Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tamarind From On High

This summer I spent a few blissfully idle days on Gili Air, a tiny island off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia, east of Bali. With no paved roads, there are no cars or motorbikes, only miniature horses dragging little buggies called cidomo. The mountains on the mainland cast shadows on the clear blue water.

There's only one village on the island, and most of the food is brought over from the mainland every morning by boat. A notable exception is tamarind fruit, which the women of the village collect as it falls from trees throughout the island. In Indonesian, tamarind is called asam, meaning "sour."

The women collect the pods, peel them, and carefully pick through the sticky, tawny flesh to remove the seeds and the stringy fibers. The bits of flesh are then wadded together and collected in neat orbs about the size of baseballs. These are sold in the local market and also exported to the mainland. Tamarind is used sparingly in cooking, lending a wonderful tang to all sorts of dishes.

After a long day of collecting tamarind fruit in the hot sun and cleaning them by hand, what better consolation than an unparalleled Gili Air sunset?

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