Photo: Charles Dharapak / AP Photo
President Obama spent four years of his childhood in Indonesia in the 1960s, and recently made an official presidential visit to the southeast Asian archipelago. But what excited the most public attention in Jakarta were not any diplomatic initiatives he proposed, but what he said he missed from his time there. And what he missed was bakso.
Bakso (a.k.a. bakmi) is Indonesia's premier street food, a soup that can contain any number of things, but always includes meatballs -- which are also called bakso. Confused? This soup is sold from stalls in the street, from trucks, and, most memorably, by vendors who ride bicycles that have a bakso-assembling set-ups attached to the front, complete with little steam-table tubs heated by Sterno flames or charcoal.
The meatballs themselves are usually made with finely ground beef, but can also be composed of chicken, fish or shrimp. Sometimes, they're formed from bovine variety meats like tendon and liver. But the quintessential feature of these orbs -- which can be as small as marbles or as large as tennis balls -- is that the meat is extended with tapioca flour, which gives the meatballs a bouncy consistency.