The Delights of Makassar
by Pamela Lim
The evil stepsisters with pink and lime-green tresses tugged at ‘Cinderella’ under scrutiny by the fat, wicked stepmother. As she aspired to audition for the role of the perfect mate for Jason, she was trapped by her sisters who then locked her up in the old, quaint cupboard. This captivating scene was taken right out of a performance in Trans Studio’s broadway theatre, where the musical called “Jason Mencari Cinta,” enthralled us with an assemblage of colours and talents! To get into the groove with the performance, I yelled like a true blue fan, “Jasoooon!!!” and fired the shutter on my camera furiously.
I wanted to have a taste of this city set in the spice trade route of Southern Sulawesi. Not only were my senses and taste buds challenged, my will was tested against the various offers at shopping districts selling multi-coloured silk, passion fruit juice concentrate and nuts. Did we go nuts on the various nuts I could get my hands on! Cashew nuts, garlic-roasted peanuts, coated nuts, you would be nuts not to try, they taste so good! Here, the custom is to greet males as ‘Pak,’ and females as ‘Ibu.’ My first taste of Makassar cuisine was at Istana Laut, a seafood restaurant. The serving of dishes was accompanied by an equal serving of spicy sambal hot enough to set me on fire. Then came this exceptionally awesome juice extracted from Tamarillos or what the Makassarese call as ‘Terung Belanda,’ the combination taste of passion fruit, lime and pomegranate in one, it alighted my tastebuds to the skies! I unabashedly ordered another glass! Oh, Tamarillo, where have you been all my life???
Nothing would prepare us for what we were about to experience the following afternoon, after a stroll around the Port of Paotere where huge sailships docked to stock up on goods. Being an integral part of the spice trade, Makassar’s ports still continue to flourish in trading spices and goods around the region. We were about to embark on a joy ride of our lives when we set foot in the largest indoor theme park in the world. Set within a fantasical land, Trans Studio Theme Park in Makassar was inspired by Universal Studios and DIsneyland in the United States so much so that some of the rides were adopted from them. It was like a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard where entertainment lines the street with lights and sounds. I put on my hat and strutted down the street Tsa Tsa Gabor style, only to be distracted by Johan the goat, of which I lost it when my girlie shrills beckoned the mascot to take a picture with me! And then everyone realised they were in wonderland and it’s okay to become a kid again! It was a weekday and hardly anyone was around, we literally had the whole theme park to ourselves! Tobbogan and train rides, I did everything I could to relive a childhood and subjected myself to the thrill of drops and flinging seats.
The very life-like Cartoon City, has got hamburger-sandwiched houses neighbouring a candy-caned entrance to the washroom, the whole chimera of life within makes you feel like an overgrown child. I went on to see a movie in the highly interactive 4D Theatre making it pop-out in your face coupled with wooshing winds and rocking seats as I try to grab objects that characters throw at me….virtually, of course! I was impressed to note that not only Magic Kingdom in Disneyworld had such entertainment and I need not pay a bomb to come here again. It only costs IDR100,000 (RM35) to gain access!
A visit to the nearby island called Samalona is a refreshing change from the city that beckons you to shop. Here, villagers live off well water and plans are underway to develop this small island into a tourist spot. Going beneath the surface of the water, a myriad of sponges, sea fans and schools of angelfishes portray a healthy ecosystem although visibility is limited due to the proximity to the mainland. A superman by the name of Mario, took us diving off the house reef. His super brother was better, fished 4 yummylicious groupers and snappers for the whole group for lunch! They prepared a grill and a fire out of coconut husks. The villagers even made a great marinade and condiment for the fish!
Visiting one island was somewhat incomplete so we ventured a little further to visit the neighbouring islands to see life of the villagers Barang Lompo. A densely populated island, kids were seen playing everywhere while mothers congregated to bask in the evening breeze. Predominantly fishermen, the villagers are friendly and would offer to take you around on a ‘Perahu Motor’ (motorbike truck) for a small fee just so you can go around the island! Sitting cramped on a truck gave us a sneak peek to the life around the village without making them feel intruded upon. What would have made the visit better was the opportunity of having tea in one of their homes and the chance to talk to them about their livelihood. It’s always good to understand another nation’s culture who’s vastly different from my own. They are mainly fishermen who ply the waters in the region for their daily catch.
On our way back to mainland, the sky threatened to pour and pour hard it did. I was rather soaked by the time I disembarked the boat and bade farewell to my four supermen who caught and cooked our meal, led us on a dive and fetched water from the well for me shower down! My heroes! The four of them are brothers who operated the seasports centre in Makassar. Looking forward to dinner, I couldn’t help but think about the abundance of onions, spices and Kemangi herb that gave superb taste to the aromatic Makassarese cuisine. One of the must-haves when dining anywhere, is the selection of choicly sambal, a relish made with pulverised Bird’s Eye Chill, shallots, herbs and spices, the array of sambal in Makassar has no rivals. My hair literally raised and my face glowed like an inferno as I sadistically savoured each type of relish! The must-try dishes are Coto Makassar – beef innards soup with spices; Bubur Manado – porridge with condiments and the exceptionally fragrant, tasty herb called Kemangi; Nyuk Nyang – crispy fried meatballs with a soft but chewy middle; Konro Bakar – grilled beef ribs with peanut sauce, a cuisine where I had to wrestle the cow to get the meat off its ribs!
We visited one of the remaining historical architecture in Makassar called Fort Rotterdam or Benteng Ujung Pandang when it was built by the King of Gowa in 1545. Within its walls, the La Galigo Museum contains references and artifacts of the historical grandeur of the Gowa-Tallo rule in Southern Sulawesi. Driven by beliefs and philosophies that a turtle can live in the ocean and yet be land bound, this dignified the fort into the shape of a turtle! The wall of the fort is made of coral reefs. No kidding.
Business go on as usual for street vendors capitalising on the sunset crowd. There’s a bubble-blower selling little tubs of suds with a pipe to people wanting to seek pleasure in creating soapy spheres; fishing rod and bait seller tempting hopefuls with the prospect of a catch and ladies selling packet drinks to quench the thirst of visitors here. Whatever your fancy, the best experience to be had in Makassar for me is at the local cafe with a spread of sambal, a generous portion of Nyuk Nyang meatballs, bottles of iced tea and a dash of curiosity for the spicy stories that the locals will gladly share with you as you munch away. My parting words….I’ll be back!