5 'peranakan' dishes to try in Tangerang

As peranakan Chinese communities have blended their ancestors' culture with local cultures, communities in different places show diversity according to the local flavor.

Chinese-Indonesians in Tangerang, Banten, have different culinary delights from people of Chinese descent in West Jakarta's Chinatown, for example.

In the spirit of Chinese Lunar New Year, which this year will fall on Feb. 19, here are five signature foods that can mostly be found in Pasar Lama.

'Laksa' Tangerang

Laksa (rice noodles with coconut milk soup) is one of the famous dishes of peranakan communities in Southeast Asian regions like Indonesia and Malaysia. However, laksa Tangerang has its own unique signature.

Sitara, a 45-year-old vendor at Pasar Lama, said the main ingredients of laksa Tangerang were home-made rice noodles shaped like spaghetti, chicken stock, mung beans, potatoes and chives.

"Customers can choose laksa with boiled egg or roasted chicken," he said. Laksa with boiled egg is tagged at Rp 10,000 while with chicken is Rp 20,000.

Sitara, who has been selling laksa for 25 years, said his customers loved the coconut milk soup, which had a balanced consistency. "It is not too thick or too watery," he said.

Another famous site to enjoy laksa is the food stalls located near the Tangerang women's penitentiary on Jl. Muhammad Yamin.

'Kecap' Benteng

Almost every region in Indonesia has its own favourite type of kecap (sweet soy sauce). Tangerang's is called kecap Benteng.

There are two famous brands of kecap Benteng: Istana and SH.

Istana is produced by the Teng Giok Seng factory located near Pasar Lama, which began operating in 1882. Meanwhile, SH has been produced since 1920.

Both brands of kecap are still made traditionally, without any preservatives.

Rifky Kurniawan, a 24-year-old Tangerang resident, said kecap Benteng had a unique flavor that could not be imitated by other brands.

He said, therefore, that those who were accustomed to its taste would not use other brands.

"Istana is known to be best for meat stew while SH is for dipping sauce," he said, adding that most food vendors in Tangerang used kecap Benteng.

Rifky said the SH brand was now sold in supermarkets. "However, I just find them in Tangerang," he said.

SH (formerly Siong Hin) soy sauce is tagged at Rp 17,500 (US$1.35) for a 620-milliliter bottle, while Istana is Rp 16,000.

'Emping jengkol'

Emping (nut crackers) are usually only made using the nuts of the melinjo plant, but Tangerang residents have their own favourite emping made of jengkol (dogfruit).

Dharmawan, a 57-year-old grocery store owner, said that unlike when he was young, emping jengkol was now hard to find.

"It is a seasonal product. When the season comes, emping jengkol is sold out right away," he said, adding that this month was the season but his store was already out of stock.

Dharmawan said the price of emping jengkol was quite high, at around Rp 200,000 per kilogram.

Although it was hard to describe the flavor, Dharmawan said it was a delicacy for Tangerang people, especially Chinese-Indonesians.

Those who want to try emping jengkol can buy them, both raw and fried, at Pasar Lama. After consuming them, just pay attention to your breath.

'Ayam kluwak'

Ayam kluwak is a dish for special occasions, in particular, for the Chinese Lunar New Year feast.

The key ingredient of the dish is kluwak (black nut), which is commonly found in Southeast Asia.

The characteristic of the dish is the chicken turning a dark colour. Kluwak fruit, which is actually poisonous in its raw form, is also key to the dish's taste.

Iim Tjin Yo, 78, said ayam kluwak was usually given to parents during Chinese New Year.

"Giving delicious food is a symbol of our gratitude to our parents who have taken care of us," she said.

Pork satay

Pasar Lama's sate babi (pork satay) is famous among pork lovers. There are a number of vendors who sell grilled pork satay marinated in sweet soy sauce.

The vendors even open branches to meet popular demand. Popular outlets of "sate babi Pasar Lama" are a restaurant in the Gading Serpong housing complex in Tangerang regency and a night stall at Pasar Modern in BSD City, South Tangerang.

The equally famous side dish of the pork satay is sayur asin bakut (salted Chinese mustard in a pork broth).