Tag Archives: indonesia

The Power of Dangdut: Stairway to Pantura


The very first Indonesian word i learned when i came to Jakarta the first time was “macet” (traffic jam). The second was dangdut.

Someone came to pick me up when i landed at the Soekarno Hatta airport and, after we dribbled the fake taxi drivers who ask 300.000 rupiah to get to the centre of the town (the average is about 120) and the guys who offer themselves to carry your luggage to the taxi for 100.000 rupiah, we finally stepped into a taxi, a real one. After 2 minutes we were already stuck in the jam, not moving at all.

“Macet” the taxi driver said, whose meaning i discovered to be “traffic jam”, a word that i could never forget anymore (we took 2 and half hour to get to Jakarta that day).

Can you see me? I'm the one in the blue car. (Bay Ismoyo/GettyImages)

Can you see me? I’m the one in the blue car.
(Bay Ismoyo/GettyImages)

So, well, we were there, in the traffic, the taxi was stinking of dirty feet and weird cigarette smoke, i was getting nervous, not a good start for sure but… From the speakers of the car a music was gently invading my mind. A music i never heard before, with an enchanting rhythm. A sweet flute, percussions and a thin feminine voice were drilling into my brain

“What the hell of music is this?” I asked to my friend.
“That’s dangdut, Indonesian music,” he answered.
“I love it,” i said. And since that day, like the word “macet”, dangdut never left me alone.

If you are Indonesian you know what i’m talking about. If you are not, go have a look on Youtube, digit dangdut and you will soon know what it is.

I have learned most of my English thanks to rock and roll. When i was a young teenager i was used to spend most of my time (at least the one spared from porn and video games) listening to old English rock, mostly from the ’70, digging into the lyrics and the music, and in this way i learned the language. Led Zeppelin, Queen, Deep Purple, Janis Joplin and Pink Floyd were my teachers. So i said, why don’t we give dangdut a chance? Who knows, maybe i can learn Bahasa Indonesia faster than i think. I was delusional.

If you approach Indonesian music you will soon discover that, if your target is the pop music, most of the songs are based on few words, repeated and mixed, but still the same words: “Cinta” (love), “Kangen” or “Rindu” (missing), “Selamanya” (for ever), “Putus” (break up), “Asmara” (romance) and few others. You can’t learn that much. Yes, you learn for sure how to say “I love you” to a girl, but not much more. The 90% of the pop songs are love songs and that’s it.

But if your target is dangdut, like it was mine, you have a larger range of scenarios to explore. Well… Not really.

Let’s divide the complete discography of dangdut in 2 parts: songs by female singers and songs by male singers.

I love dangdut but of course i’m not an expert, my knowledge is not that huge but I soon realised that, when you listen a dangdut song by female singers, the topics are just 2: sex (mostly as a victim) and cheating men. Period.

The lyrics of the songs by female dangdut singers picture a word full of bad guys, experts on cheating and lying, guys that have 3, 4 or even 5 wives, guys that only think about having sex no matter how, guys who make you pregnant and disappear, dudes who don’t come back home for 3 years already (tiga kali puasa, tiga kali lebaran…) and leave crying children and desperate wives, bastards that fucked you and then give you a wrong address so that you can’t find them, maniacs that marry another wife when they already have one or that goes fucking around young widows (janda muda).

Come on, it's already 3 years. Just give up.

Come on, it’s already 3 years. Just give up.

Well, if you listen a dangdut song and the singer is a sweet young lady, even if you don’t understand the lyrics don’t worry, she is talking about some piece of shit she met, someone who lied to her, fucked her in the darkness of a tea plantation, then left her alone, pregnant and hopeless. Unless the singer is not talking about her husband who has an affair or about getting money by making guys horny with her dance moves (sawer). So, still, i could not learn that much either.

When the singer is a man, the things are different, more stuff to learn, larger number of words to memorise. The problem is that, beside some old male singers, especially The King Rhoma (God keep him healthy), there are not so many male dangdut performers nowadays. You have to dig in the classics, which i did. The result was nice and so far the classic dangdut is still my favourite.

Now let me tell you something that might shock you, if you are Indonesian: “Kopi Dangdut”, yes, the famous song by Fahmi Sahab is not an original dangdut song. Believe it or not. I was in Indonesia for few months and i was humming a dangdut song I just learned (i think it was “Alamat Palsu”) when one of my guy in the kitchen asked me “Hey chef, do you like dangdut?” of course the answer was “I love it”, so that guy started to tell me about this legendary dangdut song, so famous that even a Japanese band did a cover of it. Soon we were in my office on YouTube listening to it. That’s how i knew “Kopi Dangdut” and yes, i did also listen to the Japanese version (which title is “Coffee Rumba”) but there was something in the deep of my brain that reminded me of my childhood, it was like i heard that song before. So i did a fast research on web and, as i expected, i found a song, from the ’60, with the same exact music. The singer was Mina, a very famous Italian old singer, and the title of the song is “Moliendo Cafe”. The version of Mina was a cover as well, in Spanish, of an instrumental song by Hugo Blanco, a Venezuelan musician, with the same title (that means “grinding coffe” in Spanish). They did more than 800 covers of that song all over the world and in Indonesia Fahmi Sahab did the dangdut version. I know it’s hard to find out the truth by an Italian chef but to support what i say i post the video of the version by Mina.

For most of the people in the world that was Mina singing Moliendo Cafe. For Indonesians that was a silly old Italian lady that made a cover of Kopi Dangdut almost 30 years before Fahmi Sahab wrote it

But let’s go back to the topic that is in the title “The Power of Dangdut”. Dangdut might not teach you to speak Bahasa Indonesia but it’s a very mighty tool to link with Indonesians. If you are in a group with some Indonesian fellas, you are maybe the only bule (white guy) and you feel a bit cut out of the conversation… Start singing a random dangdut song and everybody will start to smile, and sing with you. This is what happens to me, at least.

I work in the kitchens, I work with Indonesians, many Indonesians in a tough environment and when the tension raises in the kitchen, in busy time, when everybody is running trying to do their best with plenty things to do… What i have to do is start singing dangdut and i wipe out all the bad mood and the stress. Everybody around me start smiling, singing with me, screaming stuff like “Aseeekkk!!!!” (which means Cool!!!) and even if they are busy they drop the pans to raise their thumbs and start dancing (yes, because no matter how you move, no matter what you do, if your thumbs are up you already joget dangdut).

My knowledge of this music, all the time spent in front of my pc, listening to the dangdut songs was not worthless. In every moment i can cheer my guys up, bring a good mood to a stressful environment like the kitchen, just singing few verses of a dangdut song with my thumbs up. No more stress. Everybody works better and the time goes by faster. Do it and you are already a friend of them.

I made more friends thanks to dangdut than thanks to anything else in my life. Sometimes i go working in places where they don’t know me as i am (a crazy silly dude), just for few hours, doing cooking classes, cooking shows or demos and i always meet new people, Indonesians who think i’m the typical “bule sombong”, serious and a bit arrogant, someone to be afraid of. They respect me, they are so kind with me since the beginning, but when i start singing dangdut their faces light up, a smile soon appears on their lips and i’m soon one of them, a friend. They will work better and more relaxed and everybody enjoys.

If you are with a company a bit more sophisticated, with people who think dangdut is a music for villagers, for uneducated people… No matter. Try the experiment anyway and you will see that somehow it will be funny. They will also probably start singing some dangdut song that reminds them when they were kids and at the end everybody will smile.

It’s just that i find dangdut funny and enjoyable. It’s not the music, it’s not the lyrics (although there are some lyrics that, i swear, are funniest than any stand up comedian), it’s not just the dance… It’s all. It’s the attitude. It’s Indonesia in its most genuine aspect, the one i love and i’m addicted to. Forget all the shit, forget all the corruption, the problems and the contradictions of this country and go to the root, go to the soul of Indonesians. It’s more complicated than this, yes, but after all it’s this attitude that i love, the “dangdut attitude” as i call it, and i find it in most of the good people i daily meet.

I’m writing this article on a bus heading to Pantura the place i know as the centre of dangdut in west Java. My friends told me stories about that, magnifying it as the Eldorado for dangdut lovers: dangdut parties night and day, stages for concerts everywhere, sweet ladies dancing with their sexy moves on the streets, attracting horny guys from all around the kampung.

Look at this. How can people not like dangdut?!

Check this out. How can people not like dangdut?!


In my mind it’s a mix between heaven and hell, a place for lust and fun, full of crazy horny girls. And all this with the finest dangdut soundtrack ever. Of course i’m alone, Lika is not with me, and my pockets are full of “goceng” (the 5000 rupiah bills) for “sawer” (the “tips” you slip into the bra of the dangdut singers and dancers as compensation for their entertainment). All i wish is to meet Mela Barbie, my goddess, to donate her the necklace i personally did sewing 15 bills of 100.000 rupiah together. Wish me good luck.




Well Done Beef Steak, Sir? Let Me Change Your Mind


This is quite a weird topic for my first article on this blog, someone might think, but not too weird if you know that well done beef steaks are the cause of most of my frustrations as a chef in Indonesia (the number 2 is the crazy abuse of Sambal in every kind of food, from pizza to dessert ,which will appear in an article in the near future).

As a Tuscan guy, born and raised on the sweet green hills of that amazing part of Italy, my idea of a steak is a big cut of beef, with a heavy bone, thick, juicy and, most important rare, tender and red inside. In Tuscany, the homeland of the T-Bone steak (we call it Fiorentina steak, that is different from the football club), we don’t even consider it a steak if it’s less than 1 kg and believe me, i have cooked some above 2 kg.

Left: dinner of a Tuscan guy. Right: dinner of 2 Tuscan guys.

See the size? Make it well done. It will take 1 hour. But that’s not the point.

Let’s say that you have a whole night to cook your steak, the time is none of your problem, although when you come to a restaurant you want to see your food on the table maximum 10 minutes after you ordered it, but still, there are many other reasons why you should have your steak from medium below.

Unfortunately (for me), Indonesians order their beef well done. No matter if you try to explain them that it’s gonna be tough, no matter if you tell them it’s gonna take time… They insist. It must be well done.

In my experience in this amazing country i can say that the 70% of the steaks i grill in my kitchen are well done, the 20% medium well and the rest 10% between medium and medium rare (where did i get these numbers? Of course i never counted lah! I’m just making a rough estimation but it’s not far from the real). The few rare steaks i cook, maybe 1 out of 40, will most probably finish their journey into the tummy of a bule (a white dude, for whom is not familiar with this word).

Everytime i asked to some indonesian fella why he gets his steak well done the answers are always the same:

– Because of hygiene

– Because i don’t like to see the blood inside

– Because inside the meat there are many bacterias and you need to cook it well done to kill them all

– I like it more well done

– “You know, orang Indonesia (indonesian people) have a different stomach than a bule, we must eat the beef well done or we feel dizzy, we have stomachache and diarrea until we throw up and get sick. It happened to a friend of mine, demi Allah!”

I don’t understand any of these points. I know that here in Indonesia, since you are a kid, everybody tells you that you have to cook your food well done because of the above reasons. It’s a mind set, something indonesians have in their DNA from a long time ago. It’s a part of indonesian’s inheritance. Your parents probably told you that, your teachers as well, if you are indonesian. But now deal with this: I always have my steak “blue”, which is extremely rare, i often eat raw beef like carpaccio and tartare, in Italy i was used to eat raw pork as well  and i love it (don’t try this at home!), i eat raw fish when i get my sushi or sashimi and i’ve never had any problem.

This is how I eat my steak.

I should be dead by now. I would not have gone through the puberty, if eating rare or raw beef would be a risk or a hazard. The fact is that i’m here writing on this blog, still alive, i have never been sick in the last 3 years… It seems like i’m the living proof that a rare steak will not kill you.

Now let me destroy, one by one, the most common wrong facts that indonesians think about rare steaks:

It’s not hygienic. Wrong! The beef itself doesn’t contain dangerous contaminations and doesn’t give hospitality to any hygienic hazard. Maybe the environment where the beef is slaughtered and processed could, but not the beef itself. Every cow, before they peacefully pass away to be hosted on your table, go through a lot of rigid controls by veterinarians that will certify that it’s ready to be slaughtered (what a lucky son of a bitch, uh?). Then the same veterinarians check every cut of beef to certify again that it’s healthy, that it doesn’t present any hazard and it can be send to the supermarket’s shelves. If you buy beef from Australia, USA, Japan or Europe you have nothing to worry about, it’s certified and it respect every severe standard of hygiene. Then if you farm the cows yourself in your kampung and you slaughter them with your bare hands without any control… Well it’s your risk. But if you go to a trusted restaurant and they tell you that the beef is imported, it doesn’t come from the black market and the source is trustable, no need to worry about hygienic issues.

I don’t like to see the blood inside. Wrong!

This might shock you but… The red colour of the beef is not blood. It’s caused by a protein which name is myoglobin. The myoglobin links the iron and in presence of oxygen it gets a nice red colour. What you see when you look at a raw red piece of beef is not blood, otherwise why is it not leaking everywhere? The red colour of the blood and the colour of the raw beef are the same because of the same reason, but when you eat a rare steak the red stuff you see it’s not because it contains blood, it’s just muscle fibers, proteins, which happen to be red.

Inside the meat there are bacterias which needs to be wiped out by a long and massive quantity of heat or maybe a nuclear weapon. Wrong!

Inside the meat there are not dangerous bacterias, if the meat has been controlled by veterinarians and judged suitable for your table (and in the restaurants all the beef is like that). As i said before, you have to trust the source, and i do that. It’s possible that the meat hosts some bacterias on the surface because of crossed contamination with the environment, but the surface will be cooked anyway. The bacterias, if present, comes from outside, from a wrong handling process of the meat, not from inside the meat. If we go to the warung and we order a sate padang, yes, maybe better to get it well done, because of the absolute lack of hygiene of those places and the uncertain origin of the meat. But still, you might have your sate well done but then feel sick anyway because they serve it to you on dirty plates, “washed” in a bucket filled with dirty water which is changed 2 times a day. Then the frame of rats and cockroaches is not helping. I’m quite sure that the people who order a well done steak at my restaurant have been to the warung at least once in a lifetime, or maybe every week. Ya? Ya? Ya?

Left: veterinarian checking up on a cow. Right: expression of that cow.

I like it more well done. Wrong!

Well, ok, as my latin ancestors said “de gustibus non disputandum est” which means “we can’t argue and discuss on the taste of the people”. Yes, everybody has his taste and everybody likes what they like. I agree. But in this case i can’t really believe that someone would prefer a tough, hard, dry, flavourless, chewy and black piece of coal rather than a juicy, tasty, tender and flavourful steak. When you cook a steak well done the fibers of the proteins become tough, it looses all the juice and the taste, it becomes hard to chew and the flavour vanishes. It happens that people buy an amazing cut of japanese wagyu then ask me to massacre it on the grill until it’s well done. Well, dude, don’t make a fool of yourself, don’t spend a million rupia for a piece of beef that, after the treatment you request, will taste and look like a cheap anonymous cut of who knows what from who knows where. It’s not only stupid, it’s an offense. I could grill two different cuts of beef: a grassfed japanese wagyu (1 million/kg) and a cambodian no brand beef (100 thousand/kg), both well done and you will not taste the difference. Then i challenge you in a blind taste with the same beef, the first time well done and the second medium. I’m sure you will not choose the well done.

Indonesians have a different stomach, we get sick if we eat rare beef, it happened to my friend demi Allah. Wrong!

Would you rather eat this or a medium steak?

Would you rather eat this or a medium steak?

Come on man, should i really talk about this point? This is kinda urban legend stuff. First of all the stomach of an indonesian is just like the stomach of a bule. If it happens to your friend maybe it was not because of the rare beef but because of the place where he got it or because he had too much sambal. Or because of masuk angin. I told you, i should have been dead by now. Come to my restaurant, get a rare steak, then if you feel sick i will reimburse you the meal  (please attach the medical certificate if you want to be reimbursed. I don’t accept certificates from massage therapists, i’m not that stupid).

I didn’t convince you yet. Next time you go to a restaurant and you feel like having a steak the imperative will be “Well done!”

Ok, take a look at this: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/ask-a-health-expert/medium-rare-or-well-done-which-kind-of-meat-is-healthier/article13040626/

You don’t trust in a medical research. So trust in Wikipedia and take a look at this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heterocyclic_amine_formation_in_meat

You were too lazy to read all that stuff or you didn’t understand what they said? Let me explain you in few simple words.

When the proteins of the red meat are under a high temperature for a long time they change structure. They link to other molecules giving birth to a category of substances which are called HCAs. These HCAs are mutagens. No, you will not become an X-Men, they will not give you superpowers such as being able to see naked girls through their dresses or become invisible so that you can get into the women’s changing rooms (i don’t know why but i have always contemplated the advantage of having superpowers in terms of seeing naked girls) or take a trip with Transjakarta and find a seat available.


My friend Bambang and friends after eating a well done steak.

It has been scientifically proven that the consumption of well done beef increases the possibility to have a colon rectal cancer because the mutagens that are created when you cook the meat for long time at high temperature are much much more than in a rare or medium beef.

I’m not saying that it will happen. It will not happen, ok? But well done beef is for sure less healthy than medium or rare. Then the proteins contained in a well done beef are less in number and harder to digest.

This is why i get so frustrated over well done steaks: it’s less healthy, less tasty, tough and dry. It makes me waste a nice cut of beef, why should i select a good product if later it will taste like shit anyway? It’s stupid and it’s a waste of money. And all of this because of a wrong mind set and wrong beliefs.

Now keep having your beef well done but don’t tell me that i didn’t try to warn you. Come on man, give medium steak a chance, it’s worth it, believe me. I care of you.