Food in Sumba
When we moved to Waingapu – Sumba, our house was still under construction. Only 1 room was made usable. In the bathroom concrete floor and there was a hose attached to the tap mimicking a shower. We really didn’t mind, because we knew it was temporary and the beginning of our new life was way too exciting to be put off by small things like missing European style comfort.
Our Christmas menu was tinned sausages, bread and baked beans. I must admit, this was a bit hard to live with, because the sausages were disgusting, but we spent the entire time laughing about how awful they were and wishing we had bought more than 1 can of baked beans.
My kitchen wasn’t going to be ready for a long time, however we purchased a garden grill for the large terrace upstairs. We brought the grill over from Bali on the plane a few months after moving to Waingapu. I must tell you, my life revolves around food, so having no kitchen was a hard, but having no proper food for months, was the hardest. We ate takeaway from the only restaurant that served fairly edible food. Whenever I talk to people who have been to Sumba they unanimously say that the food is horrible here. The very last occasion we’ve ordered Nasi Goreng / Fried Rice, (on the day we were going back to Bali for visa run) I could not eat it, because it was sickeningly greasy. That was it for me! On the way back the garden grill came with me to Sumba.
I was very excited… I was also indecisive… Where was I supposed to prepare any food, when the entire house was a building site. The garden grill was there, the ingredients for making a nice loaf of bread were there, the ingredients for making a scrumptious aubergine dip were there, the willingness was also overflowing, but there was no appropriate space for it to happen.
I felt a bit disheartened, I was giving up on the whole idea of preparing my own food, when I suddenly managed to see the entire situation from a different perspective; my neighbors don’t have kitchen, they make fire every evening and cook outside in the open air in their garden.
Why am I so lost? If they can do it, I can do it too. I was in a much better position than them, in posession of a garden grill. In the room where we were living, there was lovely tiled floor, with huge 60×60 tiles. I quickly and thoroughly cleaned one of the tiles and nominated it as a work surface for kneading my very first bread in Sumba.
That day, the experimentation for creating a food menu for Villa Amidala had began. There were some challenges needless to say. For example finding fresh eggs was equal to impossible. Once I found a chick inside an egg… Since then I found a shop where I can buy fresh eggs, but it took some trial and error.
For some time I checked the eggs by floating them in a pot of water. If they float, they are old, if they sink to the bottom, they are fresh. Many times I didn’t even bother breaking the eggs that floated in my pot of water. I smelled once too many times the odor of a stale egg and I did not wish to repeat the experience. Later I learned that this method of testing the freshness of eggs is not actually that accurate. Just saying…
Buying meat in Sumba is also rather challenging. There is no problem with the freshness of the chicken, because it gets killed after you’d picked the one you want to buy. It’s still warm when you place it on you kitchen counter. It can’t get fresher than that. Sumbanese chicken are organic, therefore rather small… this is okey too, but listen to this:
Following our eating habits, we bought 2 chickens weekly when I started preparing our meals myself. After about a month, our manager who was entrusted with the honorable task of getting the chicken for us, came back one day without any chicken. He told us that we’ve bought all the chicken in the area and we had to wait for about a month for the little ones to grow big enough…
We learned that an average Sumbanese family consumes 1 or 2 chicken per year. Oh dear! In only one month, we managed to eat the yearly chicken supply of at least 4 families. That day we decided to reduce our chicken consumption and experimented with fish instead. We are not great fish lovers… I love smoked salmon, but in Sumba you won’t find that… I can eat tuna… I love grilled grouper, but I can’t prepare it the way our favorite guy does it in Bali.
What I’ve learned about fish is not a lot, but is enough for me. The darker the flash of a fish, the chewier it is, with a very intense fish taste. The whiter the flash of the fish, the more tender it is with a mild taste that resembles chicken. We always go for the white fish at the fish market.
We’ve replaced meat with tempe and tofu. Tofu is well known compared to tempe, however tempe is healthier and in my opinion more delicious. Both of them are soy bean products with high protein content. In Waingapu there are some tempe / tofu factories… Oh my Lord, if you want to taste something divine, you get some super fresh produce for yourself there. The stuff you get from the local market is sometimes 3 – 4 days old… The fresh ones are not only more delicious, but much cheaper too.
We eat a lot of tomato, therefore I was very keen on growing my own tomato plant. At one point I had 36 plants. I was already thinking of ways of preserving tomato, when unfortunately I had to realize that all flowers dried off before they could turn into fruits. Tomato mission failed. The seeds were brought over from Hungary. Maybe Hungarian tomatoes are not resistant to Sumba climate. Oh well, we’ll try again. Nevertheless I made tomato jam, because during my research I became too curious of what it would be like. It’s nice.
Feel free to share your experience in regards to the topic.