travel and life with lee mylne

A taste of Indonesia

Snake fruit

Snake fruit

The contents of a beautiful wooden bowl on the table of my hotel room in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta had me intrigued. What are those things? Fruit, certainly…but not a fruit I’m familiar with.

Staying at the grand colonial Phoenix Hotel, built in 1918 and now part of the M Gallery collection, for just a few days, I managed to squeeze in a couple of new food experiences.  Travel’s sensory overload is so often about food – but I don’t often feel moved to write about it.

A little sign next to the bowl tells me that they are Salak pondoh, a popular and important fruit in Yogyakarta province, in Central Java. They are hard, brown, with a textured skin that – as I later found out – gives them the common name ”snake fruit”.

I tried to cut one open. It was so hard that for a minute I wondered if I’d mistaken an ornamental piece of the decor for the real thing. But eventually the tough skin split open to reveal creamy flesh and a hard seed inside. I didn’t eat it, but I remained curious.

snake fruit at markets

Snake fruit for sale in the Yogyakarta markets

Snake fruit were everywhere, in markets, in restaurants. I asked a woman in a restaurant how to eat one. She picked it up, split the top of it with her fingernail and deftly peeled the skin back, as you would with a lychee or rambutan. Ah…so easy. Soon I was eating one, but I remained puzzled. Why so popular? It was a bit like eating soap, but not as nasty. A bit tasteless really, and I decided I’d rather look at snake fruit than eat them.

durian for sale

Buckets of durian on sale in a market

There was still one more thing I wanted to try before I left. On the cafe tables at the Phoenix Hotel’s lobby bar was an ice-cream menu with some very interesting flavours. For around $6, you could order a selection of scoops, and on my last afternoon in Yogyakarta – taking refuge from the heat of the streets – I indulged in that pleasure. My choice of flavours went like this: mango, orange, rum and raisin, green tea, red bean…and durian.

Yes, durian! I hear those of you who’ve travelled in Asia gasp in disbelief  – or perhaps wrinkle your nose in horror.  Durian, for the uninitiated, is a common fruit in Asia, well-known for its pungent smell that reminds most people of…well, sewerage. It’s enough to make most people gag, to be honest. And no, I’ve never eaten durian, which I hear is quite delicious if you can get past the smell. Sorry, I can’t.  But durian ice-cream, I thought, had to be different.

My six scoops of ice-cream arrived on a shining brass plate,with a parfait spoon on the side. The durian certainly had no smell, and it was not disgusting…but once again, the taste was almost an anti-climax.  My equally curious and dubious friends clustered for a taste. But while I’m glad I tried the durian, the mango remained my pick of them all.

ice cream scoops

My ice-cream scoops – including durian flavour – at the MGallery Phoenix Hotel, Yogyakarta

5 Responses to “A taste of Indonesia”

  1. Daisy Atkinson

    How long were you out in Indonesia for? Their choice in food doesn’t seem all that palatable, do you know anything about the local dishes?

  2. Lee

    I was in Indonesia this time for just over a week, Daisy. The food is sensational – this post was really just about two of the strange foods that I came across, rather than being a view of all Indonesian food. My favourite dish – and one of the most common – is nasi goreng, an Indonesian style fried rice which can be found everywhere. I had a fantastic one at a little street stall in Yogyakarta. Other popular dishes include satays and beef rendang (similar to a dark, dry curry), and sambal (a chilli condiment) is often used to flavour dishes. If you get the chance to eat Indonesian food anywhere, don’t hesitate…it’s wonderful.


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