Friday, January 13, 2012, 00:00

Custodian of history

By Rossie Indira

Custodian of history

Custodian of history

While the first conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) catapulted Bandung to global notice in 1955, Indonesians have always recognized it as a city with a difference.

Combining beautiful scenery with wonderful climate, Bandung never ceases to produce talents and create ideas be it in food, culture or even fashion.

Many come to Bandung with a list of things to do and see and culinary experiences rank high on the list.

This Indonesian citys signature dishes are sambal (chilly sauce), lalap (fresh vegetables) and nasi timbel (steamed rice in banana leaf).

Also popular is Sundanese food the cuisine of Sundanese people living in West Java.

Sundanese food has a wide variety from savory salty, fresh sourness and mild sweetness to hot and spicy. It is also famous for using fresh ingredients.

The Sundanese are known for their great survival instinct. It is said that if a Sundanese is let loose in a forest, not only will he survive but also make a thriving business out of forest products into the bargain.

The dishes here are famously different from what you taste in other Indonesian cities. People here arent content making fritters out of just bananas. They make fritters out of a whole lot of other fruits growing in their backyard.

It is Bandung where pineapple and jackfruit fritters were first concocted. People living in other Indonesian cities had no idea these fruits could be turned into fritters.

Over the years, the citys culinary talents have dished out an amazing variety of food, drinks, snacks, cookies and cakes.

There is an unwritten rule for people visiting Bandung, says Ratna Djumiati, a professor at the Parahyangan Catholic University. They must take home kue soes (cream puffs), pisang molen (banana roll), batagor (fried tofu meatball), bronies kukus (steamed brownies) or crispy snacks as souvenirs.

Bandung has also struck different notes in traditional music. The city is the birthplace of the angklung, a musical instrument made of two bamboo tubes attached to a bamboo frame.

Though it is played mainly by the Sundanese people, every Bandung resident is proud of the instrument described by the UNESCO as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.

One of the first angklung performances in an orchestra was during the 1955 NAM meet.

Now the House of Angklung Saung Angklung Mang Udjo in East Bandung serves as an integrated learning center and a site for the preservation and development of this heritage musical instrument.

I heard that the largest ensemble of the angklung with more than 5,000 people playing the instrument was in Washington DC recently. It was a record-breaking event that made it to the Guinness World Records, says Yusron Sudibdja, a long-time Jakarta resident.

Unfortunately, they didnt mention that it is a Sundanese musical instrument.

Bandung is also home to the Sundanese puppet theater, better known in Indonesian language as Wayang Golek. The dalang (puppeteer) uses wooden puppets to tell old and timeless stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata and can change the storyline as he sees fit.

Bandung also has the countrys oldest amateur photography club and one of the earliest radio stations that is famous for airing only jazz music.

It is a pioneer in distros or independent fashion outlets known for their originality and innovation. Since the early 1990s, such outlets started selling local and international indie merchandise T-shirts, jackets, posters and cassettes.

Here, people are creative, talented and little swayed by the culture of consumerism that characterizes bigger cities like Jakarta, says Dwi Cahya Yuniman, founder of Klab Jazz Bandung, an organization that promotes jazz music.

Creativity isnt an instant cooker; it is something that needs time, explains Yuniman, defending local artists who are often regarded as too lazy by those driven by deadlines.

Bandung artists produce great pieces of art, and they enjoy life, Yuniman says.

The city is also home to some of the most modern and popular rock bands in the country. Indie musicians here have always had their own fans and their own market segments

Outside the country, Bandung is still remembered as the host of the historic Asian-African conference in 1955 in the post-colonial era.

The Bandung Conference was of great interest principally because it brought together, for the first time ever in such numbers, Asian and African states whose ancient trade and cultural links had been severed during the heyday of colonialism, wrote Wilfred Burchett in his book, Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist: The Autobiography of Wilfred Burchett.

It became famous mainly for having adopted the Panchsheel, the five principles of peaceful coexistence which had been agreed on by Chinas first premier Zhou Enlai and his Indian counterpart Jawaharlal Nehru as the basis for the foreign policies of the participating states.

A trip to Bandung is incomplete without visiting the Museum of the Asian-African Conference.

The museum holds special meaning for Burchetts painter son George. During a visit to the museum, George saw two large photos of his father among the other conference participants. For him, that was the highlight of his visit to Indonesia.

I had secretly hoped to find photographs of my father there but I didnt want to have high expectations, says George Burchett.

My heart was pounding hard when I spotted him in those two photos and especially when I saw the photo of the Kashmir Princess (airline) on which he was supposed to fly to Bandung and which was blown up over the South China Sea.

With the end of the Cold War, NAM has lost much of its relevance. But for the people of Bandung, the summit continues to be special and still gives them a sense of pride.

If you go


Situated 768 meters above sea level, approximately

140 km southeast of Jakarta, Bandung lies in a river basin surrounded by volcanic mountains.


Around 3 million.

Noted for:

Cooler climate due to its elevation. Enjoys an average temperature of around 23.6 C throughout the year.

Some of the best examples of tropical Art Deco architecture in the world and colonial Dutch era buildings.

Worth visiting:

Art Deco buildings such as Villa Isola on the campus of the University of Education; the Savoy Homann Hotel; the Preanger Hotel and Gedung Sate.

The bustling narrow roads and cramped shops in the city center, where many curio and antique shops are located.

The Tangkuban Perahu Mountain, visible from anywhere in Bandung. From here, you can look down on Kawah Ratu, a large volcano crater.

Situ Patenggang, a lake surrounded by tea plantations, where visitors can go boating.

Jalan Dago, where most of the factory outlets are located. The merchandise ranges from clothes to bags, shoes and toys and the prices are very cheap.

Worth doing:

Fine dining in Bandung is very affordable and the city has many restaurants serving a wide variety of local and international cuisines. Or visitors can savor street food from one of the thousands of carts selling local fare or dine at the small nasi padang eateries at every street corner.