At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


One of the things I always have with me is my little brown notebook. To some people, it serves as the perfect illustration of either my peculiarities (non-existent, I assure you), or my high degree of neurosis (equally non-existent - I really have to stop associating with people who recognize imaginary psychological conditions).

What is it about the notebook that excites their delusion?

I have no clue.

It is a perfectly normal thing.....
The first page has the opening invocation for shadow-plays, recited while the audience comes together and the gamelan players stroke the starting rhythms, the last page has, of course, the closing invocation (exvocation?), which returns the numinous-powers to their proper places and reseals the boundaries.

[Indonesian shadow-plays are in many ways exorcistic and ritualistic reframings of the mundane world, and it seems appropriate to begin and end the notebook in that fashion. Even though I replace the notebook when it fills up, I prepare the new notebook with the same opening and closing texts before adding aught else.]

For the rest, the notebook is fairly simple and entirely unsurprising. From front to back, vocabulary notes for Tamarao (an Indonesian regional language), entries in capitals, explanation in cursive. From back to front, phone numbers, addresses, key recipes, miscellaneous notes and inventory lists for my pipe-tobacco stockpile. I gradually add material to both the front and the back entries - After several months the blank pages in between narrow down to only a few unwritten leaves near the middle, whereupon I prepare a new notebook to take its place.

A sampling from the current notebook:

[Page 26]
TUNGKAWAN = Fortified multi-level agricultural storehouse.
TUMPAK, TUMPAROK = Stylized lightening bolt motif used in jewelry.
SAHUI = Ritual guest group or secondary ethnicity whose societal presence serves as guarantor or fair witness.
DJAMBO-DWIPA = The Rose-Apple (djambu) Island (dwipa); Sanskritic term for the Eurasian landmass. Note that djambo also means tuft or tassel (djambo-tumendjok = decorative turban tuft).
SAMPI = Volunteer. Self-sacrificiant. Not to be confused with 'sampe'.
SAMPAHI, SAMPAI, SAMPE = Until. Upon meeting. Next.


As you can tell, it is not alphabetic. Entries grow as I remember words, or something reminds me of a locution. It is a record of recollected word-glitterings.

The recipes near the back are far less haphazarded.

Here are two, which by themselves neatly nearly define the Dutch East Indies taste.

[Toasted coconut shred condiment]

One cup shredded coconut.
Half cup cashews.
Half teaspoon each: ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric, sugar, salt.
Quarter teaspoon each: cinnamon powder, dry ginger.
Pinch: mace, cayenne.
Half tablespoon each: Louisiana hot sauce, lime juice.
Dash of hot water.

Whisk all flavourings till sugar and salt dissolve. Toss everything together to coat, let stand for an hour. Toast, spread out on a tray, for one and a half to two hours at 225 degrees Fahrenheit. It will be brown and crispy at this point. Can be kept in a jar with a screw-top lid for up to four or five weeks - but you will have eaten it before then.

This is used as a textural side-dish, adding crunch to curries and stews. It can also be eaten plain, or strewn over rice. Unlike the standard version, which you are probably used to, it contains no fish-paste, and no huge amount of palm-sugar (Javanese like much more sweetness than is strictly normal).

I have substituted cashews for peanuts - some people are allergic to peanuts.

[Sweet soy-sauce]

Half cup each: sugar (white, or white and dark mixed), Kikkoman soy sauce.
Two tablespoons each: sherry, dark vinegar.
One teaspoon salt.
One whole star anise, one or two slices of ginger, and a clove or two.

Put everything except the vinegar and half of the soy sauce into a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring, till the sugar is fully dissolved and the liquid syrupy and starting to foam. Stir in the remaining soy sauce and in a minute or so turn off the heat. Let it cool and strain it into a bottle. Use the dark vinegar to swish the remaining syrup coating the inside of the saucepan, and add to the bottle.

This is as close to typical Dutch and Indonesian sweet soy sauce as you can get, and far better than most brands. Plus you know exactly what is in it.

We use it in any number of dishes, but it is also good drizzled over roasted meats such as saté or little grilled lamb chops. Try it on your fried eggs.

These two preparations, along with at least one jar of chili-paste, can be found in countless Dutch kitchens world-wide. Their uses are legion.



Sarundeng (Dutch spelling: seroendeng) is based on the root 'unde', which applies to substances with a coconut meat base or a strong coconut taste. Such as undé undé - a sweet sticky shreddy compound used to fill sweet dumplings or little crepes. The praefix sa/sa(r/l/g) indicates that the substance is entirely identified with the meaning of the root word, the 'ng' ending makes it an independent noun.
Ketjap is the same word as ketchup. But not the same substance. In both Hokkien and Cantonese 'keh-tshap' (茄汁) indicates a tomato juice preparation or compound. Keh is short for 'fan keh' (蕃茄 - Barbarian eggplant, hence tomato), tshap (汁 - chup, tseap) means juice or expressed liquid. By pulping and condensing tomatoes with some vinegar (醋 - tchew) and salt (鹽 - yin) one achieved a flavour -additive that kept on sea voyages and was pretty good with fish. In Malaya, the settled Chinese eventually replaced the vinegar with soy sauce (a natural development, given that there were already so many sour flavourings commonly used locally), and ended up omitting the tomatoes altogether. Ketjap at that point simply meant a flavoured compound sauce (such as mushroom flavoured soy sauce, shellfish flavoured soy sauce, gingered soy sauce, etc.) similar to 'condensed sauce' (滷 汁 - lutjap; rice wine, spices, and soy sauce, simmered down), and eventually came to mean soy sauce itself - the basis of flavoured cooking sauces. The postfix 'manis' means sweet. Regular unsweetened soy sauce is ketjap asin - salty soy sauce.

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  • At 11:46 AM, Blogger Lemuel said…

    Selamat malam. Good evening, blogmaster. It frightens me. We have too much in common:-) You told us about durian. Now you mention such a delicious thing as sarundeng. (Yes, I would have written Dutch spelling). Do you too like Indonesian food? Sarundeng with peanuts and only white rice is perfect.

  • At 5:23 PM, Blogger Spiros said…

    Not presuming to speak for the entire blogsphere, but I have to say it is a rare privilage to be allowed into your little brown notebook.

  • At 7:11 PM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    Salamat page, ande Lemuel.

    Simplest good meal: white rice, sambal, steamed fish or soy-sauce chicken. With dressed bitter melon (asinan pareya) on the side.

    Asinan Pareya:
    One green bitter melon, seeded and sliced.
    One small (Roma) tomato, sliced.
    One scallion (green onion), minced.
    Dashes of olive oil, lime juice, petis (liquid fish sauce - for kosher, omit or substitute soy sauce).
    Generous pinch of sugar.
    Plenty salt.

    Salt the bitter melon well, let it stand for an hour. Drain, rinse, squeeze. And repeat.
    Mix everything, let it stand a while, and remix before serving. A few sliced green chilies can be added at the salting stage. Wash your hands well afterwards - and do not wipe your eyes.

    If you keep the asinan overnight in the refrigerator, the bitter melon will have lost much of its bitterness. So it is best to eat it fresh.

  • At 6:05 AM, Blogger Lemuel said…

    Wow. A pity I haven't got the bitter lemon at home. Too late to go out and buy it (Sjabbat). The more bitter, the best.
    Chag sameag, veSjabbat sjalom.

  • At 9:44 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    No no, not bitter lemon. Your eyes tricked you.
    Bitter melon - momocordica charantia. It is a cucurbit, related distantly to cucumber, which can also be treated in the same fashion.

    Pareya in my speech, peria in standard Malay/Indonesian. In casual speech 'pedi'. Fu kwa in Cantonese, Handal in Arbic.

    As in the Arabic saying "ammar min al handal" - more bitter than the bittermelon. Said of unpleasant choices and conditions.

    In Urdu it is called karela.

    But salted dressed lemon, while not the same, is also a tasty relish. The Sicilians and North Africans treat it thus, with paprika and cayenne added for both flavour and colour.

  • At 9:45 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    Oh, and chag sameach to you likewise. Have a good sukkos.

  • At 1:36 PM, Blogger Lemuel said…

    I'm sorry. I know it is bitter melon. We are talking about the same. Though I also know the salted lemon you talk about. Sometimes it is dressed in vinegar.
    But I never expected a conversation like this on a Jewish blog. My background is in very ways very mixed and I like the idea to chat about Judaism and related subjects (that's my first interest), and about other things like food.
    I'll combine the two: choumous is one of my favourites. It's always present at the Sjabbat meals.

    Sja'oeva tov, mijn vriend (my friend). See what I mean?


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