Bandung is a kind of culinary heaven for food-lovers in Indonesia. Aside from its delicious regional specialties, Bandung’s culinary scene is also renowned for its high level of creativity. Take the popular brownies kukus , or steamed brownies, for example. Instead of being cooked the usual way, by being baked in an oven — a rare piece of machinery in a Bandung kitchen — these brownies are steamed instead.
Because of the creative cooking process, brownies kukus has become an essential souvenir for day-trippers from Jakarta.
But in my opinion, the creativity of Bandung cuisine can best be seen in the names of the food. Many Bandung street snacks are given inventive acronyms, using a combination of Sundanese and the national Indonesian language.
Here are just some of the ‘snackronyms’ you can expect to see on the streets of Bandung.
Basreng is a contraction of baso goreng , or fried meatballs. These meatballs, known as baso, or bakso , are usually served with noodles and broth, but this time the process is to fry them. Basreng is split into two types: wet and dry. Wet basreng is a fried meatball ready to be enjoyed as is. Meanwhile, dry basreng is aired out to the point that the taste and texture is similar to that of prawn crackers. Both are wonderfully spicy and savory — the perfect appetizer.
Batagor is short for baso tahu goreng, or fried tofu balls. The main ingredients in batagor are the same as those in tofu balls, that is wheat flour dough and mackerel fish. One portion of this dish in Bandung is generally made up of fried tofu balls and fried siomay dumplings, served with a peanut sauce and drizzled with kecap manis, or sweet soy sauce. To enhance the aroma, lime juice is also sometimes squeezed over the top.
Those who love tofu snacks are surely already familiar with this little treat. Gehu is short for tauge tahu, or bean sprouts and tofu. The combination is as follows: triangle-shaped tofu is split down the middle and filled with fresh bean sprouts. Then the whole lot is dipped in batter (wheat flour mixed with water) and deep-fried, putting it in the street cart category of gorengan, or fried things. This kind of snack is best enjoyed with friends while drinking coffee or tea and having a relaxed chat.
Aci digemol , or rolled starch — that is where this snack gets its name. In Sundanese, digemol means to be rolled into a ball. The main ingredient needed to make cimol is starch flour. The flour is rolled into a ball as big as a quail egg, then quickly deep-fried. It is then sprinkled with spices or chili powder. Snack sellers have developed many creative flavors for these snacks, such as cheese, grilled corn, balado and barbecue.
Comro and misro
These snacks are identical from the outside. In fact, even the cooking process is pretty much the same for both. But, as we all learn through life, it’s what’s inside that really counts. Comro is an acronym for oncom dijero, or oncom inside. That means it’s filled with oncom, a West Javanese specialty that is similar to tempeh. Oncom is basically a fermented mish-mash of all the good stuff left over from making tofu, peanut oil and cassava starch. Meanwhile, misro is short for amis dijero, or sweet inside. Palm sugar is the compulsory filling for this authentic snack. Together, they are the perfect snack to while away the afternoon, pleasing all tastes.
Cireng stands for aci digoreng, or fried starch. If I may say so, the taste of cireng is almost the same as that of prawn crackers. That is to say, there is no taste. Even so, this snack is one that is never lonely for buyers. Cireng is included in the category of gorengan, which usually includes gehu, bakwan fritters and pisang goreng, or fried banana. It is very simple to make. Starch flour is simply mixed with water and then deep-fried. The resulting texture is very chewy, like bubblegum.
There is a classic Sundanese musical drama by the name of “Colenak,” which describes in song the origins of this favorite confectionary: “ Colenak, dicocol enak/Colenak, peuyeum Bandung/Ketuangan sederhana istimewa ” (“Colenak, dipped in deliciousness/Colenak, the fermented cassava of Bandung/A simple specialty dish”). Yes, the major ingredient of colenak is peuyeum, known elsewhere as tape singkong, or fermented cassava. The peuyeum is grilled, then drizzled with melted palm sugar syrup, grated coconut and ground peanuts. Hawkers often enhance the aroma of colenak by adding jackfruit or durian flavor.
One snack that is easy to find in Bandung, and almost everywhere in West Java, is cilok. It is sold at schools, on roadsides, in markets and in housing complexes. It could be said that cilok is Bandung’s favorite snack. The name is short for aci dicolok, which translates to the unfortunate English name “plugged starch.” The starch flour is rolled into a ball and then steamed. For the filling, there are different kinds of minced or shredded meat. After it is steamed, the cooked cilok is pierced with a satay stick and served with a side of spicy sauce.