Guest house owner Jeff was everything you could ask for in a host – smart, great company and a really good bloke. He arranged our tours, trekking and food. Gluten free vegan? Not a problem! Every morning and evening we ate at a big, communal table just a stone's throw from the river. We were able to watch the cook at work in the open kitchen and since we've been home we've had this meal on high rotation. Luckily the kids love it almost as much as we do and because, for us, this soup is so intrinsically linked to Bukit Lawang and the orangutans we have named it after them. Don't worry, despite the name it's gluten free, vegan and doesn't require the addition of any critically endangered primates. It's pretty flexible too - just add in anything that you've got in the fridge, it's the spices that make it work.
Start off by frying an onion and some chopped carrots in a bit of oil. Throw in two dried chillies, two star anise, two cinnamon sticks, three or four cardamon pods and the same number of cloves. Let that cook for a bit until it smells really delicious. Add some water (about a cup) and chopped veggies in the order that they cook. In Sumatra we had this with potatoes, tomatoes, corn (sliced into rings) and beans. Usually we do broccoli, corn, beans and zucchini (in that order) – but it's up to you. Throw in about five cloves of garlic and a good sized chunk of ginger that you've smooshed with salt. The cooks at Kupu Kupu used a rock to crush their garlic and we liked the idea so much we brought one home from this gorgeous spot...
You can serve it over rice but, alternatively, you can also just slurp it down on its own. We usually try to count the spices in and out (like surgeons do with sponges and clamps) because it's not much fun eating a whole cardamon pod, but the extra flavour is well worth the risk.
If you like this soup and want to eat more just like it, get on over to Bukit Lawang and don't forget to say "hi" to Jeff from us.