SOULFUL FOOD… Tobias Harris and the Food Around Him

TOBIAS’ LIFE PRINCPLE: As you grow older it is the simple things from childhood that become more meaningful and traumatic for you. This principle may not be for everyone, but for me, IT IS!

IN SEARCH OF…

Memories of tastes are what I cherish the most (as you might have guessed). I vaguely remember places, names, and situations, but I have a precise memory of taste.

On my last trip home to Indonesia, I sought out places to visit based solely on my favorite memories of taste. Bandung, Paris van Java, was special on my list as it is where I grew up and spent my college years.

I had only 7 days (minus one day for jet-lag) in Jakarta. I enjoyed every minute with friends and family. From street food to 5-star restaurants, I had great food and a wonderful time. But I was restless for a craving from my dearly beloved city, Bandung.

By the third day, I called my brother and sister-in-law to accompany me on a crazy food excursion in Bandung. Within an hour, Stan and Susy met us at the hotel in Jakarta and we piled into a car and headed out. Luckily, they are food fanatics also and were up for the challenge. Like me, they eat everything, everywhere and anytime … what a family!

In two hours we were in Bandung, where we went directly to our favorite satay place at the crowded train station. With my first mission accomplished, I felt home again.

What I did not tell Stan and Susy about was the main mission which had been on my mind for the last 20 years. It was my favorite childhood food: Kong Piah, Chinese-Indonesian (Fujian Chinese origin) bread. The best way to describe it is a warm sesame seed bagel. The difference is, it is as hard as a rock on the outside and very chewy inside. And very yummy, I am salivating as I write this.

I am not so sure what my fascination is with this bread. My mom told me when I was little, early in the morning in front of our home, I would wait for the Kong Piah-man. I could eat five of them at one time … and this habit continued through my college years.

I had little hope to find it, since this kind of traditional food is dying away. It is made for a very specific customer to begin with. I can bet I am still one of its biggest fans and most valued Kong Piah customer. But by the end of the night there was no luck.

By 7am, I took charge. I was on a mission for Kong Piah! Confused, Susy and Stan did not know where we were going to get to be able to find them. Then Susy’s mom came to the rescue, she started calling people in her food network and we got a little clue. “We need to go to the market!” she said. So we did.

Still operating with little faith, I knew I had to try. The market is BIG and very crowded, and it had been renovated since I was there last, so it all felt new to me. Before setting out on what we knew would be an overwhelming journey, we got some breakfast (BTW awesome!) and started to ask people to point us in the direction of our goal. On the hunt, our first lead ended up being a place that had moved. One elderly woman gave us another address to try through the market, so we cruised through the inside market, then to the open market. Very different from a US farmer’s market, this is a traditional Indonesian market where you can sell everything, its not always a pretty scene. After asking loads of people and reaching near desperation… we finally found the Kong Piah stalls … but with no Kong Piah left. It was 10am and already  SOLD OUT!!!!!!!!

I was so disappointed, but Susy’s mom is not the type of woman that would give up so easily. She begged the lady to call around and find another place. Luckily, she came through and was able to locate another store in the area that is very close to where I grew up. With only 10 of the precious breads left, we asked the lady to hold them for us and rushed right over.

I was beyond happy … 20 years in waiting … 10 KONG PIAH … just for me …
NOT! Susy’s mom took some for her husband. Truth be told, she earned them. Without her we never would have found any!

When I took the first bite … I almost cried … the memories flooded back to a time and place in my childhood, even to what I wore, it all come together. It was definitely “a moment” for me.

I ate 3 of them. On the ride back to Jakarta, I had a bag of the bread in my hand and a BIG smile on my face. I decided to keep two for later. At the end of the day we were so full from all the delicious street food favorites.

The next day I woke up thinking about my last two Kong Piah. I was waiting for this moment… It just feels right to eat them at 8 AM. I asked my mom to put them in the oven at 7:50. She smiled and said “your dad ate the rest” and I was crushed …

About Tobias Harris
The guy who love to eat!

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