi and Bogor. You can find huge jars of asinan lining shelves in warungs and shops.
In Bogor the Asinan is served mixed in a bowl with fried peanuts and extra chillies and can taste very similar to rujak. Some warungs in Jakarta offer a slightly different version of the dish, called Asinan Betawi. Instead of clear liquid made from pounded chillies, salt and vinegar, peanut sauce is used for Asinan Betawi.
During my travels to research Sundanese and Betawi food, I found some notable Asinan warungs in these two cities. Here’s the hitlist:
1. Asinan Gedung Dalam, Jalan Siliwangi, Bogor. A place where all the locals go. You just can’t question this one, it’s simply fresh and tasty.
2. Asinan Ny. Yenny, Jalan Binamarga, Bogor. Not only flavoursome, the location is pretty easy to reach. It’s right on the opposite of Bogor’s main bus station, not far from the toll gate. A good option of you’re in a hurry.
3. Asinan Bon-Bin, Jalan Cikini IV, Central Jakarta. This place is popular for its gado-gado, but I suggest not to miss the asinan Betawi as well, it is as good.
4. Asinan Betawi Ibu Yenni, Jalan Lamandau, Melawai area, Southern Jakarta. The owner of this warung and the one in Bogor apparently have similar names. But this one serves Betawi version of the asinan. It’s located not far from the most popular foodie area, it can be a good start for a culinary trip throughout the day and night.
5. Asinan Kamboja Haji Mansyur, Jalan Taman Kamboja, Rawamangun, Eastern Jakarta. This one is pretty different from others, the asinan liquid is a perfect combination of both Asinan Bogor and Betawi. And it works well!