What I Ate: Sate Ayam or Chicken Satay

Part of an occasional series about food I have eaten in South East Asia.

Sate AyamSate ayam, or chicken satay, cooked over glowing embers, giving it a slightly smokey flavour. With a generous drizzle of peanut sauce. Sitting on a bed of lontong. Lontong is rice wrapped up tightly in a banana leaf in a tube shape, and boiled until the rice grains are no longer visible, then allowed to cool, before being opened and cut into chunky slices to eat.


Sate ayam is usually sold in the evening here in Central Java, both at street food stalls with mats for diners to sit on, and by sellers who push their boat-shaped trolleys around the streets hawking their fare. Many sate sellers are from the island Madura, just northeast of Java, and Sate Ayam Madura is therefore well-known.


Hotel Review: Solo Paragon – Breathtaking Views from the Tallest Building in Solo

Solo Paragon is by far the tallest building in the city of Solo (Surakarta), Central Java. The views from the hotel rooms out across the city and to the mountains in the background are simply breathtaking. If you love a great view, stay at Paragon. At the time of writing it is also Solo’s newest international hotel.

View from the room

We stayed for one night in a deluxe room on the fifteenth floor; this is the type of room with a separate seating area with a sofa and chair, and a TV that swivels so you can watch from the sofa or in bed. We were impressed by the size and spacious feeling of the room, as well as the many windows from which to admire the view.

The bathroom was on the small side, with a gloomy shower cubicle, the type where the sprayer is fixed to the wall. There was no bath tub. As darkness fell, we discovered that the hotel room itself wasn’t particularly well lit, with an assortment of lamps but no main lights.

The air conditioning worked well and we liked that you can also open the windows. There was a minibar, and tea/coffee making facilities, but only one teabag and one coffee sachet, in a room clearly designed for two people.

Seating area in deluxe room

Everything was very clean and functioned well. The TV had some international channels such as National Geographic, MGM and StarSport, as well as local channels. The bed was comfortable and we slept soundly.

We were not overly impressed by the service, having queued for a long time to check in, while watching a reception staff member standing around doing very little. The hotel interior is not always well signposted. We went to the mall which is attached to the hotel, and struggled to find the way there. The hotel room was also lacking in information about hotel facilities; there was no brochure for the spa or information about the fitness centre facilities, but there were advertisements for hotel rooms and accommodation packages displayed in the room.

The hotel has a swimming pool, fitness centre and spa, of which we tried the pool. It was definitely on the small side and a uniform depth of 1.2m, with a shallower kids’ pool, but it was pleasant and peaceful.

Swimming pool

In my opinion, Solo Paragon is worth it for the amazing views across the city. However, if views aren’t your thing, check out the other hotels in Solo; there are many to choose from. See my previous articles for other ideas: Lor In Resort, other hotels.

Hotel Puri Asri, Magelang: A Beautiful Landscaped Resort Hotel with a Mountain Backdrop

Puri Asri Hotel RoomThis four star hotel is laid out on a large terraced hillside leading down to a river. The area has been well landscaped with pools, ponds and a swimming pool alongside other activities such as games and play areas. A steep road leads down through the hotel site, from the reception at the top, passing the restaurant, various sets of bungalow-like rooms and the swimming pool. If travelling by car you can park a few metres from your room.

I stayed for one night in a room behind the fishing pond, looking out over the river and across to the fields on the other bank, with the volcano Merapi behind, visible only at dawn. The scenery was stunningly beautiful, and the hotel was not busy on a weekday night.

The room was excellent, with a comfortable bed, air-conditioning, bathtub with shower and a large widescreen TV. The TV channels were however very limited, with only several of the Indonesian channels available and HBO dubbed into Indonesian. Bed linen and towels (two large, two small) were all clean. Bubble bath and shampoo were provided as was free mineral water. Tea and coffee making facilities were available; there was a minibar and a laundry service. The non-smoking room had a wardrobe with hanging space as well as various drawers. In addition to the bed and bedside tables, there was a desk and chair, a suitcase stand, two chairs and a coffee table. Outside on the veranda was a table with two chairs where I sat and took in the gorgeous surroundings.

I had a wonderfully peaceful night’s sleep with no disturbances or noise from neighbouring rooms whatsoever. With an early start I was up at sunrise, just before the swans that live around the fish pond began their rather loud morning call. Breakfast, served 6am to 9am up the steep road in the hotel restaurant, was an impressive buffet with something for everyone. As well as Indonesian food such as rice dishes and bubur, there was a salad bar, bread and cakes, waffles, and hot dishes such as chicken sausages, chips and baked beans.

The hotel is well-equipped with the Putri Ayu Spa, which offers a range of pampering treatments, and a fitness centre and sauna, in addition to the large outdoor swimming pool. Progo Xventoure operates from the hotel and offers a variety of outbound activities including climbing and high ropes, as well as rafting on the river.

Due to the city of Magelang being less well known with international visitors, I was pleasantly surprised to find a hotel which caters so well to non-Indonesians. Although it mainly serves Indonesian clientele, including those attending conferences and seminars as well as family groups, information throughout the hotel was provided in English as well as Indonesian. Families are welcomed at the hotel, which has play areas for children built along the river.

In addition to enjoying the resort itself, visitors can take the twenty minute drive to Borobudur, Indonesia’s most famous Buddhist temple. The hotel is a one hour drive from Adi Sucipto International Airport in Yogyakarta. Day trips to the Prambanan temple complex and the city of Yogyakarta are also possible from Puri Asri.

Overall, I very much enjoyed my stay at Puri Asri and would love to return and spend longer there. There are many facilities, such as the spa and river rafting, that I did not have a chance to try, and one could spend some time exploring the beautiful surroundings along the riverside.

Etiquette in Central Java Part Six: Foreigner Attention

Technically, according to Javanese etiquette as I have been told by Javanese people, staring is rude. However, as an obvious foreigner, you’re considered an exception to this particular social rule. This means that you’ll get some foreigner attention when you’re out and about. Becak (rickshaw) drivers will call out if you’re walking, offering you a ride. Also if you’re on foot, people will call out “jalan-jalan” which means “walking” or “pottering around”, because walking around is seen as something tourists do (Javanese often go by motorbike for even the shortest distances). People will also call out “hello mister” whether you’re male or female, “mau ke mana?” which means “where are you going?”, “bule” and “londo” which are both words for white foreigners.

While Javanese people do talk to strangers more than English people would, this is certainly foreigner-specific attention. The degree to which you experience this depends a lot on where you are – you’ll get more comments in touristy areas, and if you’re obviously white and on foot. You’ll get more wide-eyed stares in places where foreigners are less often seen. If you cover your arms and legs, go by motorbike with your visor shut, and hang out in areas where foreigners live long-term you may escape much of this attention.

It’s up to you if/how to react to these comments. Some people say hello back, often imitating the Javanese accent, some people correct the bad English (such as using “mister” for a woman), some people get bothered by it, some enjoy the feeling of celebrity, others manage to ignore it all.

Etiquette in Central Java Part Five: Miscellaneous

Javanese people don’t blow their noses very. If a Javanese person really needs to use a tissue, he/she will throw it away after one use. Putting a dirty tissue into one’s pocket is considered disgusting.

When you ride on the back of someone’s motorbike, do not hold on to them, unless it’s your partner, a close relative, or a close friend of the same gender, who is driving. If you feel you need to hold on, use the handle behind you.

Javanese people tend to avoid flashing their money around. If paying for something they quickly have money ready, and don’t count it all out in front of everyone.

Etiquette in Central Java Part Four: Eating and Drinking

Often you’ll find yourself with just a spoon, so that obviously goes in your right hand and you eat, that’s easy. If you have a spoon and a fork, the spoon goes in your right hand, the fork in your left. The fork is used to push food onto the spoon, which is used for eating. The spoon is also used a bit like a knife, but with more of a spearing/pulling/tearing action between the fork and the spoon.

Despite the theory that Javanese people don’t eat with their left hand, people often hold a krupuk (rice cracker), and sometimes pieces of food like tahu (tofu) or tempe, in their left hand and eat it.

Traditionally Javanese people don’t use cutlery at all, and you may find yourself in a situation where you need to eat with your hands. You will be given a finger bowl to wash your right hand before and after eating. Use your right hand only. Using three fingers and your thumb pick up rice in ball-like shapes. For chicken or duck, use your right hand to pull off small pieces instead of picking the whole thing up. When you’ve nearly finished you can pick it up and gnaw/suck the bones. You can usually ask for cutlery anyway, and many people wouldn’t expect a foreigner to eat with their hands.

At home people have one drink (usually tea) that they drink slowly over several hours or more, rather than a drink with each meal. There is no pressure to finish your drink at someone’s house.

I’ve heard people say that it’s polite to leave some food on your plate, but from what I’ve seen here, I don’t think that’s true.

As a guest in someone’s house you are often expected to serve yourself first (then each person serves him/herself), so you can’t watch others and copy them. Take rice first, then vegetables/stew, then meat (one piece), tofu or tempe, then krupuk. It’s more polite to take too little food than too much. You don’t always need to take every type of food, and you can often take additional pieces of tofu or tempe and krupuk during the meal.

When you have finished eating, the polite way to leave your cutlery is face down in the bowl/plate, with the spoon crossed over the fork, or if just using a spoon, leave it face down.

Javanese people tend to eat first, and then drink, instead of drinking sips between mouthfuls of food. Some people say this is more polite. The concept of a long meal with lots of conversation does not exist in Javanese culture. Although there may be some chatting during a meal, the focus is usually on eating.

No one drinks tap water here – Javanese people boil water to purify it or use bottled water. When buying bottled water, ask for aqua. The word for drinking (boiled) water is air putih and that’s what you would ask for in someone’s house. Plenty of people drink tea more than water here – Javanese tea, not English tea. Ask for teh, then panas is hot, es is ice – teh panas and es teh. People drink their tea very sweet (manis) – if you would prefer it without sugar, ask for teh tawar. Javanese tea never has milk.

Javanese people rarely take their own food and drink (snacks, bottled drinks) anywhere. There are places to buy food and drinks everywhere so it is rarely necessary. It is considered impolite to drink your own drink or eat your own food in someone else’s house, unless you have given it to your hosts as a gift, or you are sharing it with everyone. It is better to eat and drink what you are given.

Etiquette in Central Java Part Three: Meeting and Visiting People

Javanese people usually greet each other by shaking hands lightly (sometimes touching more than shaking) and then touching their chest (heart) with their right hand. When meeting for the first time it is customary to say your name as you shake the other person’s hand.

When you go into someone’s house take your shoes off. Often you’ll see a pile of shoes near the doorway and then you know where to take them off. If in doubt it’s better to be over-polite and take them off early. Occasionally you may go to someone’s house where you are meant to keep your shoes on. If in doubt watch what other people do.

If a group of people are sitting on the floor and you want to get to the other side of them, it’s polite to walk round the group instead of straight through. When walking amongst a group of seated people (for example, the audience at a performance, participants at a gamelan rehearsal), it’s polite to stoop slightly, and even more polite to let your right arm stretch downwards so your fingers point at the floor. Basically the aim is not to disturb the people you’re passing or upset the atmosphere.

It is rude to point the soles of your feet at other people, so in order to avoid doing this when sitting on the floor, it is better to sit with your legs crossed, or folded under you.

Showing the base of your back or the top of your knickers, because your top is too short or your trousers are too low, is not good. Since you are likely to sit on the floor a fair bit, it may be worth ensuring that you have some tops which are long enough to go down to the top of your trousers/skirt when seated in order to avoid embarrassment.

Touching the head of an older person is considered impolite.