Flores, land of honey and palm sugarPosted by Petty Elliott · 1 comment
Petty Elliott visited Flores in search of its best ingredients and found a perfect romantic island getaway.
The Portugese name for flowers gives only a hint to the history of this often overlooked part of Indonesia. A passing Portugese mariner coined the name, perhaps it reminded him of the other Flores Island in the Azores, the westernmost part of Europe deep in the Atlantic and indeed famed for its wild flowers. We may never know. Our Indonesian Flores is an island 375 kilometre long from west to east with a sole potholed road across it. The island lies beyond the famous Wallace line, between Bali and Lombok, where oriental fauna ends and that typical of Australia, begins. And it has been talked about over the past couple of years as the next Bali or Lombok and as a major tourist destination. The Government seems committed having expanded the airport runway.
The view from the plane window was of almost endless islands scattered across dreamy turquoise seas topped with dry grassy hills, in distinct contrast to the dark green jungle of Bali. Touchdown in Labuan Bajo, revealed even more contrasts, so relaxed after the hustle and bustle of Bali. Capital of the West Manggarai Regency in the Northwestern part of the island Labuan Bajo is more popular than Kupang, the capital of East Nusa Tenggara from both investors and curious visitors, both local and international.
My first visit to Labuan Bajo nearly two years ago is still a fresh memory, joining a group of people from the Indonesian Heritage Society. No time then to explore Komodo and Rincha island as we were destined to head in the other direction, for Denge village, just 158 kilometres distant but an incredible eight hours drive. The following morning, a welcome recovery from the bumpy ride, found us trekking for over four hours to reach Waerebo traditional village. Among our party was Yori Anthar, prominent Indonesian architect. Yori runs Rumah Asuh, a project to preserve Indonesian architecture in remote places around Indonesia.
Life in Waerebo was fascinating, filled with so many ceremonies and cultural events including caci dancing and the penti ceremony to celebrate the New Year.
We ate three times a day, but the same menu each time of fried chicken, clear pork soup, simple vegetables and rice. It was basic but freshly cooked and often followed with the most delicious passion fruit I have ever tasted in my life, a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity with a mesmerizing fragrance. Sadly, there was not enough to enjoy all the time. The coffee served was deliciously smooth, full bodied with little acidity. These were some of the wonderful memories of that trip and in 2012 Wae rebo received a UNESCO award in for the preservation of local culture and architecture.
Back to the present and things have changed in two years at Labuan Bajo. This time I would make the trip to visit Komodo Island. And like last time my hunt for unique local ingredients would continue.
Speaking of local ingredients, I was surprised to find two decent restaurants in Labuan Bajo, which used mostly local ingredients, especially for seafood and vegetables – made in Italy and Mediterranean. Both offer Italian cuisine. I ordered stone oven pizza and seafood pasta at Made in Italy which deliciously impressive. I was fascinating with the locally craft stone oven. The food was tasty and full of flavours with quality ingredients. Some ingredients, especially meat, cream and limited cheese came through Bali supplier. Both Pizza and pasta had more superior flavour to many pizza and pasta places in Jakarta.
I decided to have dessert and coffee at Mediterranean restaurant, opposite Made in Italian. The mix flavours of pannacota were the winner which even better with a wonderful ocean view. These two restaurants put the restaurants standard very high to Labuan Bajo. Sadly, I could not find any impressive a restaurant with local cuisine.
Before heading to angle Island, the following morning, I went to Labuan Bajo market which very close to the sea. Obviously there were many fresh looking fish around from snapper to baby tuna. The market was small and very traditional which need lots of improvement. I have been told to go to a different market up the hill for more variety of vegetables and spices.
I found a very interesting looking palm sugar wrapped in smoky palm lontar leaves which infused smoky flavour to the palm sugar block. I bought around 10Kg palm sugar with thinking that I could create something different back home. Palm sugar is versatile. We can make palm sugar syrup and use it as honey or maple syrup. It is great to make banana palm sugar bread, ice cream or add palm sugar to curry sauce or barbeque sauce with tamarind, chilies and shallots.
Tamarind pulp was also available everywhere. It is a pity that could not find any cashew nut, vanilla pods and candle nuts as I remembered on my Waerebo trip; the tour guide informed they are the top local products from this area.
Sumbawa Island, another famous Flores’ island is well known for its honey. Fortunately Sumbawa honey is easy to buy in some supermarket in Jakarta. It has beautiful amber colour with flour fragrance and taste. Honey is versatile ingredients, not only for beverages but also for cooking.
It is delicious to make honey lime cake, honey, mustard and garlic dressing, honey, chilies and lime roast chicken and many more.
I spent 4 days in Angle diving resort. It was wonderful place with pristine water and private beach. It located only 30 minutes with boat from Labuan Bajo. From Angle resort, I visited Rincah and Komodo Island to see the mighty Komodo dragon. Kanawa Island diving resort was a paradise with beautiful diving, snorkeling and clear water. It was unbelievable beautiful and romantic place.
This article was first published in Now Jakarta Magazine on February 2014