A guide to Indonesia through the eyes of its locals

From a rich culinary scene to a plethora of natural wonders, three Indonesians wax lyrical about their country.

Kuta Bay, Lombok, Indonesia. 

Photograph by GETTY
By Julia Winterflood
Published 30 Oct 2021, 09:46 BST, Updated 10 Nov 2021, 15:56 GMT
Radin Sanko: Tour guide, Mandalika, Lombok

Radin Sanko: Tour guide, Mandalika, Lombok

Photograph by Radin Sanko

1. Radin Santo

Radin is a tour guide in Mandalika on Lombok island.

The world may love Bali, but Lombok is just as beautiful. Our white, sandy beaches are less crowded and the surrounding coastal landscapes — rolling, green hills and savannah — are spectacular. As a Mandalika local, I feel a great sense of pride sharing my hometown with travellers. Over time, we hope to share some of Bali’s spotlight.  

Mandalika is known for its annual, week-long Bau Nyale Festival. As part of a traditional ritual performed by the local Sasak people, hundreds flock to Seger Beach to gather iridescent, green, blue and gold sea worms (nyale), which are seen as an incarnation of the flowing locks of Princess Mandalika [a figure from local legend]. Famous for her beauty, princes from kingdoms far and wide were desperate to marry her. Overwhelmed with choice, she threw herself into the sea. Once a year, an abundance of worms emerge, which locals believe foreshadow bountiful harvests. They collect these worms and then they are cooked and eaten. 

We’re excited for the MotoGP World Championship Grand Prix in March 2022. The response from the community has been very supportive, and we hope it enables Mandalika to become better known to international travellers. The plan to develop Mandalika into an integrated resort area has been progressing for over a decade, so it’s great to see it finally happening. 

The most important thing tourists can do is help keep the beaches and surrounding environments clean. From majestic Mount Rinjani to the sparkling waters of Mandalika, we hope travellers respect our home and leave with cherished memories. 

Two local Sasak people gathering sea worms as part of the Bau Nyale Festival in Mandalika on Lombok island. 

Photograph by ALAMY

Ayu Gayatri Kresna: co-founder and Head Chef of Pengalaman Rasa restaurant, North Bali.

Photograph by Dodik Cahyendra

2. Ayu Gayatri Kresna

Ayu is the co-founder and head chef at Pengalaman Rasa, which offers authentic cooking classes and dining experiences in northern Bali, using traditional kitchen tools and utensils.

Bali’s must-try dish is betutu. A whole chicken or duck is covered in a complex mix of spices and aromatics known as base genep, then wrapped in palm bark and roasted atop a fire of rice husks for up to 12 hours. The tender, smoky meat falls away from the bone. It can also be steamed in a bowl for up to five hours on a woodfire stove. Often served at Hindu ceremonies, it epitomises the richness of Balinese spices. 

My journey to becoming a chef began in traditional markets. As time went on, I grew interested in learning about the sources of all the agricultural, plant and marine products. At Pengalaman Rasa, we curate flavour experiences that reflect local artisanal products, such as naturally fed black pigs, palm sugar, coconut oil, aromatic ginger and galangal. We call our activities ‘knowing the origin’ and are advocates of mindful consumption. 

Shallots, garlic and salt are essential in Indonesian cuisines. Indonesia is incredibly diverse — geographically and culturally — and our ingredients and dishes reflect that. Compared to other Indonesian fare, North Balinese cuisine uses a more intense blend of spices, and as the region lies between the ocean, mountains and agricultural areas, its produce is wonderfully varied. Farmers are still willing to plant local seeds, breed native chickens and ducks and maintain quality each step of the way. With so many fresh, seasonal ingredients, we never run out of ways to introduce them to guests at Pengalaman Rasa. 

Bebek betutu (Balinese roast duck).

Photograph by Stock food

Fransiska Anggraini: Founder and curator of Awesome Lasem, Lasem, Central Java.

Photograph by Fransiska Anggraini

3. Fransiska Anggraini

Fransiska is the founder and curator of Awesome Lasem, which produces authentic, hand-drawn batik cloths in Lasem, Central Java.

Lasem is a utopia of Indonesians celebrating their diversity. It’s always been very Chinese, but there are also a few pesantren [Islamic boarding schools]. In coffee shops, I see Chinese mingling with Javanese, and it’s beautiful to hear a gamelan orchestra [predominantly percussion instruments including gongs and metal-keyed instruments] performing at a temple to celebrate a Chinese holiday. Lasemese batiks [dyed cloth] reflect this: Chinese motifs include phoenixes, dragons, chrysanthemums, goldfish and peacocks, while non-Chinese motifs, inspired by the coastal environment, include sea grapes, spilled rice and Gunung Ringgit [a mountain], which date to the pre-Majapahit era. Tolerance isn’t something you can preach; you must experience it to understand how beautiful it is to celebrate differences. 

I first visited Lasem in 2008. I immediately fell in love with its food, people and batik; particularly the latter due to its interesting colours and motifs. I purchased many unique textiles during that first visit and photographed a few to gauge whether anyone wanted to own them. Some friends did, so I went home with a lot. Spying a business opportunity, I contacted a few ateliers and asked for photos of their available batiks. Then, everything fell into place. 

I believe artists shouldn’t be salespeople. They should leave the selling to others so they can create. This is where Awesome Lasem comes in: it distributes the best batiks from ateliers around Lasem and the neighbouring district of Pancur. The brand is unique because it offers something many batik-sellers lack: storytelling. I position hand-drawn batiks where they belong: as works of art.

A batik maker at work at Batik Seno, a gallery in Yogyakarta, Java.

Photograph by Superstock

For more inspiration and to plan your trip, visit Indonesia Travel on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter

Published in the Indonesia 2021 guide, distributed with the December 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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