By Maya M. Padillo, Correspondent
AS THE crow flies, or an airplane would, Surabaya in Indonesia’s Java Island would just be two hours away from my hometown of Davao in the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao.
But as existing air transport services do not have direct flights between the two places, it’s quite a long way around to get there, involving three flights — first to Manila, then to Brunei, and finally to the port city in East Java.
It’s worth it though, especially if you are a foodie.
Our recent trip, organized by Vernon Prieto of Expat Communications Inc. and Adjie Wahjono of Aneka Kartika Travels and Tour, was mostly spent hotel-hopping and sampling familiar Indonesian dishes and delicacies unique to Java.
Breakfast at the Bumi Surabaya City Resort was a feast, not just for the stomach, but also for the eyes.
There were the traditional nasi goreng (Indonesian stir-fried rice) and bubur ayam (chicken porridge), and a colorful spread of sweets with klepon (coconut rice balls) and daral (crepes), among other goodies.
The Tugu Hotel in Malang, a highland area and considered the second main city in East Java after Surabaya, offers afternoon tea with choices of traditional Javanese streetfood snacks and a variety of local tea, coffee, and herbal drinks.
The Roti Tugu Bakery, considered the best homemade goods shop in East Java, not just makes bread and cakes, but also serves Malang delicacies, ice cream, and steak dishes that are a reminder of the Dutch colonial times.
Hotel Plataran Bromo, meanwhile, is known for serving the best ayam goreng — chicken deep fried in coconut oil with bakwan jagung (corn fritter) — in these parts.
For a seafood overload, IBC (Ikan Bakar Cianjur) in Pandaan is the place to go.
Among IBC restaurant’s bestsellers are gurame bakar (grilled fish), gurame goreng (fried fish), nila pesmol (fish with yellow spices ), and sop ikan (fish soup). And they also do tumis kangkung (sautéed water spinach), pucuk labu (sauted pumpkin shoots ), ayam kampung goreng (fried chicken), and tahu goreng (fried tofu).
“We use lots of spices… so Indonesian dishes have rich flavors, most often described as savory, hot and spicy,” said our tour guide, Agustina Setiarini.
I am not a fan of chili, but the trip in Surabaya started me on a love for sambal, both the well-known red variety and sambal kecap, which is black with soy sauce mixed in.
We did burn some of all that calorie intake with a trek in Mt. Bromo, among the many active volcanoes in the Indonesian archipelago.
Located within the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, it is the only conservation area in Indonesia with a sand and sea expanse of about 2,125 hectares.
After a 30-minute ride on an old 4×4 Land Cruiser, we reached the 10-kilometer Tengger caldera inside the Semeru park.
From there, we got individual horse rides, then hiked 253 steps up to the edge of the steaming crater.
Our other stops — in between eating, of course — were the House of Sampoerna, which is a museum and a cigarette factory; the Taman Safari Prigen, a sprawling drive-through natural preserve that is home to such animals as lions, tigers, wild buffalo, komodo dragons, rhinoceros, and bison; Citraland, dubbed as the “Singapore of Surabaya”; and a walk through Surabaya’s Arab Quarter ending at the Mesjid Ampel, considered the most sacred mosque in Surabaya.
Indonesian Consul General Berlian Napitupulu, who is based in Davao City, has been actively pushing for stronger Indonesia-Philippine trade and tourism ties, particularly between the neighboring islands dotting the Celebes and Java Seas.
“We must have a sustainable cooperation,” said Mr. Napitupulu.
Direct transport links would surely be one way of achieving that.
Surabaya is a most interesting place to visit, offering food and nature adventures that many Filipino family and young travelers would enjoy.
Maybe someday soon, it would be easier, quicker, and cheaper to get there.
Royal Brunei Airlines flies a same-day-connect service from Manila to Surabaya via Brunei Darussalam twice a week.