Cooking with Nora – Indonesian cuisine on Sumatra

Our next destination was Bukit Lawang, one of the last remaining sites for wild orangutan spotting. The jungly Gunung Leuser national park is slightly commercialized, with tourists bringing both money which sustains the park and ilnesses which threaten the apes.

We stayed at a guesthouse operated by Nora, who every morning cooks copious amounts of food for her family and staff. As in most of Indonesia, the food cooked in the morning is supposed to last the whole day and is usually eaten without re-heating. This “family food” isn’t greatly popular with travellers, who instead opt for less spicy dishes a la carte.

Nora invited me to join her in the kitchen to help with making a curry (gulai) with veggies and tofu and fried fish with spicy sambal. The locals eat very little meat, small fish and chicken are the main fare here.

local market
local market

We began by grinding ginger, shallots, chilli peppers, garlic,  turmeric rhisome (or root) and candlenuts into a curry paste.  Then we cracked a coconut, scraped off the shreds using a  home-made coconut scraper, blended them with water and strained the mixture.


Into the wok went fresh lemongrass, curry leaves, coconut milk, the curry paste, salt and veggies. When the cooking was nearly completed, we also added tofu.


While I was tasked with watching over the boiling curry, Nora  tackled a large amount of red chillies, grinding them together with garlic, shallots and tomatoes.


The freshly caught fish got the deep-frying treatment. Same as the sambal, which was next added as a sauce on top of crunchy fishbits.


Nevermind it takes a hefty amount of time to make, Nevermind it’s hard physical labor. Nevermind (or at least pretend not to notice) we used refined oil… twice. It was well worth the effort. The result was so good, we forgot to take any photos. Anyway, I think the West has come a long way, since when I’m cooking from scratch with fresh, unprocessed ingredients be it at home or catering, people think I’m, well, a little bit bonkers.

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