Excerpt from The Canned Memories, an essay collection proposal by Priska Astasari
Over the next few months we will be celebrating the work of the shortlisted authors from our 2021 call for essay collections. Excerpts from their proposals will be showcased here on our blog. Excerpts have been left largely unedited, aside from minor changes to formatting and typos. This is to give a sense of the wide variety of writing that engaged us during the reading of submissions. All of the entries were unique, and interested us for different reasons.
This first excerpt is by Priska Astasari, an Indonesian writer who celebrates food and memory. You can follow Priska on Instagram @priskapavv and @prisfoodjournal.
Excerpt from Astasari’s essay ‘The Canned Memories’.
Martabak that I know has two variants. There is the sweet martabak – also known as terang bulan in some regions. And there’s the savoury one – also known as martabak telor. As I used to be a non-sweet-tooth person, I favour the savoury over the sweet one. Maybe it’s also because I love eggs so much. Nothing can go wrong with eggs, in my opinion. And martabak telor is a kind of pancake filled with egg (as telor itself means egg), meats – most often beef, but sometimes could be chicken or lamb – plus a lot of chopped scallions.
When I was a kid, often I had to accompany my mom working till quite late after she picked me up from school. I still remember when in the evening she drove me home and on the way she would suddenly ask me, ‘Do you want to get martabak?’ Afterwards she would park the car next to the first martabak cart she saw and ordered one for me. I never knew why suddenly she had an idea to buy me martabak. Maybe out of pity because most of my friends had usually already been home in the afternoon, enjoying their leisure time, while I had to still be in my uniform and just arrived home in the evening. Maybe just because she actually wanted to eat martabak as well.
There are several options that you can choose for your martabak telor. It mainly differs in how many eggs you want to in it. Although it could vary between one vendor to the other vendor, we call the one with 2 eggs as martabak ‘biasa’ – a ‘normal’ or ‘usual’ martabak. The one with 3 eggs is called ‘special’. The one with 4 eggs is called ‘istimewa’ – or roughly translated as ‘exceptional’.
Somehow, Ibu always ordered martabak special for me. Perhaps it is in the belief that the more eggs in the batter, the tastier the martabak will be. However too many eggs means the price would be higher as well – so let’s settle with 3 eggs. That sounds logical, doesn’t it? Although if I recall, I might not really taste a big difference between each version.
I honestly find most martabak vendors offer similar tasting martabak. The best martabak telor I have ever eaten is in Yogyakarta, in the infamous Malioboro street. On my last days before leaving Indonesia, I went to Yogyakarta together with Bapak, Ibu and Adek. Yogyakarta is where my father was born and where my grandparents still lived. Thus, we went there for ‘pamitan’ – bidding my farewell and ask for my grandparents’ blessings.
‘We should get you a martabak from Malioboro. You would miss martabak when you’re in Germany. You would not find martabak there!’, Bapak said to me, to which I instantly agreed.
We drove to Malioboro in the night. The street was packed with people, as expected. Street musicians were playing their guitar and singing their hearts out. Tourists were negotiating the price for batik souvenirs. Street vendors were shouting to attract buyers. We went to any cart selling martabak. As usual, Ibu asked for martabak special.
If you ask, the difference between this martabak and the other martabak telor I’ve ever had might not be that spectacular. There was another fried batter inside this martabak. Some people say that they use free-range chicken eggs in their batter. Some people say that makes it more savoury. Somehow it just tastes different for me. It just tastes the best.
I watched how my martabak was being made. My favourite scene was when the seller was tossing the martabak dough, transforming it from a shape of a ball into a thin layer of crepe-looking dough. He would put this thin layer of dough into a pan filled with hot oil. Afterwards he would toss in the batter consisting of eggs, chopped scallions and minced meat. Finally he folded the dough layer, and continued bathing the whole martabak in this hot oil. It smelled so good that I immediately started salivating.
Check back next week for more brilliant and surprising work!