of the putu man and spontaneous delight of children

Hi Strangers. Anybody remember the series Starting Again: Five Dos and One Don’t in which I gave all of my free and unsolicited advice to pilgrims? Quite astoundingly, considering I was living in Europe at the time and had not yet encountered Indonesian cheese, I wrote the following (here): You are allowed to hate the cheese. You can tell your husband once in a while that you hate the cheese. (Don’t tell the children.) Then invent the cheeseless taco and have something local that’s delicious for dessert. It was like a premonition. I’m not going to discuss the cheese. But these days, that local something we find for dessert is heralded by a steam whistle.

(Really? I haven’t written in two months and I’m writing about dessert? Yes.)

It’s the putu man.


He comes at night, with a steam cart. In Indonesia it’s always well and truly dark by six, and we’re usually around the big table in our kitchen having supper. He signifies his advent with a high-pitched steam whistle, like a roving tea kettle. When we hear it, which somehow we do under all the hubbub of the supper chatter and clatter, silence falls.

Then, “It’s the PUTU MAN!” And they’re off. Everybody furiously shoves on flip-flops while Alex steps into the road to head off The Putu Man. When he stops, everybody gathers around to watch the putu-making process.


Putu (poo-too) is a Javanese treat that consists of little rolls of steamed rice with coconut and palm sugar inside. While the children watch, fascinated, the putu man packs the rice into little segments of bamboo and sets them over his steamer to cook. (Hot tip from me to you: If you are going to feed the children street food, feed it to them really hot!)


When the putu is done, he rolls it in a bit of newspaper and it is carried into the house by excited little people.


(Where Wally remains, abandoned in his chair, wondering where everybody went.)

Putu for all of us runs just under fifty cents total. It’s worth far more than that for all the fun. I love the spontaneity of not knowing when we’ll hear the whistle, the sudden delight and the mad dash when we do. Baskin Robbins was never this much fun.


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10 Responses to of the putu man and spontaneous delight of children

  1. Miriam Singer says:

    Love this story! 🙂

  2. DougLag says:

    Great to see a splash of sweet joy in the midst of life there!

  3. Sara Spurlock says:

    Betsy, soooo cute! Wish we could try the putu!

  4. Zeck Santa Maria says:

    I grew up eating our own kind of Puto in the Philippines.

  5. Lydia says:

    This is so sweet!

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