After the Cameron Highlands we were planning to go to an island in Southern Malaysia called Tioman. A chance encounter with an extremely well travelled couple in said highlands left us with an 11th hour change of plan, a quick booking of some flights and before you know it we were sat in Medan, in Indonesia's Sumatra. We're reasonably well travelled but this place was still quite a shock to the system, white folk numbered about 5 sightings for the day and we stuck out so much 2 groups of kids pulled us up over the course of the day so they could take a photo of themselves with us. Late in the evening we found ourselves in the local bus station, ready for a 12 hour coach journey to Banda Aceh so we could get the ferry to Pulau Weh, the real reason we'd left Malaysia. At the bus station we had our first great Indonesian food experience with a bowl of soto in a restaurant next door. This soto (there's rather a lot of them) was a watery, well spiced stew with some roasted then stewed dark meat served with a bowl of rice to spoon it over. It was gorgeous, and well worth a blogging, but as the entire restaurant full of men had already stopped eating to sit staring at the two foreigners eat the camera remained firmly in the bag. Sorry.
12 hours of coach, 2 hours of ferry and an hour of taxi and we were at Gapang Beach on Pulau Weh, the northern most tip of Indonesia - a volcanic island full of monkeys, giant bats and free range farm animals frequented by a handful of Westerners at a time who are there to explore the amazing underwater scenery. After the sato I had high hopes for the food but after a couple of days it was obvious that the people serving food here were doing so because they happened to own property on a beach that had started to become touristy, not because they could cook. The food wasn't bad but it wasn't local either, they basically fried some long keeping veg (onion, carrot, cabbage and cauliflower) and then put them with instant noodles - soup or fried - or fried rice. This was finished with a fried egg - they eat a lot of eggs out there - and some fried chicken or fish. Tasty but a bit repetitive after two weeks.
At the entrance to the beach there was a place everyone called the warung which served up nasi campur. This style of food, eaten daily by malays in both Indonesia and Malaysia, is pretty scary at first. At some point before lunch various fish, chicken, egg (boiled, fried, omelette - told you they liked them) and veg dishes are stuck in the window where they sit until they're eaten. No heating or refrigeration, just a nice squid curry sat in the 30 plus heat for a couple of hours till you turn up. As a child of kid gloves western society, where we're told anything, let alone sea food, must be cooled quickly and then straight away kept below a few degrees centigrade the first go is quite daunting. Due to this we didn't eat here until a couple of days before leaving. What a mistake, the food was divine. We had squid curry, curried jack fruit (I assume it's not ripe), kang kung and fried fish amongst others. So cheap too, with one piece of fish you paid 10,000 rupiah, with 2 pieces 15,000. Chicken or squid came in at 15,000 too. At the time of eating the exchange rate was about 16,000 to the pound. Since then I've eaten masses of these rice buffets and as yet have felt no ill effects so if you see one, and assuming you're a little daunted too, overcome your fears and crack on. Every one has been very tasty.
The best food experience from the beach was Mama Donut though. A good story always adds to the enjoyment and Mama had a fine one. Every day her husband sat at home making a plethora of steamed and fried delights - donuts, spring rolls, fried bananas, steamed buns with green beans, slices of spiced battered potato - and every afternoon she loaded up her plastic box and sat waiting for the dive boats to return so she could feed the hungry divers at 2,000 rupiah (c. 13p) a piece. In a country where many folk don't go to school too much the story goes that Mama Donut has put 12 kids through school with these donut sales, with the oldest 2 having been put through uni off the proceeds too. True or not that news made them taste so much sweeter.