Top 5 Sasak Dishes; Lombok Specialities
Indonesians adore their food. I have yet to meet one whose eyes don’t light up at the mention of a good rendang, bakso, or ayam rica-rica. And being such
a diverse country, each area is famous for one or two specialities. Padang rendang (hot dry beef curry) is legendary, as is Solo nasi liwet (coconut
rice) and Bali bebek betutu (grilled duck). Lombok is no different. In fact, Lombok means ‘chilli’, so no surprises as to what a key ingredient is!
And sure enough, it’s a central component of 4 of the 5 Sasak dishes below.
Perhaps the most famous is ayam taliwang. Young local chickens are used (ayam kampung) which are typically full of flavour (if not size), thanks to all
that time running around the village. This chicken is grilled in spices, usually chillis, garlic, shallots, tomato, brown sugar and shrimp paste. Ayam
taliwang is almost always served with white rice and plecing kangkung.
This veggie dish gets wheeled out on a seemingly daily basis. Basically, it is made up of boiled water spinach, which is then covered in a sauce of fresh
red chillies (here we go again), garlic, tomatoes, roasted shrimp paste, bean sprouts, grated coconut and lime. It is fresh and zesty, though personally
I often find it a little heavy on the shrimp paste side. Some people throw some roasted peanuts on top and hey presto, vegetables with a kick.
Bebalung translates as ribs. Beef or goat ribs are used in this soupy dish, with the meat falling off the bone in that time honoured tradition of cooked
for hours. Yum. Fortunately for those of you whose guts are not such big fans of the fiery chilli, this dish has the chilli served on the side, so
always a good one to order. It often makes an appearance at special gatherings or in many restaurants as well.
This one translates as speeding rice. Why? One story goes that the seller used a motorbike, and customers had to run after him to get their rice; hence
the name. Another, perhaps more likely, is that a kid used to win bike races, so after each win would shout his friends lunch at his grandma’s food
stall. His grandma, Inaq Esun (Mother/Mrs Esun) in Mataram, is widely held as the pioneer of nasi balap and still holds the reputation for the stand
out nasi balap restaurant. Definitely worth a try if you ever find yourself in Mataram. Back to the food though, nasi balap is a mixed plate of mixed
rice, dried chicken, roasted soybeans, dried little shrimp and chilli paste (sambal), and is typically sold at little food stalls or speciality warungs.
Coming in at number 5 is the Sasak speciality of ares banana curry. Interestingly, it seems not all bananas are created equal, as only the tender stem
of the kepok banana tree makes the cut. This banana is apparently not readily available in markets, but is planted at home specifically to become
the key ingredient for the this dish. The banana stem is then cooked with chicken or fish, turmeric, coconut milk and (you guessed it) chillies.
Not surprisingly, it isn’t whipped out for any old day, but reserved for hajatan, or celebrations and feasts.
And there we are. Five Lombok dishes you should give a go if you see them on the menu. Unless you don’t like chillis. Then perhaps stick with the Bebalung. Hold the hot sauce.