For me, there’s no shortage of delectable desserts in Indonesia. They might include local fruit such as the starfruit, papaya, and the “snake fruit” salak, a combo dinner-dessert- for example, peanut sauce (bumbu kacang) for sate, or traditional sweets like cucur (pronounced “chu-churr”) and bika ambon.
Today’s topic, kolak, might be my favorite Indonesian dessert yet:
It is one of many dishes most popular during the month of Ramadan. Consequently, it’s considered a tajil, or a snack consumed at iftar, which is the point at which one breaks the fast.
Though I tried the above version in Bandung, there are various types of kolak through Indonesia. For the base, you’ll need coconut milk. Knowing that, each time I eat kolak I’ll have to find a belt with an extra notch in it. Palm sugar or coconut sugar, and if available, a sweet-smelling but uniquely pleasant pandanus leaf are also typical ingredients. The pandanus leaf, also known as screw pine, lends its flavor to numerous Southeast Asian desserts.
From here on, I’m pretty sure kolak is a dumping ground for all sorts of fruits. The one that I tried had sweet potatoes, bananas, and cassava with palm sugar, as well as a mystery item, which I believe is called kolang-kaling, or sugar palm fruit. In all, kolak has great texture, a sneaky way to get vitamins (which might make it kid-friendly), and can be served either hot or cold…except that if you choose the latter, and your only option is street food, you might want to harvest your own ice.
Have you ever tried kolak? Think it should come to a street vendor near you?
Working in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, had been an incredible eye-opener to the (understatement of the year) diverse world of Indonesian food. Specifically, I’m referring to makanan Manado, or food from the mostly Catholic city of Manado on the island of Sulawesi.
My office at the time was a three-minute walk to a Manadonese eatery, which first introduced me to the fiery, no holds-barred cuisine. It is best known for its smoked cakalang, or skipjack tuna, spicy sambal, or chili pastes, and for cooking basically anything.
After a visit to what is likely one of the world’s more colorful wet markets in Tomohon, Indonesia, I was inconveniently feeling peckish. I say that because, I went to the market specifically on an empty stomach, but left with an even emptier one. None of the wet market stalls had anything ready-to-eat, so it was up to visiting neighboring street vendors for a bite.
After a few days of chowing down on a veritable Noah’s Ark, it was time for something…tame. Enter, tinutuan/bubur Manado, or Manadonese porridge:
OK, so the word tame was used above in somewhat jocular manner. You see, although tinutuan is a hot watery local rice porridge made with pumpkin, corn, water spinach, and other ingredients less likely to harry PETA worshipers, it is still typically served with a piquant sambal. Tinutuan, like bubur in other parts of the country, is much more common as a breakfast dish; it’s fast, ingredients are cheap and plentiful, and no street vendor ever has to worry about washing dishes for the next customer. Whoops, the cat’s out of the bag.
By the way, the Indonesian version of “there’s no use crying over spilled milk” is nasi sudah menjadi bubur. Which is to say, “the rice has already become porridge.”
Yes, these carriers once served a purpose, be it skidding off of runways, or skidding back onto runways. Occasionally, they took to the air. Now, their memories for me last only in the form of years-old digital photos taken back when I was a more jittery flier…which, in the case of at least one of these airlines, was a reasonable reaction.
Let’s start in chronological order of when I flew these defunct jetliners.
Jet Airways: BOM Mumbai, India – DEL New Delhi, India, June 2006
First Flight: May 5, 1993
Ceased Flights: April 17, 2019
I’d like to note that at the time, I got harassed for taking photos at Indian airports/on planes (naturally, locals weren’t getting bothered); this partially explains the blurry nature of some photos. Perhaps things are different now.
At their peak, Jet Airways had hubs in Chennai, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Amsterdam, covering a mix of domestic Indian routes, and key flights throughout Asia, Europe, and to New York City and Toronto. Due to its better-than-average reputation – particularly among Indian carriers – some investors look to be reviving the brand and its valuable slots by the summer of 2021.
Air Sahara: New Delhi (DEL) – (Patna PAT) – Varanasi (VNS), June 2006
First Flight: 1993
Last Flight: Purchased by Jet Airways in 2007
Air Sahara started off as Sahara Airlines, commencing flights on December 3, 1993. They most flew domestic Indian routes, though added some regional flights, as well as one to London by the mid-2000s. After Jet Airways took them over in April 2007, Air Sahara became JetLite, and then JetKonnect in 2012.
The word sahaara in Hindi (सहारा) means “help;” perhaps its owners should have thought of the repercussions of that name, since at the time of their purchase by Jet Airways, they had a mere 12% market share in India, as compared to Jet’s 43%.
Indian Airlines: New Delhi (DEL) – Jaipur (JAI), June 2006
First Flight: 1953
Ceased Flights: February 26, 2011 (Merged with Air India)
In 1953, just six years after gaining independence, the Indian government decided to nationalize its airlines. To simplify the process, Air India was strictly for international flights, and Indian Airlines – formed out of a number of domestic carriers – handled flights entirely within India.
Since they were the main event for decades for flying domestically in India, Indian Airlines also saw the introduction of the first Airbus A300, the Airbus A320, and shuttle flights (between New Delhi and Mumbai). With the liberalization of the domestic airline industry in the 1980s, Indian Airlines dominance over local traffic was conspicuously diminished.
In spite of a series of crashes and hijackings in the 1980s and 1990s, they were generally profitable; it didn’t hurt that they were owned 51% by the Indian government. Air India absorbed them in early 2011.
Adam Air: Bali DPS – Jakarta CGK, February 2008
First Flight: December 2003
Ceased Flights: June 18, 2008
Named for the son of one of the airline’s founders, and notable for its…unique livery (color scheme), Adam Air had a brief and rocky existence, reduced to dregs consequent to inexperience and cutting corners.
Adam Air’s stand-out orange and green colors, low-fares and in-flight meals regardless of the stage length of a flight were a huge hit with Indonesians looking for cheaper alternatives to the standard two carriers, Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air. However, its explosive growth in popularity was masking a fatal issue.
On a personal note, the only one of these airline trips that I vividly remember is Adam Air. I had a crazy Friday trying to get to Bali from Jakarta; at one point, I was walking waist-high in flooded fertilizer and cobwebs along the Jakarta (CGK) airport highway. It was pitch black, and I was alone.
After making to Bali (with the intent to fly to Timor Leste), my papers were rejected, but because of the severe flooding in Jakarta, I had a hell of a time getting back. Luckily, I befriended some folks at the Merpati Nusantara airline office of Bali Airport, giving them free English lessons. After eight hours of hanging out with them, one of them finally found a ticket back to Jakarta, only it was with Adam Air. To speak candidly, I was a bit nervous, but it was my only practical option. My seat had some horribly bright colors, and parts of the cabin were held together with duct tape, including by the window and oxygen masks. It was the only flight I’ve ever taken where I held my breath. Upon returning to Jakarta, traffic took about four hours to get back (usually, it was 45 minutes). UGH.
Merpati Nusantara Airlines: Dili (DIL) – Bali (DPS), March 2008
First Flight: Late 1962
Ceased Flights: February 2014
Merpati Nusantara, which means “dove archipelago” in Indonesian, took over for the Dutch De Kroonduif carrier of Netherlands New Guinea (present-day Irian Jaya province) in 1963. The merpati, or dove, aspect of the nomenclature might be related to the kroonduif, which means “crown dove” in Dutch, named after the once common bird found in Irian Jaya. Also, with Indonesia consisting of thousands of islands stretching thousands of miles, the nusantara, or archipelago, was intended to evoke the airline’s breadth.
After being bought and divested from Garuda in 1978 and 1997, respectively, Merpati Nusantara also had its fair share of incidents. With rising debt and oil prices at the time, the airline went bus in early 2014, though it seems some investors are hoping to form a Merpati Version 2.0.
Air Bagan: Bagan NYU – Yangon RGN, Spring 2009
First Flight: Late 2004
Ceased Flights: In 2015 (as Air Bagan), then lost their license in 2018
Air Bagan holds a number of “firsts” for Burma aka Myanmar: the first private airline 100% owned by a Burmese citizen, the first to use jets, the first to have female pilots, the first to introduce a frequent flyer program, and among others, the first private airline 100% owned by a Burmese citizen to go bankrupt. It is named for one of the country’s most famous attractions, the stupa and temples of Bagan (Nyaung U).
Their first flights were in 2004, primarily to serve tourists. Then, after the devastating Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Air Bagan was recruited to provide humanitarian services to the hard-hit southern portion of the Burma. In spite of these efforts, the US government authorized sanctions on the airline, which contributed to their eventual downfall. They first stopped flying in 2015, though ultimately lost their operating license in 2018. Fortunately, if they ever want to reappear, they’ve still got the domain name.
Sun Air Express: Lancaster, Pennsylvania (LNS) – Washington Dulles (IAD) – Hagerstown, Maryland (HGR), 2015
First Flight: 2012
Ceased Flights: Bought by Southern Airways Express in 2016
Formed years earlier as Sun Air International, Sun Air Express first flew in in 2008 between Florida and the Bahamas. In 2012, with assistance from the Essential Air Service program – i.e. federal subsidies for rural/remote communities – they began flights out of Houston, and Washington Dulles to regional airports…because when you think of sunny days, suburban D.C. comes to mind. Then, in 2014, they received more EAS support for flights out of Pittsburgh.
The first time I went to Bali, way back in 2005, I was a much different traveler. Having just visited a few countries at that time made me nervous about solo travel, and coupled with that, fearful of taking rides at airports, especially after a disorienting flight. So visceral was my anxiety that instead of taking the hotel shuttle to Jimbaran, I walked for about 2+ hours at night, wheeling two suitcases in that exhausting tropical humidity. This was also before mobile phones could show you where you were, so I was working off of rapidly disintegrating printed maps to get to the hotel.
What does that have to do with Balinese Hinduism? Nothing…except that I probably accidentally tripped over more than a few of the ubiquitous canang sari along the way.
What exactly is canang sari? Loosely translated as essence (sari) in a palm frond tray (canang, pronounced cha-nang), canang sari are offerings to local gods left daily by Balinese women, typically in the early morning or around dusk. Depending on the ritual and importance of that day, they may either small or grandiose, and will be filled with flowers, herbs, food, money, and incense.
Canang sari are strategically placed by entrances to family compounds, altars, temples, in addition to restaurants, hotels, and other structures. Chiefly, canang sari show to the deities the time spent by each family in making them, to keep the good and bad balanced, and as a thanks for keeping the family harmonious.
Vishnu, the preserver, represented by a red betel nut
Brahma, the creator, represented by a green gambier leaf
On top of the canang sari are flowers dedicated to sincerity and love, placed in specific cardinal directions:
White petals for Ishvara, supreme lord/personal god, pointing East
Red petals for Brahma, pointing South
Yellow petals for Shiva, pointing West
Blue/Green petals for Vishnu, pointing North
Once that incense fizzles out, however, you might notice some local fauna nibbling away at canang sari. According to tradition, as long as there’s no more incense to be burned, it’s totally ok to do so…not that the animals know anyway!