When this writer arrived in Indonesia, precisely 31 years ago, everything was new and exotic… except for that which was not – much of the culture and its artefacts deriving from the Dutch, Chinese, Japanese or other visitors who had extended influence over the centuries across the archipelago: as an ancient passage from East Asia to Africa and Europe (North America still being a fabled land of wild savages) many peoples stamped their influence on the Indies, before moving on.
I arrived around Idul Fitri 1408, and was able to witness the celebrations that followed. At this time I was holed up near Kramat Jati, East Jakarta, and was delighted – if quite impressed and surprised – when my landlady brought me a Black Forest Cake. Indonesian-style but authentic.
“Where did you get this one? It’s a tasty beauty!” I complimented her.
“No, I made it myself” she proudly replied. Well that was a first: I’d never known Asians to bake at home, or even to have a proper oven.
I have lived in the Philippines, Thailand, Japan and have traveled to several other areas of East Asia – but this was the first time I’d come across home-made baked goods.
Immediately I deduced why the Indonesians are the only peoples of Southeast Asia to bake at home: this was one cultural influence from 350 years of Dutch colonial occupation, as the Netherlands is a “baking society”.
Hey, don’t forget Italy – the land which gave us pasta and pizza.
Me in early 1989: “Say, fellas – they just opened up a Pizza Hut on Wr. Buncit. How about it?”
My young Indonesian friends wrinkle up their noses and make faces. “Ugh! Cheese! It stinks. We never eat that.”
(How times have changed…)
Then they ask me “Hey mister – is it true the people in Japan eat raw fish?? How disgusting.”
(Go stand in line on Saturday evening at Sushigroove and hope you can get in before you die of starvation…)
Upon arrival here I had begun a desperate search for dark bread, a basic staff of life – and been severely disappointed. There was a little windmill perched atop the Holland Bakery, but within only a hundred-score variety of refined doughy breads and tasteless, squishy and overly-sweetened pastries. Pretty to look at, though…
BIG DISAPPOINTMENT. But not really a surprise: during my 8 years of living in Japan I’d observed how Asian bakers almost never get it right – pretty miserable fare for Europeans used to excellent breads, pies and cakes. Local baked goods can never match a freshly-baked Sachertorte or croissant or baklava or Bavarian rye.
The only place to get decent pastries in Japan was at five-star hotels – at five-star hotel prices, OUCH, and for sure there was always a Frenchman or Belgian pastry chef lurking in the kitchen.
Indonesian Millennials look scornful. “We have great pastries at Starbucks and Sophie Authentique” they declaim and they’re correct: that was then and this is now. Remember I’m referring to the late 1980s, when roaming becaks still terrorized sleepy downtown Jakarta traffic.
So thank you Ibu Sri for that lovely Black Forest Cake and Selamat Idul Fitri, Mohon Ma’af, Lahir dan Batin.
And YES these days you can find excellent dark breads all around Jakarta, at the Hotel Intercontinental Deli, Kemchicks, Vineth Bakery, Animo (my favorite!) and even Hero Supermarket.
SO GOOD FOR YOU AND SOMETIMES BAD FOR YOU..
BUT BAKING IS ALWAYS SO FRIENDLY…
Start at the beginning, big fella.
THE HISTORY OF BAKING
Wikipedia tells us ‘The first evidence of baking occurred when humans took wild grass grains, soaked them in water, and mixed everything together, mashing it into a kind of broth-like paste.’
Ugh. Sounds delicious [NOT].
‘The paste was cooked by pouring it onto a flat, hot rock, resulting in a bread-like substance.’
You joking, Ms. Wiki? I ain’t ready to spend my caveman-money on this kind of baked goods. Nosiree…
‘Later, when humans mastered fire, the paste was roasted on hot embers, which made bread-making easier, as it could now be made any time fire was created. The world’s oldest oven was discovered in Croatia in 2014 dating back 6500 years ago.
As always, the Egyptians were curiously inventive devils.
Special Discount on Egyptian Aish Baladi Bread: Almost Fresh – only 3000 Years Old!
Real tooth-breakers, no?
OK, flash-forward to Europe in the 21st Century: the best of baking.
ADVANTAGES OF BAKING
Of the four main styles of preparing cooked food, baking is said to best enhance flavor and aroma. Any time you bake at home and smell that luscious aroma of hot goods fresh from the oven you’ll know what I mean. Baking is also a lot healthier for you than roasting or frying: many mothers are moving from deep-fried foods to less fattening baked ones. Historically it has been mostly men who work in commercial bakeries and women who bake at home but today it’s the guys who enjoy trying out millets, whole wheat flour and multigrain stone-ground flour for baking.
Sugar is thankfully becoming rarer as well, as skilled bakers attempt to extract natural sweetness from baked grains.
BAKE THAT CAKE FOR FESTIVE TIMES
Ancient cakes were actually more like bread, heavy and chewy, with honey added as a frosting (remembering that refined sugar was uncommon in much of the world in olden times). “Cake” actually derives from Old Norse “kaka”, and winds back to the 13th Century. Viking bake sale!
Kids just love junk food and so they demand all the butter, sugar, eggs and artificial flavors which make today’s cakes so terrifyingly unhealthy.
But never forget that cakes can be great fun, especially funny ones.
Bakers stay really, really busy turning out wedding cakes:
Or once the happy marriage has gone sour, a celebratory divorce cake:
So what about the fare at Ya Udah Bistro? Well if you drink enough of our fine beer you’ll get baked (as the kids put it), but actually we have a limited range of choice baked delicacies to accompany your fine meal of steak, fish, sausage and salad.
- Very very healthy home-made multigrain seed bread, heavy and healthy
- Home-made apple pie, just like Mama never got around to making, because she was passed out drunk in front of the TV, a cigarette smoldering dangerously in her hand.
- Apple pie with or without ice cream, please.
- French baguettes – Sacrebleu!
- Italian Grissini – salted bread sticks with Parmesan cheese. Great accompaniment to a nice cold beer or hot meal.