The clock ticks to 5PM. In two hours my flight will leave from Makassar to Jakarta, but something in me says that I have to check out Pisang Epe. A local told me earlier that you haven’t been to Makassar if you haven’t tried it. A little detour wouldn’t hurt I suppose.
In 10 minutes or so, our driver stops at the street right along Losari Beach. The sun has just begun setting down. That’s the cue for the many Pisang Epe stalls on the strip to get their prep ready and begin firing up the bananas. I walk over and ask whether any of them is ready to serve. He says yes and there begins the 7-minute show.
He places a few skinned bananas on top of the grill and begins lighting up the charcoals. In less than a minute, I can already feel the heat and a few minutes after them bananas are starting to golden. In just a flicker he grabs one, puts it in between two chunks of wood, and epek (press) it. He does it again to the remaining five and does it real well like a pro. Then goes the final touch to one of the most popular snacks in Makassar: a generous amount of liquid palm sugar to top it off.
As I munch on its sweetness, I start the conversation with my numero uno question: “How long have you been selling this, Pak?” The rest of the story is heartwarming and humanizing at the same time.
As it turns out, he has been doing this for a little over ten years. He has been demoted, moved, kicked from the street a few times, until recently this year the government finally gave the Pisang Epe vendors a permanent spot. It’s the perfect place for me. Overlooking the beach, you can enjoy the bananas while watching the sun sets. One question leads to another. He also reveals that if it’s not this, he doesn’t know what else to do. He has two kids, two wives, and all of them are counting their lives on about 100 bananas a day.
I can’t give much, but one thing I can do is sharing a bit of joy. So I pick up the fan that he uses to heat the charcoal and begin to joke around about me taking over his stall. He ends up carefully teaching me each step of the way, and we have a few laughs in between. There it is. Half an hour of my life that probably don’t mean much to me, but hopefully it can spark something in him. (You can go to my Instagram @captainruby to see the video) Then I pay IDR 30K for the whole party and bid adieu.
Pardon the hyperbolic title. Almost everyone in media is doing it, so I guess why not make a little pun out of it. But I do hope the story inspires you in a way. Don’t just travel, but also make it meaningful.
When you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, you might as well stay at home.