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Bakso Man

By: Anne Huntsman

As the sun slowly sinks below the horizon, the last rays of light bathe the beach in a warm glow. Silhouetted against the shimmering sun, little children play in the sand, casting long shadows across the beach. Beneath the palm trees, which gently sway in the afternoon sea breeze, a huddle of beach-goers gather around the bakso man’s stall—a rickety wooden cart supported on either side by large bicycle wheels.

Bakso is popular meatball soup consumed throughout Indonesia. In the early afternoon, as the air starts to cool, street vendors appear with their bakso carts in the narrow village lanes and converge on central meeting places. Alerted by the characteristic cry of “Bakso! Bakso!” village people start to emerge from the doorways of their homes. Young children often run after the bakso man’s cart, singing a popular Indonesian children’s song:

Abang Tukang Bakso, Marilah kemari,

Aku mau beli bakso,

Yang banyak baksonya!

Older brother bakso seller, please come here,

I want to buy bakso,

With lots of bakso!

Eager to attract the bakso man’s attention. Bakso is a cheap snack food enjoyed by both young and old. Pak Yogi, a Javanese man in his early thirties, has been selling bakso to passers by alongside a busy tourist beach in southern Bali every day of the week for the past five years. Pak Yogi’s cart, with its faded blue paint starting to flake off the side, has seen better days. Pak Yogi stores the fresh ingredients (red onions, rice noodles and cabbage) inside a glass compartment on one side of the cart. Next to them is a neat stack of chipped china bowls, a few utensils and other odds and ends. A small door on the lower side of the cart conceals the gas burner, whose bluish flame provides constant heat for the simmering pot of soup and steaming meatballs. The spicy aroma of hot soup pervades the surrounding air, attracting a throng of customers.


Occasionally Pak Yogi stirs the soup, then wipes the sweat from his brow with a damp tea towel. Stooped over the steamy pot, he prepares a bowl of bakso for his first customer. Placing equal portions of rice noodles and chopped cabbage in the bowl, he adds a pinch of salt and MSG to taste and then pours two scoops of hot soup over the noodles and scatters the dimpled meatballs on top. A garnish of chopped celery leaves and a liberal spoon of sambal (hot chili paste) finishes it off. Helping themselves to the glass bottles Pak Yogi provides, the customers pour the desired amounts of tomato sauce, red chili and sweet soy sauce over their bakso to give it the perfect blend of flavors. The overwhelming sweet smell of steaming meatballs dulls the ever-present street smells of clove cigarettes, putrid drains and petrol fumes.

First published in Latitudes Magazine




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