Jettison your biases—Batam may have garnered a bad rep among Singaporeans for being boring and seedy, but local foodie Chandrana Rachman, better known by his Instagram handle Batamliciouz, is adamant with showing the world what hidden gems we’re missing out on. He tells us why you should see the island in a different light, shows us how to have a tasty kelong meal and how he’s using social media to showcase lesser-known street food stalls.
You are a household name among the local F&B owners. How did that come about?
It all started 2.5 years ago when I decided to download Instagram to show that I am hip and happening. I posted pictures of myself then. After about a month, I realized that I was not attractive enough. So I switched to posting food and boom, it was a big hit. Batam has so many hungry people who are looking for a guinea pig to test the food for them, and here I was, offering myself.
Back then, food posts lacked details so I decided to provide full information including price, location, operating hours and whether it was halal or not. People loved it. However, the main thing that worked was that I made it a point to only post food that was good. From there, lots of foodies came back with positive feedback and interacted with me. It kept on going until the point where they would look at Batamliciouz when they think of what to eat in Batam. The F&B owners also felt the positive impact and requests to review their food started coming in.
Have you always wanted to be a foodie and a social media influencer?
I have always been a foodie even before I started on social media. I would go to places most people would not bother to go even if they had passed by them countless times. Honestly, I never saw myself as an influencer. I love to hunt for food and sharing is my passion.
Tell us a little about your Instagramming style. How do you think you are different?
I am an ugly truth kinda guy. If the food is not good, I simply won’t post it. Instead, if the owners ask for my input, I would feedback to them directly. I think most owners appreciate that and they will take the feedback with open minds.
I also love to document street food. While others are busy keeping up with new openings and trends, I prefer to walk down the streets and hunt for our local street food. Batam has so much variety that even locals are not aware of due to the lack of exposure.
Through social media, we can help change that. We can help bring more exposure to these stalls and truly make a positive impact for them. I am not sure if I should say this but my pitch to my friends has always been that, to some businesses, exposure is a matter of profit or loss. But to these local hawkers, it could truly mean a better life.
What do you do for your day job?
I have two infants, no nanny. I think that’s enough to keep my hands full right? Haha. But in all seriousness, I used to run a glassware shop that took up most of my time. But now, most of my time is spent doing branding and marketing related work, such as photography, videography and design.
What made you move from Aceh to Batam and call it home?
I didn’t really have a choice about this. I was five when my parents decided to move to Batam. We were originally from Sabang Island, Aceh when it was still a free-trade zone. Then the Indonesian government decided to close the zone in Sabang and moved it to Batam, so here I am.
You know this question was coming. What are the top three eateries you would recommend to travelers in Batam?
I always have to think long and hard because there are just too many. But I do have my top three picks that will give a good taste of the food variety in Batam, yet is easy to access for tourists.
Go to Long Shu Shia Kopitiam for breakfast. This local coffeeshop has many stalls selling a variety of Indonesian as well as Chinese breakfast dishes. Then there’s Kopak Jaya 007 for lunch. They serve tasty kelong seafood and have many Instagrammable spots as well. They only use live seafood that you can catch on your own if you wish and then cooked to your preference. It is also located near the Barelang Bridge, one of the most iconic places in Batam. Then head to Acia Ikan Bakar for dinner. They are famous for their BBQ seafood as well as some zichar dishes. Its surrounding stalls sell other local delights that are a must-try as well. Some familiar dishes include orh luak, chai tow kway, chendol and more.
Where do you personally always like to eat or hang out in Batam?
For eating, definitely the streets and local coffeeshop. I love the diversity you can find at these places. To hang out, definitely cafes. We actually have quite a number of hipster cafes here. Some of them have really good food too.
When traveling overseas, how would you describe your own travel style?
Finally, an easy question. I am definitely the “live like a local” type of traveler. I love to immerse myself in their culture, especially through food. I would plan my route based on food first, then check if there are any touristy things to do in-between the food spots. I am easy with lodging. I did a road trip through over 20 states in the U.S. and I slept inside the car most of the time. But I don’t think I can do it anymore as I’m getting older!
Do you think there is a misconception Singaporeans have of Batam?
Unfortunately, I think there is. I have heard on many occasions that Singaporeans think of Batam as boring—that there’s nothing to do and no good food to eat. I can’t blame them because most Singaporeans come to Batam and do the usual one-day tour.
Batam has a lot to offer. You can do a one-day trip to Barelang Bridge and visit the area while eating local seafood in a kelong. If you are an adventurer, there are a few islands outside of Batam that you could explore. If you love to have fun and mingle with the locals, we have clubs and pubs that most tourists don’t know about.
With regards to food, we have so much more than just seafood and root beer floats. Explore outside the malls. Ask the locals where they normally eat. Look for a local guide. Check the Instagram or website of local food bloggers. I can bring you on a food tour that will take one whole day and leave you with a satisfying food coma. What I am trying to say is that there’s a different side to Batam.
If there is only time to eat one thing in Batam, what would it be?
Oh man, choosing three eateries was hard enough. But I would definitely say seafood! We can get fresh seafood at almost every corner of Batam. To be more specific, I would recommend two types of seafood: gonggong and crayfish.
I will always tell my visiting friends that gonggong is Batam’s version of escargot. We have an abundance of gonggong here and somehow, it has become a seafood that is associated with Batam. As for crayfish, it is just my personal favorite because I cannot afford lobster!