The Kick of Minahasa Cuisine: Manado #1

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With constant blue skies and that faint smell of the sea that is somehow much more potent than any coastal city I’ve visited, the city of Manado in Northern Sulawesi is actually much more alluring in its appeal than we let slip under our noses. Especially in terms of cuisine. Having previously resided in Manado during those middle school years, there was not anything out of the ordinary upon my recent second visit there with my family.

Manado has a little bit of everything for beach bunnies and mountain-goers. From the lush view of the deep blue sea and its critters at Bunaken National Park to the cozy highlands of Tomohon and Tondano, there is always something to tickle our fancy. However, if there is one holy consistency, is the spiciness of almost every dish that one comes across.

Now, now, stick with me. There is no doubt that Padang, Sundanese food has been taking the reigns in terms of popularity but trust me, there is no use in comparing. Every type of Indonesian cuisine deserves their own praise.

One particular specialty is the existence of woku, rica-rica or dabu-dabu — equivalent of the sambal terasi that we often find in Sundanese cuisine, that’s usually comprised of fermented shrimp. The result, is more of a paste. However, Manadonese sambal doesn’t contain the sea critter. This becomes so due to the region’s rich variant of seafood, that a much fresher sambal or chilli paste is needed.

Woku: This tasty spice or bumbu comprises of red ginger, tumeric, candlenut, red chilli pepper, choped shallots, tomate, lemon or citrus leaf, lemon basil leaf and bruised lemongrass that gives us a delicious tang.

Dabu-dabu: Chopped red chilli peppers, shallots, red and green tomatoes, salt, sugar. Then, these spices are tastefully mushed together with calamansi juice or lemon juice. This bumbu is well-loved as a accompaniment of grilled fish.

Still, the spicy sambal is not monopolized by seafood because other meats go perfect with it. Oh, but I think it should be mentioned that the Manadonese are very open with their choices of meats. A source told me that before the region converted to Christianity in the early 16 and 17th, animism was a common ideology. So, to this day citizens are well-accustomed to eating whatever walks on land and flies in the air — as what other Indonesians like to say in jest (and perhaps with a little bit of “yuck!”). Anyways, let’s take a look at some Manado’s spiciest from of our sudden trip (which will be unraveled in another post).

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Cakalang fufu, or skipjack tuna – the region’s most coveted fish with spicy rica-rica. After visiting Manado, there is almost, always a big chance that you will take the fish home. Sellers will usually sell the cakalang on roadside makeshift stalls that are already smoked on sticks that they will gladly pack in cardboard boxes for you.

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Sate babi or pork skewers topped with none other than rica-rica. The freshness of Manadonese sambal makes a far more flexible condiment of other types of meat.

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Dabu-dabu that’s prepared separately so that people are free to scoop some up based on whatever dish they choose.

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Gohu is Manado’s version of the asinan that the district of Bogor in West Java is widely famed for. Dishes like this are of pickled vegetables or fruits such as young papaya for Gohu. Although it’s not a favorite of mine, I often see a handful of Manadonese from all walks of life savor this refreshing dish morning and night. But mind you, it can get (of course) very spicy despite the underlying sweetness from brown sugar.

Manadonese cuisine can immediately catch your gaze because of what looks like a vicious tint of sunset on its dishes.

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Should you not take a previous statement of mine seriously, this dish (Somehow hidden in the back of the kitchen. It could be that they were not putting it aside in case anyone gasps in shock, but rather to save it for later) is snake with woku.

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Paniki, or spiced bat. Although it looks dry in this picture, the broth to season the meat of our nocturnal critter is coconut milk. The spices that come with it are rich with ginger, candlenut, tumeric and lemongrass to name a few.

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So, to close off our spicy trip, the Manadonese still knows how to conjure up some comforting selections of food to ease our burning tongues. Steamed buns in Manado come in the name of Biapong with various fillings such as red-bean and pork that one can enjoy over coffee and tea. We ventured to one particular food stall that was our late Opa’s favorite, located just in the South Minahasa Regency of Amurang called Kedai Topas.

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Our final dessert is the Es Kacang or in literal English translation, ice peanuts! Es Kacang can be served in different ways depending on food stall we decide to go to that day. The peanuts used can be both groundnuts, as well as red kidney beans. Shaved ice brings the cooling sensation that we seek, and it could either be covered in liquid brown sugar, or condensed milk with bright syrup.

So, those are the highlights for us to revel in. I do apologize for some lack of photo quality as this trip as it was quite sudden. Mark your calendar and squeeze in some time to visit Manado and relish in their cuisine. I dare you.

Cheers!