Ideas, Innovation and Inspiration in Indigenous Cuisine

Ideas, Innovation and Inspiration in Indigenous Cuisine

Welcome to the world of Will Meyrick, renown “Street food Chef” and restauranteur. Executive chef of internationally awarded Mamasan, Sarong and Hujan Locale as well as Som Chai and Billy Ho the latest of Will’s creations. Impressive as this all sounds none of it was an overnight success and today, at the beginning of 2019, he stands once more on a new threshold and is about to share yet another exciting journey.

NOW Bali took the opportunity to sit down with Will and his partner in this innovation, David Metcalf, of David Metcalf Photography, to discover what new wonders lie in store for us here on the island of Bali.

Will and David met through their passion for the visual image, David is an acclaimed international photographer with many years of experience in using the power of photography to bring about understanding of environmental issues.

Through his tours he creates pathways for sustainable, positive change in the indigenous communities he visits, specifically in the legendary lands of the Dayak Tribes of Borneo.  In 2018 David curated, with Dayak run Ranu Welum’s Young Indigenous Film Maker Project, the very first Indigenous Film Festival in Bali, an event that will run again in May this year, and has showcased International films made by Indigenous groups from as far away as Peru and as close as Papua.

Determined and dedicated in their own fields to the support and promotion of Indigenous culture Will and David recognised during a recent trip to the far North West of Vietnam that between them they could create experiences that allowed for more than a visual introduction to the deeply rooted, essential communities that form the basis for the true meaning of society.

As Will explained the continued existence of communities that lie beyond the reach of ‘modern living’ are vital to the survival of all cultures and globally, while under threat from all kinds of pressure including here in Indonesia the proliferation of Palm Oil plantations, there is a growing awareness of the urgency with which sustainable support of and authentic connections to Indigenous cultures need to be promoted and preserved.

“When I first brought the concept of Asian Street Food into the fine dining scene I did it, not because the food was great, although it is, but because I wanted to tell the stories of the cuisine culture. Asian Street food has always been about the migratory stories, the tribal stories, the journeys that took place from the great explorations of the Silk Routes, land and sea, and the journeys of colonial powers and their slaves.

Communities arriving in strange places created food for themselves that reflected their origins, and eventually, as we see so clearly across Indonesia, the blending of cuisine cultures creates a fusion. From the Tamils of Medan to the Afghans of Denpasar, the Chinese diaspora and the Portuguese brought Africans food of the “homelands” infiltrated and adapted to their new environments.

And, when a modern economic model, including ‘Transmigrasi’, imposed itself on the indigenous of Indonesia, the Batak, the Dayak, the Sasak and the Madurese, and drew them into cities and townships their food soon followed.

So here you have in the streets of the cities the genesis of an Indigenous food culture, but sadly now many of these cultures at their roots are facing an extinction moment of their own.

No longer is it enough to preserve and show, I feel David and I are at this point where we can join a growing wave of commitment to actually, in partnership with the people of the communities, empower global Indigenous cultures to build stronger futures.”

David was keen to point out that while the ideas of sharing the impactful images of the cultures was a good one, and the idea of instructive introduction was important, people really need to connect to the purity and beauty that is Indigenous culture, and beyond what is seen in magazines and maybe on tv what does the average person actually know about Indigenous Culture?

Discovery of what Indigenous culture is means two things, either going to visit or learning about it in other ways and it is through this approach that Will and David have come up with an ingenious innovation that they are enthusiastic to share.

Will continues: “The thing here is that this is not actually about me, or David, what we are planning is to be a kind of invisible bridge. Sure we will have our images, David’s connections, my restaurant but what people will engage with and enjoy are the incredible Indigenous stories and dishes prepared by guest chefs, experts in their fields, with deep and practical knowledge of indigenous cuisine. We invite and encourage attendance through the resonance people have with the Sarong Group, with the knowledge of David’s expertise, our bridge, but once here the journey becomes their own, and who knows they may leave having had a great meal, contributed to the support of two indigenous projects Handep Haruei  and Mother Jungle  that currently offer practical support to the indigenous Dayak women of Borneo, but also quite possibly they may leave thinking ‘What’s next, Lombok is not so far away, Toraja has great tourism opportunities and why not get into Borneo’s Dayak Culture before it disappears?’ These events are designed to open up all sorts of possibilities that may lead who knows where.”
So starting with an event every two months, held at the exquisite and atmospheric Som Chai Will and David will curate unique immersive culinary experiences, enhanced by visual media in the form of photography and film footage in the hope that all involved will come closer to the essence of what exactly what it means to be Indigenous. It maybe just what we have all been looking for, the ability to begin our reconnection to the multitude of real world cultures where, as Joseph Conrad wrote in Heart of Darkness “What thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity – like yours – the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. “ This article was written for NOW! Bali, and originally published in February 2018
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The challenge to find a holiday destination in July to August is actually more difficult that you’d think, especially when you live on an island paradise, like Bali, and everything is at your doorstep. We have the school holidays to consider and I do like to get away with the kids, taking them somewhere different each year and giving them an opportunity to extend their knowledge and break out of their comfort zones. I call it backpacking with the kids, they call it travelling rough with dad.
Everywhere in South East Asia at this time is in deluge, it is wet season during Bali’s dry so the decisions have to be made with one eye on the weather news. Sri Lanka though has two seasons at the same time, and while it rains it is also guaranteed sunshine, and given some research I discover that the north-east coast is best to visit between June to October. Also I discover that this area of the country had been torn by civil unrest, escalating to Civil War and then rebellious uprising since the year of my birth and peace is new but thankfully not fragile. One of the things we learn very quickly, and not I might add from anything taught in schools, is that war torn countries have been saved from the ravages of tourism. Not that I am advocating war as a method of preservation, it is just a fact, there has been little development in Sri Lanka and the tourism infrastructure is in early days.
I selected to start our journey at the ancient city of Anduraphura and travel to Trincomalee by private minibus. It seems to be the best way to get around as the roads are quite winding and the views promised to be sensational. Anduraphura is worth a visit, the impressive Buddhist stupas and the ruins mark the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, you will find a lot of Buddhist landmarks across the country and they mark a history of how far and when Buddhism travelled across the south-eastern lands.
Fortunately most journeys in Sri Lanka rarely take more than four hours, so the mini bus is perfect. The public bus drivers are positively hair raising, I dread to think the process to gain a licence, and the train takes three times as long so with a couple of motion sickness tablets for the kids we are on our way through lush hillsides, elephant hazard signs, crocodile signs, random cows on the road and crazy bus drivers bearing down on us. Our journey took around two and half hours, but I would say do it in three and use a few stops to catch your breath.
Trincomalee is a sleepy backwater fishing town in the middle of the east coast of the island, 10 k’s to the north is Neveli which has beautiful beaches but only very low key accommodation with one exception, it’s higher end and if you are looking for solitude and quiet this is the place to be, or you could try south of Trincomalee at Upevili which is similar, however we stayed in neither place, opting instead for Trinco Blue, a resort run by the well regarded Cinnamon Group who manage and run properties across Sri Lanka.
Trinco Blue is forty years old and while charming as is there are plans for a big renovation to keep apace with the expanding demand from the world of selective tourism that is beating a path to Sri Lanka before mass tourism floods the market. Trinco Blue was already fully booked with visitors from all over the globe sending a strong message that Sri Lanka is the next frontier for people who like to discover the new rather than find home comforts in far away places. While the town is small the shoreline stretches an impressive ten kilometres and is dotted with attractions from scuba diving to whale and dolphin watching. Behind the beaches there are bustling markets selling fish and fresh vegetables, and the impressively girthed old Fort Frederick that now houses a Buddhist Temple and Military base, illustrating for some the curious conundrum that is Sri Lanka’s past, present and possible future.
The fort was completed by the Portuguese in 1624 who pretty much managed to place forts across the East from Goa to Timor L’Este. The fort was then possessed by the Dutch 1639 who lost it to first the French, who handed it back to the Dutch momentarily in 1784 until in 1795 it came to the British with whom it remained until 1948. Interestingly although Sri Lanka was independent of Great Britain it was not until 1972 that it became a republic and then the civil war broke out in 1983. It’s quite a fascinating place to visit with history so fresh that you can see the divisions and effects of it clearly.
It was during the Portuguese occupation that the port of Trincomalee suffered as the Portuguese, determined to rid the country of it’s ‘evils’, swept the temples and sacred statues into the sea from the cliffs. Now in their watery grave they have become an attraction for divers. While not exactly diving for the Lost Ark or being a Tomb Raider, the statues look more like garden ornaments, the dive is worth taking. I selected the hotel’s dive company as they had a Western guide, and after my experience with the safari guide’s English I was erring on the side of caution, and we had a good time, although the effects of the Boxing Day Tsunami are apparent below the surface as the coral reef is still recovering.
Given all there is to do during the day the Trincomalee night is something of a contrast, which is why a good hotel is important and if you are so inclined you need a nice bar to hang out in after the government imposed curfew of 10pm. This article was written for NOW! Bali, and originally published in November 2018
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My Java Bound : Surabaya to Malang

My Java Bound : Surabaya to Malang

I love to travel to East Java, I am surprised so few people take the trip from Bali to be honest, I mean, it is easy to get to, there are trains, buses and planes, you can hire a car with or without a driver and in five days see vast changes of character and climate. Take your time and discover the wonderful East Java cities of Surabaya and Malang.

From Bali to Surabaya’s streets

I recommend the short flight to Surabaya: For one thing it is just over an hour from Bali and the view from the plane is breathtaking, the tips of the volcanoes peak through any cloud cover and you can feel almost as excited as the first colonials must have been as you touch down into a city that bares the marks of the true explorers, the Bugis, the Massakans and the Arabs. Here Surabaya’s streets beat with the ancient history of the Turks, the Moors and the Hadhramis well as the Chinese that approached from the seas to the north. While the architecture of Raffles and his conquering cohorts dominates the physical history of the city if you look further in, into the faces, the markets and the minarets of mosques, you will find true history.

There’s to me an essence of that hard core gypsy living that contradicts the efforts of big cities like Jakarta to placate history with a sophisticated facade. Here in Surabaya there is a rawness that resonates with the earlier rebelliousness of the place. To me I think it has the appeal of Liverpool or Birmingham, port cities running in ‘second place’ to a capital, yet richer and more rewarding because of it. I love the tangible hard work ethic that pervades the markets and the shops, the way that trading carries on in a similar fashion to the ways of a century ago.

Visit Pasar Bebeng, or Pasar Pabean and see for yourselves, the Maduranese women, the ‘pirates of the pasar’, are running everything in sight and see if you can get past them without comment. They gave me such a ribbing, honestly if it wasn’t for my ability to give as good as I get I would have left with my ‘tail’ tucked well between my legs.

The Hotel Majahpahit

Don’t worry too much though you can always retreat to the colonial aspects of the town and don for a moment the shield of nostalgia at The Hotel Majahpahit.

Here is the original Hotel Oranje started by Louis Sarkies of the Armenian Sarkies brothers who really were the original luxury hoteliers of South East Asia.

With the famed Strand in Yangon and Raffles in Singapore to their name, they commissioned hotels that offered dreams of colonial grandeur despite their own status as emigres and luminaries attending the Majapahit’s opening included Crown Prince Leopold III from Belgium Princess Astrid from Sweden and English actor Charlie Chaplin.

Oh yes, Surabaya was the city of the Java Jive, and from the early 20th Century until the Japanese invasion and subsequent liberation of the country, a heady and exotic mix of ethnicities including Muslim Yemeni and Buddhist Chinese, the Calvanist Dutch and the Islamic and Hindu Javanese mingled in relative peace.

This is the Surabaya to discover, the city, one time larger that Jakarta, a competitor to Hong Kong and Shanghai and the largest city in the Dutch East Indies.

In the summer the Surabaya elite retreated to the hill city of Malang where eventually Dutch colonials built their bungalows, and today golden apples still grow and small canals are traversed by arched bridges alongside pretty cottages bedecked with flowers and domestic cats in a miniature version of Dutch urbanity.

Captured by this ‘olde worlde’ charm the city of Malang is a marvellous mirage, seemingly full of budding intellectuals who are fervent and ardent in discussions that desire to shape the nation of the future.

The many cafes and warungs are bursting with a student population drawn to this hub of academia, here they feast on an excellent beef soup called Rawon and noodle dishes, Cwie Mie or Pangsit Mie and the cakes and breads that can be found everywhere but nowhere better than the Roti Tugu Bakery.

The Hotel Tugu Malang

The Tugu Group happens to be one of my favourite hotel groups precisely because they are not a group, they are a family. At the Hotel Tugu Malang you will find the history and architecture of Malang spread before you with artifacts, gallery displays and entire rooms given over to histories from the myths and legends of the Ramayana to contemporary stories of Eastern Javanese history.

Resident or not the Hotel Tugu is a must visit, from early morning coffee to afternoon teas the hotel draws you into its unique and heady atmosphere of Dutch colonial era heritage , Indonesian and Chinese cultural fusion and the humble beauty of traditional Indonesian art and craft masterpieces.

Spending a day exploring on bicycles is easily arranged through the Hotel Tugu, grab a becak – cyclo rickshaw- to visit local warungs or hire a taxi for a day to take you out to the tea and coffee plantations that adorned the surrounding hillsides.

Whatever you do and wherever you go in East Java you will feel all the richer for it.

Plan your time

Between Surabaya and Malang there is at least a week of adventure to be had and planning a tour can be a good idea. If you, like me, love adventure and bikes look no further than Infinity Mountain Biking for their nine day East Java tour that includes a trip to Mount Bromo.

Tasting tips

Malang Rawon Rampal, Jalan Panglima Sudirman – Beef stews, soups and curries. Depot Hok Lay, Jalan KH Ahmad Dahlan – Lumpia and Noodles Cwie Mie
Surabaya Try Indonesian street food like Sate Klopok and the foods of the Arabian diaspora such as Nasi Kabuli, Kuri Kambing and the Perenakan or Nyonya foods of the Chinese Malay culture. This article was written for NOW! Bali, and originally published in August 2018
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Visiting Yogyakarta: Royal Palaces and Rustic Palates

Visiting Yogyakarta: Royal Palaces and Rustic Palates

Jogyakarta is close enough to Bali that you can afford to take a few days from your island schedule to explore this intriguing part of Java, which while well known is often neglected by the Bali bound. To describe the place as rich in arts and culture is just skimming the surface, for one there is so much art, everywhere !

So much more than a pretty face…

But before I get carried away, let’s backtrack a bit, I love art but I am first and foremost a food guy, and I have a confession: The food of Jogya, was for me not so easy to understand, the flavours that make up the cuisine here are complex, sophisticated and combined with the cooking style produces food that is unfamiliar taste wise for the Western palate. The savoury tastes are quite rustic if you like, smoky flavours, dusky tones and layered textures is how I would describe it, not immediately accessible but ultimately delicious in its difference.

The food of Jogya represents a cultural cuisine heritage that unlike much of Java is created from the central elements of the land as opposed to external or impositional influences.

There is an authenticity in foods like the Gudeg, jackfruit so sweet as to be cloying yet served with a contrasting Krecek that cuts through and balances this smoky sweetness with layers of intense rustic flavour.

It’s an ancient food, there’s no frying; smoking and grilling yes, and the appearance of what we may think of as mismatched ingredients just deepen the intensity. Banana blossoms, papaya leaves, quails eggs and chicken gizzards appear in various guises in dishes served from smoky warungs that look like witches covens, full of bubbling pots, glowing coconut husks, racks of smoking catfish and dishes of minced offal and meat, Buntil, parceled up in caul.

These street cafes, like Warung Yuk Djum and Warung Mbah Marto famed for their rustic cuisine and the presence of the Keroncong singers like Mariachi bands who sing out the songs of the street while eager patrons eat..

This indigenous cuisine is a mirror of Jogya, self determined. Still with a highly regarded Sultan in the palace and self governing the Jogya city vibe is relaxed and confident.

There’s a strong sense of being in a community be it the centre of town or an outlying suburb you will feel a part of something close knit.

It’s a safe city that celebrates its diversity openly. An excellent example of this are the student street stalls of the off the main drag of Jalan Malioboro, hip and cool Angkringan Kopi Joss is full of Nasi Jinggo, Nasi Kucing and Fried Chicken Nuggets, even fried pork is sold from carts into the early morning hours.

Mats are rolled out along the pavement for young men and women, smoking or vaping who lean back and enjoy their evening snack while drinking the eponymous Kopi Joss, thick ground coffee served with a lump of burning charcoal that is meant to offset the acidity of the coffee.

Try it – it’s a real treat. And an insider tip here, get to Jalan Malioboro early in the morning for the market and at other times leave it for the touts and tourists and instead head to the Prawirotaman Market for the sheer joy of the banter between the stall holders.


If you want real insider tips and more Warwick Purser is the man to find. Now an Indonesian citizen Warwick is living in Jogyakarta and has resided for over forty years in the Archipelago.

He has spent his time supporting humanitarian causes and bringing much needed support to post disaster rebuilding from the tsunami to the earthquake of 2006 to the more recent eruption of Mt Merapi.

Warwick opened D’Omah as a Boutique Heritage Village Resort as a way to introduce his guests to the culture of “the village”, and sharing his insider knowledge on extended tours of the surrounding area. Much of what D’Omah offers inspires my own Canggu Cooking Retreat, this sense you are welcomed into a village community that is sharing its comings and goings is for me such an important aspect of any form of travel.

D’Omah Hotel is located not more than twenty minutes from the city and authentically Javanese although in a delightful contrast the grounds of the hotel are home to eclectic works of art.

A talented recent resident has been Amin Taasha, an emigree of Hazara descent, whose works are inspired by his early life and eventual escape from Afghanistan.

Jogya Kraton and Water Palace

Underlining Jogya’s appeal is this continual gracious acceptance of multiculturalism, even in the village on the way to the Water Palace we came across a multifaith Mosque that welcomes the prayers of any devotee. The Kraton or Sultan’s Palace is a living museum, home to the current, and progressive Sultan, his wife and five daughters the palace was built in the mid- eighteenth century and is located in the midst of a lovely cool forest which makes it so pleasant to walk around the exhibitions, especially the Wayang Kulit shadow puppet displays. Here you can daydream from pavillion to pavillion of times past where Java was a place of princes, princesses and evocative mystery stories.

The Water Palace used to be part of the Palace Gardens, a resting place, for meditation and romance, for reflection by the many pools and manicured gardens, these days there remains the pool complex with its tower from where past Sultans would spy on their concubines and the fantastic complex of underground tunnels that once led to private pavilions and still lead to the beach.

The Water Palace hosts a blend of architectural styles from Moor to Hindu, with a distinct Chinese influence and again it is possible to see how when cultures combine an elevation of art and beauty blossoms.

This is why I think Jogyakarta is a must visit, so much so that I have, with Warwick’s input created an incredible three day, two night street food tour of this city of cuisine, culture and creativity.

Our tour will take you deep into the Jogya culture, into the back alleys of market stalls and the daily life of the city, through temples and palaces that will transport you back in time, and to Jogya’s jewel, one of the wonders of the man-made world the Temple of Borobudur. I think it’s time to get a better look at what goes on outside Bali and discover an appreciation for this nation’s hidden treasures. This article was written for NOW! Bali, and originally published in July 2018
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