Obama & Bakso Soup

Nov 19th, 2010, in Featured, News, by
Obama Bakso

The love of a boy for the humble bakso soup dominates world headlines after Barack Obama’s visit to Indonesia.

While giving a speech at a state dinner in Jakarta during his recent visit to Indonesia US president Barack Obama exclaimed:

“Terima kasih untuk bakso, nasi goreng, emping, krupuk. Semuanya enak!”

The bakso speech

In the main Associated Press article doing the rounds on newspapers around the world – “Single comment by Obama sends Indonesia’s national street food to stardom” – bemused international audiences are told: ap

Bakso, a savoury soup of meatballs and noodles often garnished with bok choy, wontons, tofu, crisp fried shallots and hard-boiled egg, is Indonesia’s national street food, a go-to dish sold from pushcarts to hungry students, midnight revellers and just about anybody who wants a satisfying snack any time of day.

Foodie blogs throughout the world have also lit up with discussion over Obama’s love for the mysterious “bakso soup”, with in one piece by food writer Charles Ferruzza entitled “If President Obama loves bakso, I want to taste it, too” the question is asked: pitch

Where can I find it in Kansas City?

Charles finds out the owners of the local Malay Cafe in Kansas City have never heard of bakso.

Robert Sietsema of Slashfood says bakso is also known as bakmi, and says the key ingredient is that the meatballs are extended with tapioca flour, giving the meat a “bouncy consistency”. slashfood

The origins of bakso also arouse interest, with Ken Woytisek, chef instructor in Asian cuisines at the Culinary Institute of America’s St. Helena, California, being quoted as positing a Chinese-Dutch heritage for bakso:

The soup and the noodles probably originated in China, but the meatball may have come from the Dutch.

24 Comments on “Obama & Bakso Soup”

  1. ET says:

    I guess Indonesia may well become Michelle’s next holiday destination.

  2. ET says:

    O yes, and I might try to set up an export business of gerobag to the US.

  3. timdog says:

    Why did it have to be bakso though?
    Of all the fantastic dishes that Indonesia produces, why on earth has Obama gone and turned the least appetising of the lot into a celebrity food.

    So now Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, is famous for the Tifatul handshake and some rubbery lumps of mystery meat and soggy noodles in a bowl full of dirty bathwater… great…

    The first time I ever ate bakso it was good. The stock was clean and clear and without sediment yet packing a good flavour – a piece of work any chef would be proud of. The noodles were fresh, and with a nice edge of coarseness too them too. There was a big fistful of fresh spring onions on top and garlic that had been fired to the point of caramelisation, not bitterness. And as for the meatballs, they were proper homemade ones, of fresh mince, nicely bound but not rubbery, and with a little triangle of hard-boiled egg in the middle…

    I have never had good bakso since, not even during the later stages of that same trip, my first three-month jaunt through the nether regions of East Nusa Tenggara with a friend. We would get up in the morning, spend an hour over coffee going through our Bahasa Indonesia coursebooks, sharing an earphone each of a walkman to listen to the recording, and would then hit the streets of Ende, Waikabubak or wherever it happened to be. For lunch it seemed there was no choice but cold fried eggs and congealed chicken from very dirty Padang restaurants – or bakso, never good bakso, apart from that first time.

    We developed an absolute horror of the stuff, and in bleak moments created morbid fantasies about how it was made. There are a number of dirty stray dogs in NTT. Bakso, we decided, was made from these dogs.
    First they were boiled up wholesale, to produce the murky grey water in which the meatballs float.
    Then then were butchered and their foul flesh bunched into those horrible balls.
    Their intestines were scoured for the worms which surely swarmed in them. These were used for the noodles.
    Finally, their scabrous, mangey skin was scraped to provide those crispy flakes they scatter on top…

    Still fancy bakso for lunch now, Barack?

  4. Lairedion says:


    Of all the fantastic dishes that Indonesia produces, why on earth has Obama gone and turned the least appetising of the lot into a celebrity food.

    Because timdog, we do as the Americans do. We keep good bakso to ourselves and serve thrash to tourists, expats and bulays, just as Yanks keep good hamburgers to themselves but export McD and BK worldwide.

    If you have have to chance to eat at my place I’m sure you’ll enjoy our homemade bakso… 😉

  5. Lairedion says:

    If you have have to chance to eat at my place I’m sure you’ll enjoy our homemade bakso… 😉

    Sorry, must be: If you have the chance to eat at my place I’m sure you’ll enjoy our homemade bakso… 😉

  6. timdog says:

    I’m sure your homemade bakso would be not bad Lairedion, but Indonesia is a place that idolises street food (well, warung food).

    Just look at all those shining SUVs lined up outside some temporary tent with a good reputation on a roadside somewhere. In fact, it’s the one aspect of middle class Indonesian society where snobbery and sok kaya aren’t the automatic rules of the game…

    Just think of all those fabulous things they sell to everyone, even to gourmandising bulays like this one!
    But even most supposedly good bakso I’ve tried has still tasted like dog-water to me…

    In Cornwall, where I come from, Grandma’s pasties are definitely the best, and not too many tourists know that Hampsons in Hayle is the best place for a shop-bought sample. But you can still get a perfectly servicable large traditional from half a dozen places in any Cornish town. Rowes are pretty damn good for a chain, and hell, even Warrens no longer rank as “an emergency pasty” these days (though “cheap and nasty like a Warrens pasty” will remain part of the Cornish idiom forever)…

    If 99% of Indonesia’s bakso had a pasty equivalent, it would be Ginsters – and that’s a swearword in Cornwall…

    F*&%& it… Why did I have to start thinking about pasties? I’m not going to be able to find even a Ginsters in Yogyakarta am I? 😉

  7. Lairedion says:

    I know, I know, I grew up with that stuff (street/warung food).

    I grew up in West Java and got acquainted with Sundanese cuisine through its street vendors. At home we ate mainly Manadonese food, which was quite an effort due to the excessive use of pork, and at the same time living in a traditional strong Muslim area between Bandung and Tasikmalaya.

    Later spent a lot of time in Bandung which is a food heaven.

    Never heard of pasties from Cornwall. Sorry, cannot connect tasty food with Britain… 🙂

  8. timdog says:

    Sorry, cannot connect tasty food with Britain

    That’s alright; Cornwall’s not really Britain, certainly isn’t England, and will NEVER be Devon…

    As for not knowing what a Cornish pasty is, I pity you, I really do…

    'Proper Job!

  9. Lairedion says:

    Aa, regionalist sensitivities flare up… can live with that. Minahasa, North Sulawesi is certainly not Indonesia.

    By the way, I was only teasing you timdog. I’m well aware of Cornish pasty… They’re quite alright to eat, better than egg, sausage and chips…. 🙂

  10. Agan says:

    Ya, why would in the land of gloriously scrumptious Rendang, Karedok or Semur Jengkol Obama choose a random Bakso? Just like he said he was just reminiscence what his family could afford from nearby warung. Had SBY spent his childhood in the West and ordered his meals from a hole in the wall joint he too would prolly picked crappy foods like fish n chips, pindakaas patat, bagel w sauerkrauts, canned ravioli and the whole enchiladas 🙂

  11. ET says:

    Instead of the boring Western crap of Big Mac, KFC and the like, why hasn’t a smart Indonesian entrepreneur yet come up with the idea of a bakso franchise called BaksObama? Who knows, it might even spread to the US.

  12. timdog says:

    Oh, that’s good ET, really good! Someone should definitely go for that.
    And if they use my bakso recipe outlined above it could be a solution for Bali’s rabies outbreak too! 😉

  13. ET says:

    t could be a solution for Bali’s rabies outbreak too!

    Don’t get me started on that again. Do you know that despite the culling program there are even more dogs roaming the streets than before? I think they (the Balinese) put them out on purpose to preserve their – ahem – culture (sic).

  14. timdog says:

    Don’t get me started on that again

    Ah, go on ET! It’s the one thing that you and I agree with about entirely! 😉

  15. ET says:

    Someone should definitely go for that.

    It would surely address some of America’s food problems.

  16. William says:

    Its funny that Obama picked a dish that originally came from China. However, Bakso is far more popular in Indonesia than it is in China.


    Most Chinese have never tried the bakso found in China. I don’t know why. Outside of Fujian and Taiwan, most people in China eat other types of meatballs similar to the ones found in the West,

    A properly made bakso contains far less fat or binder than your typical western meatball. Only lean cuts of meat are used. Really high quality Bakso is best made with meat that comes from freshly slaughtered cattle.

  17. Hans says:

    Food What a memory, the U.S. president visits the world’s nr four most populous country and talk about food. what a waste of time. there are many IKEA in the United States.

  18. adeline says:

    Haha Ikea meatballs rule!!! They also sell them frozen 🙂

    The Chinese mainly eat fishballs/any variety of fish-based balls like squid, or fish with seaweed, etc etc… and I’ve never found meatballs similar to that from home, here. Iceland sells boxes of minced beef made into balls which are not bad actually, but these are purely meat so might need to add some spices to make it taste like real Indonesian meatballs (formalin anyone?? haha)

    timdog… have u tried Cornish pasties outside of Cornwall???? Yuk.

  19. Astrajingga says:

    At least SBY didn’t serve the famous bakso tikus in the palace.

  20. Odinius says:

    There was actually a good–and fairly informative–article on Bakso in the NYT as a result of this.

    @Agan and timdog:

    Why pick bakso over more complex Indonesian fare? Because he was talking about the stuff he loved as a kid. Bakso is the penultimate kid-friendly Indonesian food, and Obama was here as a kid.

  21. Agan says:

    Concur, I wrote above something along that line too.
    With free endorsement like that from the Salesman in Chief himself, could Bakso be the new kid on the block just like Vietnamese’s Pho Bang and Thai’s Tom Yum Goong when Campbell Soup kicked the bucket in Good Ol’ USA ?, what do ya think Ody.

  22. Odinius says:

    I think american kids would love it. The thing is, though, most Indonesian restaurants in the US are too ambitious, trying to recreate all the menus in all the islands in one place. A bakso and sate place, along the lines of the typical Vietnamese pho+bun restaurant, could do very well, especially in cities like NYC and LA.

  23. Tjandra says:

    I don’t know, but I felt that Bakso was an appropriate dish to choose. It’s one of those common and ubiquitous street food that you can find anywhere, well at least almost anywhere in my hometown of Surabaya that is; very much unlike Rendang and Semur as mentioned by Agan.

    I might be wrong though. I have spent most of my life overseas and I hardly ever return to Indonesia, although when I do, I never fail to see street vendors selling Bakso, satay or Nasi Goreng. Rendang and Semur though, never. Someone correct me if I’m wrong!

    p.s. Hans – Ikea meatballs (and even Chinese ones) are a world of a difference compared to Bakso. The only thing similar is that they are all meatballs.

  24. bennylin says:

    True. Meatball is a category, and bakso is specific to Indonesian version of it. See Wikipedia’s article on Bakso (looks like being updated — both Indonesian and English Wikipedia — post-Obama visitation)

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