We’re living vicariously through our authors and their stories set around the world! So far, we’ve visited France Sanaë Lemoine, Morocco with Laila Lalami, South Korea with Michelle Zauner, Malaysia with Zen Cho, Jamaica with Nicola Yoon, and Antarctica with Maggie Shipstead and Julian Sancton.
Travel to Indonesia with Jesse Q. Sutanto, the author of Dial A for Aunties! She grew up shuttling back and forth between Indonesia, Singapore, and Oxford, and considers all three places her home. Her novel is a hilarious and delightful story that reveals what happens when you mix 1 (accidental) murder with 2 thousand wedding guests, and then toss in a possible curse on 3 generations of an immigrant Chinese-Indonesian family…you get 4 meddling Asian aunties coming to the rescue! Learn about her own aunts in the video as well as her tips for traveling to Indonesia below.
What is one of your favorite memories of being in Indonesia?
My favorite part about living in Indonesia is being close to my huge family and celebrating Chinese New Year with everyone. It’s always chaotic, kids running between people, everyone talking super loudly, and eating non-stop.
What is your favorite place in Indonesia to visit?
My favorite place in Indonesia is Bali! Bali is gorgeous, filled with intricate stone temples and beautiful flowers, surrounded by pristine beaches, and the culture is lovely and the food is amazing. It’s one of my favorite places on earth.
What is one meal you recommend for visitors?
Oh no, this is a terrible question! There is so much Indonesian food that feels like a must-have! I’ll start with my favorite ever dessert in the world: martabak manis. It’s a pancake on steroids. The pancake is about an inch thick and topped with butter, condensed milk, sugar, crushed roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, grated cheese (trust me on this, it works), and chocolate, before being folded over and slathered with even more butter. It is served warm and every bite is a sweet, buttery mouthful of sheer joy and comfort.
As for savory dishes, there are just so many to choose from, but one thing’s for sure, no meal is complete without a sambal. Sambal is basically chili sauce, and Indonesians are crazy about it! Every restaurant boasts at least several signature sambals, and every household has their own favorite. My ultimate sambal is sambal matah, which is a traditional Balinese sambal made with fresh shallots, lemongrass, chilies, garlic, tossed in coconut oil. I swear it would make even rubber tires taste delicious.
What are the places you love returning to?
The number one places to go to in Indonesia are all the local cafes! If there’s one thing Indonesians take pride in, it’s COFFEE. I mean, you gotta trust the country that’s literally named Java. We know good coffee. Skip the international chains and drink your way across the country, but sip slowly, because Indonesian coffee is strong!
What do you wish people knew before visiting?
I wish that people knew the complicated history of many Southeast Asian countries. I feel like people tend to think of Indonesia as a “Third World country” (where they expect nothing but slums), but in reality, Jakarta is a huge metropolis with a tapestry of skyscrapers and, yes, slums. It’s a very interesting, very complex place that shouldn’t be judged through a Western lens.
After living in multiple places, are there any cultural aspects that seem uniquely Indonesian that you’re proud of?
How friendly the people are here! If you think Californians are friendly, you must visit Indonesia, because Indonesians are always very welcoming and we love nothing more than having big social events. We also really love feeding people, so our big social events are always centered around food and making sure everyone’s plate is piled high with plenty of food, and of course, lots of sambal.
Thank you Jesse! Discover her novel, Dial A for Aunties, as well as more of our book recommendations set in Indonesia, from novels to cookbooks.