Sunda, Words and photography by Will Meyrick

fWill Meyrick

With Scottish heritage, an Australian accent and an Indonesian home, the ‘street food chef’ Will Meyrick isn’t easily categorised. With three buzzing restaurants under his belt – Sarong and Mama San in Bali, and E&O in Jakarta – and a lust for culinary travel that keeps him on the road much of the time, what you have is one busy gastro-maestro. Will’s favourite go-to dish at home? Indo Mie.g

The view from the deck of the lounge at the Trans Luxury Hotel is cracking. Bandung spreads out in front of me in every direction. I’m happy to be back here in Sunda, the heart of West Java, and the hotel offers a cushioned start to what can be a bit of a rough-and-ready experience further out in the mountains. Sunda has always been a special spot for me. My wife is from Bandung and so the culture and traditions of Sunda are part of the heritage of our three children. With their Scottish-Sundanese family, you could say that the kids have a fairly unique take on the world.

Bandung is often referred to as the Paris of Java, but it’s also a foodie capital that offers some of the best gastronomic gems in the area..

While a street feast awaits to be uncovered tomorrow, we’re all a little tired, so tonight it’s dinner here. Hotel dining is often a bit hit-andmiss, with flavours sometimes diluted for lessexperienced palates, so I’m keen to see what their take on Sundanese cuisine might be.

nThe menu crowd-pleaser that is demolished by everyone, kids included, is the gepuk daging: beef that’s simmered in coconut milk with a good dose of lemongrass, tamarind, sugar and spices before being pounded until thin, then flash-fried. My pick is pepes peda: small banana-leaf parcels of salted fish with sliced leeks, shallots, ginger and ground chillies – much lighter and healthier, but still packing a real flavour punch. I salute the lads in the kitchen on a job well done!

Bandung is often referred to as the ‘Paris of Java’, but it’s also a foodie capital that offers some of the best gastronomic gems in the area, so bright and early we’re off to the market. The sprawling market around Jalan Otta Iskandar Dinata is a great place to see what the colourful food culture here is really made up of.

The Sundanese are all about fresh ingredients, with lots of vegetables and salads, medicinal herbs, salted fish and seafood, raw sambals and fermented foods. Minced meat and fish are often wrapped in banana-leaf parcels (known as pepes) and steamed; no oil, frying or rich sauces required.

With a focus on what’s found and foraged, it’s almost like the original Paleo diet, well before it became the newest nutritional fad for the Western world.

Traditional Sundanese food also rubs epicurean shoulders with Chinese flavours. Mie kocok, a bowl of steaming-hot noodle soup, is the perfect example of this cuisine’s cultural melting pot. The handmade egg noodles are chewy and dense, and they sit alongside beef skin and occasionally beef feet (though you can ask for it without). A generous handful of mung bean sprouts and some sliced Asian celery for balance, and it’s satisfyingly good.

oyou can get it at the market, Mie Kocok Pak Eman Putra (Jalan Trs Buah Batu No. 119) knocks out the best bowl of it in the area, so join the locals and make a beeline for their version, which comes in mismatched china bowls and is served up with big smiles.

Cassava punctuates the culinary landscape of Sunda. And the cafés of Jalan Braga are the place to go for colenak, a dish of peeled cassava sautéed in butter rendering it sweet, silky and sour in all the right ways. The classic way to have this is with shredded coconut caramel. I have a polished-up interpretation of this on the dessert menu at my Jakarta restaurant, E&O, which goes to show what a fan I am. It’s also a dish that’s part of the story of how I fell in love with my wife, and Indonesia along with her, as it’s the first Sundanese dish my wife introduced me to.

Dinner is a hillside affair at Kuliner Punclut Ciumbuleuit (Jalan Bukit Raya Atas). Located on a long, winding street, it’s filled with some of the most authentic Sundanese home cooking you’ll find in the country.

 The Sundanese are all about fresh ingredients, with lots of vegetables and salads, medicinal herbs, salted fish and seafood, raw sambals and fermented foods.

Ikan asin (salted fish) with Sundanese-style sambal hijau and ulukutek leunca, a dish of black nightshade and fermented soy beans. The freshest produce at the corner of a traditional market. The deck of the lounge at the Trans Luxury Hotel. Colonial architecture in Bandung’s urban centre. Pepes Ikan served on a banana leaf.

iWe snack on ikan jambal roti, an ingenuously salted fish with a nice, surprisingly clean flavour. Oncom, similar to tempe but made with peanuts instead of soy beans, is a popular ingredient in the region. Here it shows up on the menu as pepes oncom; roasted over charcoal then spiced and wrapped in the ubiquitous banana leaf before being roasted again. Double-cooked deliciousness.

Next stop: Garut. We travel down winding mountain roads, through deep valleys and climbing rice terraces. We’re here to watch adu domba, a quirky local event where a special local breed of rams compete to see who has the harder head – a concept that naturally appeals to any competitive chef!

Decorated rams strut into the ring like four-legged boxers and crack into each other for a few minutes. The obvious pride of their owners shows on the face of every farmer in the village. People cheer, children dance along the sidelines and the winning ram saunters off in the direction of his pen. It’s charmingly surreal.

qAfter a morning of adu domba, I’m ready for lunch. Rumah Makan Sarasa (Jalan Cihuni, Kadongora village) offers some of the best ikan cobek in all of Sunda. Gurami, a local river fish, is split and splayed then fried until golden. Generously topped with a dark, sticky, sweet soy sauce spooned over the top and served up with a side of the infamously mouth-scorching sambal hijau, a traditional Indonesian green chilli paste, it’s crunchy, sweet and hot-as-hell all at once. A winning dish.

For me, Sunda ticks all the boxes. I’m always happy to return, knowing that I’ll keep discovering new stories and new flavours. This is the kind of place you’ll want to visit with an open heart and a hearty appetite.

Ram fighting: traditional Garut folk culture.
The Sundanese adu domba Master of Ceremonies.
Burayot is a traditional Garut snack made of rice flour and palm sugar batter.
Decorated adu domba fighter.

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