Taste of Tual

Soto Ayam
Since arriving in Tual, high winds have kept us hunkering down on board for the first three days, but now, the calm has come.  We are desperate to restock our produce stores, as we’re down to one yellowing cucumber and a few precious refrigerated green apples.

The market in Tual consists of a maze of alleyways, crowded with individual stalls.  Sure, we could find what we needed eventually, but when we took a local bus (4,000 IDR per person or 30 US cents) to the neighboring island just over the bridge, the vast fresh market wowed us.  I felt like I’d died and gone to whole foods heaven!

While we were out and about, we decided to enjoy a local meal.  Our friends on SV Adamastor highly recommended one alley that was lined with food carts.  Jess specifically encouraged me to try the Soto Ayam.  One older woman was the only one brave enough to call us over to her cart, so that made our decision for us.  We ordered a few dishes - one bakso (meatball soup) and one soto ayam (essentially an asian chicken noodle soup).  On the table, a basket of assorted puffy fried snacks were available as appetizers, so we opened a bag of shrimp crisps to try as we waited for lunch.  It was amazing how her entire restaurant kitchen fit onto the six foot by two foot cart!

Gado Gado
Turns out, the lunch was fantastic.  The Soto Ayam had lemongrass, noodles, cabbage, a boiled egg, shredded chicken and a flavorful base.  The Bakso was a more beef-flavored dish with noodles and an assortment of veggies complimenting the small, starchy meatballs that I’ve seen frozen in the grocery stores here.  Since it was our first try, we opted to split two dishes.  This meant that we had plenty of room for dessert!  The cart next to ours made Es Campur (translated ‘mixed ice’) which is a bowl filled with shaved ice then covered with cherry syrup, coconut milk, condensed milk, peanuts, and a variety of gelatin squares and beads.  It melts quickly, turning into a kind of cold cherry-flavored soup!  It was a welcomed treat in the tropical heat!  The entire meal including the dessert added up to a grand total of $6 US and all four of us left full and happy!

The next day we were supposed to set sail for Triton Bay, but no wind.  Secretly, I was thrilled to get one more day of culinary exploration!  We hit the same food alley but this time tried a new cart for some Mie Ayam (noodles with chicken) and Gado-Gado, a cold dish of boiled root vegetables like potato and cassava with raw cabbage, boiled egg, fermented tofu, and greens all covered with a thick peanut sauce.  I decided to stick with the Soto Ayam, because I enjoyed it so much yesterday.  The kids gulped down a bowl of cereal before we left the boat ‘just in case we don’t like what we order in town’.  Fair enough.  But they both ended up liking the noodle dish that they shared, so all were full and happy for the second day in a row.  This meal, however, without the dessert was $63,000 IDR, a mere $4.74 USD for all four of us to eat!!

Food Cart
On the way back to the boat I was feeling adventurous.  I stopped at mobile food cart to try the fried bits that I’d seen the school children ordering the first day we’d arrived here.  The woman serving me was thrilled to have foreign clientele.  She placed 15-20 bite-sized pieces of fried something into a little plastic bag and piled on every topping and sauce she had - peanut sauce, hot sauce, the sweet ‘kecap manis’ sauce that’s served everywhere here, a few chunks of fresh cucumber, and a tiny dollup of the flaming hot chili paste that’ll burn your insides!

I was just worrying about how I was going to eat this gooey goodness when she pulled a wooden skewer from the top shelf of her cart and stuck it deep into a dough ball.   Honestly, at first, I wasn’t sure what was inside these fried delights, and I wondered whether I should first translate the name of this fast food in my Google Translate app.  Did I want to know what I was eating or not?  I think I’d do better not knowing.

As we walked along, my adventurous resolve started to fluctuate.  I hemmed and hawed until finally plopping one of the bits into my mouth inconspicuously.  What I had thought might be octopus or squid or some of my other not-so-favorite foods, turned out to just be deep-fried dough balls and a very smoky-flavored fermented tofu.  The sauce concoction she had made seeped in every crevice, coating each bite with a savory blend of nutty, spicy, and sweet.  The cucumber pieces offered just the crispy coolness needed to offset the rich flavors. Price?  5,000 IDR or 30 cents US!

Colorful building on shore
I found myself hoping the forecasted wind wouldn’t come the next day!  Too many new foods to sample and too little time!


  1. Hey guys! We are just a few weeks away from heading to Indonesia ourselves, and our first stop is Tual! Will be keeping up with your adventures and making some notes for us!


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