Day 1 in Batam

Thought I should probably log some details of our trip down here before I forget. It’s fun and also kinda embarrassing to read what you’ve written years back. I remember almost nothing of what happened 3 years ago unless my memory is jogged. And probably the reason I take so many photos of food is because that’s kinda how I file away my memories – tagged to what I ate or cooked. Everything else happens inbetween.

The hotel we stayed in (Swiss Belhotel Batam) was literally 5 minutes from the ferry terminal (I wouldn’t believe any of the online maps). While at the ferry terminal we were wandering about no doubt looking extremely confused, and apparently L and H were immediately propositioned by some sort of amateur pimp, who basically said “woman?” to them, in the same way the taxi drivers were yelling taxi?” to anyone carrying a bag. The Batam entry card also gives many options for the purpose of your visit, and “leisure” is listed as a separate purpose from holiday”. I wonder what you check if you are a Singaporean man coming here to look for your mistress. (I guess that’s “leisure”.) Anyway just to be safe I moved my “leisure” check to the “holiday” box :P I never knew Batam was that kind of shady until Lz told me that’s what it was known for. The general vibe of the island seems harmless enough though.

There are signs leading to the hotel all the way from the Ferry Terminal, and when you first see it, it can be a bit confusing because there’s a big sign on the hotel building that says “Harbour Bay Mall” and a little higher up, Swiss Belhotel Batam. So which is it? You kinda have to go anti clockwise around the facade of the building to find the entrance – the entrance is pretty obvious. They even have one of those body scanners that check for unsavoury items on you. The guard doesn’t really seem to know how to operate it though, cause it beeped every which way and he still waved us through. Talk about an exercise in futility.

When I reach a hotel there are a few things I like to do to set up –
1) Check in, pay the deposit
2) Get the wifi password
3) Put away our luggage
4) Boil water (most countries don’t seem to have potable water)
5) Lock valuables like passports and spare cash in the safe
6) Set up your own minibar :P

I brought a bunch of snacks – Daim, M&S peppermint chocolate humbugs, hello kitty chocolate lollipops, peppermint Hershey’s kisses, etc. AND we still made a supermarket pit stop after lunch to get salty/non chocolate snacks (muruku, random green pea chips, lychee pudding etc.) and fruit/juice.
The supermarkets there are filled with hilarious signs and pirated products:

They will not be held liable for expired products! This gave us a scare and made me check everything in the cart. Most of their products are alright, just that you really don’t want to eat something of sketchy origin that’s past it’s expiry date here.

Cristello chocolate, the new Ghirardelli.

They even have pirated muruku (an Indian fish chip). I thought the pun on ‘otaku’ was pretty funny.

We found the world’s smallest potatoes here – each was about the size of a quail’s egg, give or take; about half an inch in diameter. I just realized the sign says “Kentang Rendang” which probably means potatoes for rendang. I didn’t know there were special potatoes for that.

As well as barrels and barrels of dried keropok. You can buy these and deep fry them, and they’ll puff up to 10 times their original size to form a crispy, umami-filled snack (most of these are made using fish or prawns), sorta like marshmallow peeps, but salty.

All of the hawkers at the ferry terminal stand outside their shop fronts trying to promote their stalls, which I find extremely pushy/annoying (taxi drivers are the same). They also have an aversion toward printing their prices on the menu, which gives them some flexibility with pricing depending on whether you’re a tourist or a local. I think to some degree you’re expected to bargain (especially at seafood restaurants), but none of us were real good bargainers. Plus what you are paying is already dirt cheap, it seems churlish to try to make it cheaper considering our relative affluence.

The lunch venue was a somewhat decrepit looking stall in the ferry terminal that sold traditional Indonesian food, i.e. ayam penyet (smashed, fried chicken with rice) and mee goreng (fried noodles)

I went with the mee goreng while everyone else ordered the ayam penyet

They were both pretty nice, I think? The sambal was really hot though (I am not a chilli aficionado) and the portions are slightly smaller than what you get in Singapore, which explains why everyone there is skinny as a plank and a little shorter than most Singaporeans (who are not very tall to begin with, I think the average height of a Singaporean male is about 172cm ~ 5’8″). I walked by entire Indonesian families, not a single member of whom was taller than me. It was the same in Peru, where everyone, male and female alike, were uniformly short in a somewhat malnourished manner. I think Indonesians are better fed than Peruvians though, because they are after all a tropical country with flourishing farms and actual animals (like cows, goats, chickens) as opposed to guinea pigs, alpacas, and other weird things that can survive in high altitudes. They, like Malaysians, are also exceptional at frying chicken, both the battered and unbattered sort. This chicken thigh was unbattered, but marinated in an extremely complex blend of spices (the spice islands are after all, part of Indonesia) that you can automatically detect to be Malay but have no idea how to replicate it.

Every single restaurant seems to serve a variety of freshly blended fruit juices – mango, kiwi, papaya, avocado, carrot, tomato, etc.

Their avocado juice comes with chocolate syrup, as it does in PGP in Singapore. Fresh fruit juice here goes for about 15,000 rupiah per glass, which is about $1.50. I like my juices made from concentrate, thanks very much. Or if they are to be fresh, then of the squeezed orange or cider-pressed apple variety, not blended.

While we were wandering around the city (actually only about a 200m radius around the hotel) we saw these kids splashing in a fountain. Batam, as I have mentioned, is extremely hot (even in December). It’s hotter than Singapore, but also slightly less humid. So hot that we practically spent the rest of the time hiding out in the hotel until night fell and it was time for dinner :P Perhaps next year we’ll try another country. I’m rather partial to Thailand (and Thai food), and perhaps Vietnam and its caves after that.

More on the seafood restaurants coming up next.



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