Friday, December 26, 2014

Best of a TRAVELIFE 2014: Oxtail soup in Semarang, Indonesia was the culinary surprise of the year

In Semarang, Indonesia last February on a Silversea cruise stopoverliving a Travelife, we decided to spend one day sightseeing and sampling the local cuisine.

Until then, I had not met anyone yet who had told me that they were charmed by Semarang -- so I had few expectations for this city, which is Indonesia's third largest.

However, it turned out to be a very pleasant visit.

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It was just like many old towns with wondrous pasts. In fact, I was reminded of the crumbling town of Zanzibar, which I visited on holiday a little over one year ago.

Zanzibar is old and rundown, but it certainly looks beautiful if you try and imagine it ever so vibrant, many centuries ago.

Similarly, Semarang needs to be seen with rose colored glasses.

Basically, you should leave your cynicism and jaded attitudes at the airport, train station or port -- or whichever venue you are entering this city from.


I especially liked the old town and the many old kampungs, which I am sure must have looked so beautiful before.

Kampungs are neighborhoods, with a local association that governs and tells people how to live and get along well together.

In Semarang, I passed so many crumbling but still beautiful kampungs.

I could see that the houses in these kampungs must have been truly lovely from the architectural details and the intricate work.


For lunch, we decided to stop being adventurous, for once.

So far, while we were in Indonesia, we usually just left the lunch choice to our guide, with a request to be taken to the best local restaurant instead of a usual tourist joint.

We had been lucky so far, and the food everywhere -- including in the most unlikely looking places -- was all incredibly delicious.

But in Semarang, I simply said to the guide: "Please take us to the best hotel in town." And from there I thought we could just eat local food in their best restaurant.

I knew nothing about Semarang so I didn't have any inputs on the hotels, as I usually do.


The guide took us to the Ciputra Hotel, which was old but still very decent and nice.

There are newer hotels in Semarang, but I think the locals still consider the Ciputra Hotel as the grand old dame.

We went straight to their sole restaurant on the second floor.



Again, it did not look promising.

A lackluster buffet, few people for lunch, and pretty ordinary interiors.


We decided to order the oxtail soup because it was included in the part of the menu that said "Ciputra specialties."

Or something like that.

Then, just because we still had never ever had a plate of bad noodles in Indonesia so far, we also ordered a plate of the usual fried noodles.

Oh my goodness. These were so good.


I finished the oxtail by myself, and I was sorely tempted to order another version of it as well.

There were three versions of oxtail soup on the menu, you see, and one was boiled oxtail with vegetables. The other was a grilled oxtail with peanut sauce.

The latter made me think of kare-kare.

However the waitress spoke up: "The boiled oxtail soup is our specialty. Everyone orders this."

So I gave up the peanut version and was rewarded nicely with the most flavorful oxtail soup I have ever had. I could write poems about this soup.


The fried noodles were not at all bad, either.

But it was the oxtail soup at the Ciputra Hotel, served with lime and a spicy chili and papaya relish, that really made my day in Semarang.

It was probably the culinary surprise of the year, in 12 months of delicious eating all over the world, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


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