Crisp cool air refreshed my skin, the wind blew on my face, giving me a chilling sensation I have not felt for a long time from big cities in Indonesia. Yet I was in Malang, one of the biggest cities in East Java. Five years ago I wouldn’t be so excited to feel such temperate climate when I still lived in Bandung, the mountain-surrounded West Javan capital. However since moving to Jakarta in 2008, my skin has adapted to a much warmer and more humid climate.
This year for the first time I went to Malang whose residents have a deep-rooted and passionate rivalry with Surabaya, the provincial capital and Indonesia’s second biggest city, as is the case with Sydneysiders and Melburnians. The outspoken and often confrontational nature of East Javanese does not help and nothing is more evident to show this rivalry than the football matches between Persebaya – Surabaya’s biggest football club – and Arema – Malang’s pride – where raucous supporters from both sides always heat up every match night.
However the nature of Malang herself is anything but rough. The leafy streets and the abundance of old buildings dating back to the Dutch colonial time made me feel as if I was exploring the streets of Bandung, as both cities were in fact popular among Europeans during colonial time who sought refuge from the heat of Javanese coastal cities. The only difference of both cities is the language people speak.
During my short visit in Batu – Malang’s satellite city – in June, exploring what Malang had to offer was rather ambitious as my coworkers and I only had so little time to barely scratch the surface of the city. The only feasible thing we could do was sampling the local and Dutch dishes as Malang boasted some reputable restaurants serving authentic Dutch delicacies.
That brought us to a place located right next to the City Hall – Restoran Melati – which occupied a beautiful old yet expansive building in which artifacts from various cultures were showcased. Chinese, Javanese, and Middle Eastern decorative elements proved to be able to complement each other in a brave experiment of cultural juxtaposition.
The second restaurant we went to was Oen, right at the heart of colonial Malang across the Cathedral. Upon entering the restaurant, a signboard written in Dutch welcomed us, informing visitors how long it has been serving Dutch dishes. The wooden interior of the restaurant with old furniture and home appliances created an unmistakably vintage Dutch ambiance to the restaurant. I examined the menu, and ox tongue steak proved to be too irresistible for me. Succulent, tender, and tasty. Everything you can imagine from a perfectly-cooked ox tongue. Meanwhile, the fruit ice cream was a perfect dessert to balance the rich flavor of the ox tongue and other side dishes we had.
Regardless our full stomachs, we couldn’t miss the chance to try pecel kawi, a traditional delicacy of boiled vegetables and various side dishes served on banana leaf to enhance the fragrance of the meal. Simple yet satisfying, like Malang herself. As the sun started to set, rows of ornately decorated Dutch buildings caught my attention on our way back to Batu. One day, I will come back to spend a more proper amount of time to explore East Java’s second city.