The first time X and I were up in Takengon, a town in the mountains of Aceh that is the epicenter of some of the most amazing coffee production in the world, there was just not that much to do after a hard day’s work. It was just over a year after the massive Indian ocean tsunami. A side effect of the tsunami was that the insurgency in Aceh ended and regular folks like us could go and meet the Fairtade coffee farmers who had stuck it out in unthinkable circumstances. But years of isolation meant that only the hardiest of coffee exporters had ventured up to Takengon. When we were with some of these coffee farmers and exporters some evenings we had some lovely meals at local restaurants-Padang, Achenese, what have you. The evenings we were by ourselves (without transport) we were happy to just walk the half mile or so to the main market, grab some Mi Aceh (noodles Achenese style) and head back to the hotel after dinner to get some shuteye. One evening, as we were headed to the market we spotted a young boy with a cart. On the cart was an aluminum tray with what looked like small pieces of bamboo. Once in a while he’d take a few pieces of bamboo off, stuff them and put them back on. When the bamboo pieces were taken off tray you could see steam jetting off from holes in the aluminum tray. We got closer and somehow pantomimed enough to a) see that the whole contraption had something to do with a food item and b) buy some. We bought, ate, and promptly bought again. We had no idea what it was and the boy and we shared no language that could help us figure out what it was. All we knew is that it was some sort of doughy/coconutty/palm-sugary goodness, and that we wanted to have it every day we could. (yes mom, we did ruin our appetite for dinner)
The next time X went back to Takengon I asked him specifically to eat some of that bamboo stuff for me. To my disappointment (and X’s) the bamboo boy was no longer there! When I went back to Takengon with X and our new colleague P in 2009, we still had no luck with the bambooy-goodness. Fortunately, P, an Indonesian, figured out our desperation and our strange way of describing apparently what was putu bambu, a very normal snack food in her country. When we were driving back from Takengon to Medan, P spotted a putu bambu vendor and bought us fistloads of the stuff. Yes mom, we ruined our appetite for dinner again.
A fellow blogger has described putu bambu beautifully if you want to know more: