Surprise food

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There’s nothing better than surprise food, in my humble opinion.  Surprise food is the kind of food that comes presented in a way so that you don’t quite know what’s inside.

I first became a fan of surprise food back at the tender age of 16 when I was on a school trip in Vietnam.  We went to a great little cafe in Hoi An where a dish was delivered to our table wrapped in banana leaves.

What could be inside?

SURPRISE FOOD!  Inside was the most beautiful fish cooked in chili and lemongrass.

When I was in Eastern Europe, there was a very special sub-set of surprise food, which I called “surprise meat”.  Surprise meat popped up everywhere.  Something that looked like a perfectly normal potato would have pork inside.  A potato pancake would have surprise bacon in the middle.  A bread roll that you bought from a street vendor would have a surprise meatball in the middle. It was an exciting time, especially after my six months of nearly-vegetarianism in the UK.

In Sydney, ordering dosa from my favourite Indian place, Maya, was also an exercise in surprise food.  Instead of asking what things were on the menu, I would confidently just point at a combination from the dosa list, and then be surprised when ripping into the pancake to find spinach and cheese or chickpeas.  It was always good.

Or getting a mixed plate of dumplings at a Chinese restaurant!  Too good!

So, when I was in Bogor yesterday, I saw a banana leaf-wrapped dish and immediately ordered it.  These kinds of dishes are like Christmas!  It’s so exciting.


What could be inside?  I pulled out the toothpicks, unfurled the leaves and discovered…


SURPRISE! Salted fish in curry! It was pretty yummy. Very salty fish though.

But I had this yummy Strawberry drink to wash it down.


Very agreeable.  But in Indonesia, I’ve noticed there is also this thing called “surprise additional sugar”.  Everything sweet has added sugar on top of its normal sweetness.  For example, you ask for a coffee, and it comes out already very sweet, with three huge sachets of sugar sitting next to the plate (the sachets of sugar here are always at least two teaspoons in size, if not three or four).  When you order a fresh fruit juice, there is always extra sugar in it.  You can tell.

This drink had a fair whack of surprise additional sugar in there.  But it had been a busy day, so I didn’t care too much.

2 Responses to " Surprise food "

  1. Barb.Rolek says:

    I loved this post. I talk about the fact that Eastern Europeans love food hidden inside other food — pampushki, pierogi, mamaliga balls. On and on. I have recipes for these dishes if you’re interested.

  2. Novia says:

    Ah, you were in Bogor! Where did you go to get that surprise salted fish?