Food for the soul

One can tell a lot about a place and its people through the food they eat.  What one cooks converse a multitude of stories.  The places they have been, the journeys they have taken, the families they come from, even their beliefs.

I was passing through the city of Medan in North Sumatra and friends have told me how good the food is there. Even with this promise of great food, the city never really appealed to me.  I thought of it as another big metropolitan, cold and harsh – a mini Jakarta, but with great food.

My imagination had failed me.   The great food element remains, but everything else was far from it.  One word came to mind as sceneries from the train window that took me from the airport to Medan changes from rice paddy fields, to roads, to old derelict dutch buildings:




And this was amplified during meal time.

The first encounter was on that late afternoon after I checked into the hotel.  I’d decided to go for a wander around the neighborhood to get my bearings.  I walked through a little alley way and soon saw a silhouette of a man, hovering over a big pot of something.  I approached him, curiously. He stirred the pot and told me that he’s making broth – duck broth to be precise, for tonight’s dinner.  He sells duck soup. This man is an older man, perhaps in his mid 50s.  He was half naked, wearing only shorts, a long gold chain around his neck and an earring.

He told me that he’s been cooking this soup for the past 30 years.  The ducks need to be boiled for at least three hours to get the sweetness out of the bones and into the broth.  Then he adds chinese herbs – imported from mainland china, for its medicinal properties.  “This food is good for you” he said. “You can have this every day and it will be good for your health.”  I believe him.

That evening I had a bowl of the duck soup.  It was a bowl of clean, simple, wholesome goodness.  It reminded me of a home cooked meal. The kind that recede in your mind and opens up a treasure chest of memories every time you taste it.

The next morning I went wandering again.  The beauty about Medan is that food (and stories) find you, even when you aren’t looking.  Here is a series of images I made on that unexpected morning encounter.  A story of 50 year old handed down recipes, slow cooked, hand made, without pretense and shared with anyone who are lucky enough to come across.


Posted in Documentary, Portraits, Travel Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

One Comment

  1. Sharen Song January 3, 2015 at 4:11 am #

    Amazing photos and story, Cindy! 🙂

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