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On my first trip to Indonesia to visit my wife (who spoke limited English), I spoke not a word of Bahasa and quickly learned that English is not at all common on the remote island of Mataram. With her acting as translator, we visited the small town of Taliwang, to try the famous “Taliwang Ayam” (Taliwang Chicken). I never did find out if the name of the dish originated there since I was more interested in seeing how it was prepared. The cook graciously permitted me to view the entire process since they are very welcoming to foreigners. I heard the word “Buleh” thrown around a lot and later found out that it referred to a “white” visitor. I guess they were not prepared for a “brown foreigner,” so I was lumped in with the existing category.
The chicken was relatively small and already killed, plucked and washed. It was then cut in half lengthwise along the sternum leaving the spinal column untouched. It was then flipped over and flattened until the spine broke with an audible crack. A mixture of tomatoes, garlic, sugar, hot peppers, salt and a few other items that I could not name were prepared with a mortar and pestle and ground to a paste. A few drops of lemon were also added. I later found out that one of the ingredients was a paste made of shrimp that had been dried on the roof of the house. The paste was then added to a saucepan of hot oil, stirred for a few minutes and then left to simmer for 25 minutes. The chicken was placed in the cooked paste, well-coated and grilled on both sides until well done.
It probably sounds to you like ordinary grilled chicken, but I assure you that whatever was in the unrecognized ingredients added an entirely new dimension of flavor and kept me returning almost daily to sample from the different vendors. The friendliness of the locals is to be highly commended, and to this day, Taliwang is still my favorite area to visit whenever I’m in Sumbawa. I have since then learned a few of the regularly known phrases such as “Apa kabar” (how are you?), “Selamat pagi” (good day) and “Terima kasih” (thank you).
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