Diabetic Breakfast and Chessee Spegethy

When a man picks you up in a boat at 5 a.m., you go. And you make sure to wear a cardigan because, in the cold darkness of that morning, certain things can get really perky.

So it was under a crescent moon (how fitting) and the ghostly calls to prayer from the numerous mosques dotting the river that I took a chartered boat along the menacingly black waters of Sangai Tapekong to see one of Banjarmasin’s famed floating markets, Pasar Lokbaintan.

The trip took around two hours and I watched the sky lighten from deep purple to steel blue, and I was glad that the houses were quiet, which made the ride quite dull, but peaceful.

After my butt grew sore from all the sitting, I grew excited when we neared the Lokbaintan bridge. Here, I began to see a few women on canoes and kayaks quietly paddling toward what I thought would be an actual roofed structure with platforms and tiny waterways.

So it came as a surprise when Amang, the boat driver, killed the engine and we went on an aimless float on what would have been a shanty’s front yard. I thought the boat had malfunctioned, but Amang seemed to say, “We’re already here.”

Bewildered, I looked around me and noticed that all these women on canoes — filled with mandarin oranges, eggplants, bananas, sweets and the occasional fly-encrusted dressed chicken — had begun clustering and bartering, and I realized that THEY were the floating market.

It was very pretty in the diffused yellow glow of 7 a.m. and I think what made it quite striking were the ladies’ glittering hijabs and batik blouses, as well as their canoes’ washed pastel colors. I took this all in, and was content just watching them go about their business since they didn’t seem so intent on selling to tourists so much as they were to trading their goods with each other.

But if you really, really need to, you can buy from them. I bought some sticky rice cakes and custardy cassava confections served in a banana leaf boat for cheap (Rp 2.000 to Rp 10.000). One lady, with the most interesting face I have ever seen so far, sold me a donut-type pastry with sweetened coconut shavings inside. Though I shared the food with Amang, I could still feel the excessive sugar coursing through my bloodstream.

On the way back to the city, Amang and I decided to rescue a group of yuppie-looking locals whose boat had stalled. I learned that they were from Banjarmasin and were on their way to lunch at a riverside eatery, and invited me to sample the town’s specialty, Soto Banjar.

The dish consists of glass noodles, chopped ketupat (remember the triangular rice cakes painstakingly prepared by Indonesians on Idul Fitri?), chicken strips, slices of boiled egg, chopped liver, possibly some carrots and roasted garlic in broth. It sounds good, but I didn’t really like it, though I politely praised the hefty servings and inwardly winced at how fast everyone else was eating theirs, when I struggled to even finish mine.

They paid for my meal in thanks, and I finally went back to my hotel and slept until the late afternoon. I later decided to go on a culinary tour because by then, I had run out of sights to see. Let me just say that Lonely Planet got the food guide for Banjarmasin so wrong, because I was up for loads of disappointment.

Kadanangan, a restaurant listed in the guide book as having good Indonesian food, is a cow hide-themed restaurant with giant photographs of its owner, Tommy Kadanangan, from the time he was a chubby child coddled by his parents to the time he became the brand model for the restaurant.

I was asked to point to the food I wanted brought to me, and I chose what looked the least offensive, which turned out to be: fried spinach leaves, nasty cold corn fritters, lifeless bony barbecued sole and skewered liver which I mistook for satay. Thankfully, you only pay for what you eat on the plate, even if you ordered it.

Yasuka, a shop serving homemade ice-cream, served pretty interesting flavors for dirt cheap, though it managed to fuck up a simple strawberry ice-cream soda, which tasted like durian-flavored cough syrup.

So I slouched back to the hotel and resolved to try again that night, this time ditching the guide, and found a pretty decent cafe called Campung near the UFO-looking Mesjid Raya Mosque which served what would be the most comparatively spectacular meal I would have in South Kalimantan.

Balinese salad – Siyomay, eggs, tofu in peanut sauce
Sweet and sour chicken – served hot as it should

Of course, all the sugar and calories had me knocked out the next day, so I simply hopped on the plane and left. Though the food was generally abysmal, I had some pretty good memories of the place, especially my hotel’s mistake-riddled menu, which made me laugh all the way back to Jakarta.

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