An Australian aid worker wrote in The cuisine in East Timor consists or rice, vegetables and occasionally meat. East Timorese love their rice. Makes sense, it’s cheap and it’s filling. They eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A meal is not complete without rice. A friend from work was telling me about a trip she did to Australia for a conference: “At lunchtime, I had to search the streets of Melbourne looking for rice because they only gave me a sandwich for lunch. Just a sandwich, no rice! I was starving. So I looked and looked and finally I found a Chinese restaurant. I just ordered rice.” [Source:, April 7, 2012 ^]

“After about twelve months of living in East Timor and eating my fair share of white rice, I felt the exact opposite: Enough with this rice! Someone please give me a sandwich. But good sandwiches are hard to come by in East Timor, especially if you want to make one yourself. Cheese and deli meats are expensive items and don’t even think about using the supermarket bread because it’s sickly sweet! ^

“East Timorese usually eat their rice with vegetables (leafy greens, potatoes, beans, carrots etc…). They simply boil or slather them with oil and serve them. You can buy all sorts of fruit and vegetables that are grown locally and are mostly organic from the street markets and at some supermarkets. The local produce tastes pretty good but don’t expect to see the perfectly shaped bananas and avocados you are used to seeing at home. Because of this, some supermarkets import their veggies from Singapore and Australia.

Meat is a luxury. The cheaper the meat, the more it is eaten. Frozen chickens aren’t too expensive and are sold in all the supermarkets. Fish is also popular and often cooked on a stick. Local fisherman stand along the man roads swatting flies and trying to offload their latest catches everyday. Red meat like buffalo, pig and goat are mostly eaten at big events like weddings and funerals. To supplement their diet, they get a lot of their protein from tofu and eggs. You'll often see young boys walking around the streets selling trays of boiled eggs with chilli sauce for 25c. Timorese deep fry anything and everything including two minute noodles. East Timorese add chilli to everything, they like their food H-O-T!

Timorese aren’t massive buyers of sweets which is probably why their bread is so sweet. But there are Indonesian style cake shops which is where you’ll be able to buy some incredible looking birthday cakes. You can even have the cakes decorated with messages while you wait. Kids are satisfied with plenty of cheap and interesting lollies and chocolates, which you should definitely try too. You can find them at any small kiosk located along the roads.

For snacks they like two minute noodles, nuts, fried banana strips, rice and supermarket bread with butter. They do make their own bread- yummy non-sweet small rolls called ‘paun’- but you have to get up really early to buy it from a kiosk before it sells out. I’m such a BIG fan of Timorese paun that I’m not going to mention anything else about it now, I reckon I’ll dedicate a whole post to in the next few months!

Drinks in East Timor

The Australian aid worker wrote in “Coffee is the drink of choice in Timor-Leste. Even though they grow their own AMAZING coffee in East Timor, a lot of Timorese drink Nescafe especially the 3 in 1 packet, which is a coffee, milk and sugar instant mix. It’s not as bad as it sounds.You can buy lots of different drinks. At the Western bars they have everything, including cider! But when it comes down to it, sometimes all you want, is to brush your teeth in good old tap water. [Source:, April 7, 2012 ^]

Palm wine is called tuaka and tua mutin in East Timor. Brandy distilled from palm wine is called tua sabu. Toddies and hot toddies are rich and refreshing drinks made with sweet sap tapped straight from the stems and flowers of a mature toddy palms. The sap can be drunk fresh or it can be boiled down to form a kind of brown sugar called jaggery, a key ingredient in many Southeast and South Asian sweets. The "hot toddy" originally came from Burma.

Toddy liquid left to ferment for a several hours becomes toddy wine, which sells for about 25 cents a bottle and according to some tastes like Milk of Magnesia. It takes two bottles to get a decent buzz. These have to be consumed more or less right after they are purchased, after several hours toddy wine turns to sour toddy mush.

Palm wine — -which in turn can be distilled into a potent spirit widely consumed in West Africa, Sri Lanka, India and Southeast Asia — -comes from a palm tree as toddy. Toddy trees are prevented from bearing fruit by binding the open flowers and bending them over. The sap is extracted initially after three weeks and collected every month or so. A good toddy tree can yield 270 liters of sap a ye

Tuak is a traditional alcoholic beverage made from the essence stem of various trees. If Tuak is made from stems of a coconut tree, it is called Tuak Nyuh ot Tuak Putih. It if is is made from stems of Jaka treeit is called Tuak Jaka/ Tuak Gading. Arak is colorless drink with a high level of alcohol. This liquor is made from the distillation process of Tuak.

Betel Nut and Smoking in East Timor

Betel nut is popular in East Timor. Some people smoke hand-rolled cheroots. One traveler posted on Escape Artistes: “We sit with the women of the village for a while, passing around the betel we have brought. Chewed with a little lime powder, and the peppers they like to cut it with out here, it produces a race of the pulse, an increase in the pace of thoughts, a dryness of the mouth, like a dab on the gums of heavily cut speed. I pass on the betel, and hand out cigarettes. A woman of quite dazzling bone structure, with the face of a 1930s model, a second-hand jacket flowing loose over her ikat sarong, inhales deeply and squints into the sun. It’s hilarious. Everyone – women and children – fall about laughing. “What’s so funny?” asks Z. “I don’t know,” I say. “I think it’s that she’s smoking, and she’s not allowed to do it.” [Source: Escape Artistes, June 30, 2011]

Betel is a mildly narcotic nut (seed) that comes from the betel palm ( Areca catechu ). Used for at least 2,500 years, it is popular in India, South Asia, China, the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Theophratus discussed it. There are references to it in ancient Sanskrit texts. An estimated one tenth of humanity regularly chews it. In many places, everybody chews betel nut, even children. It can be bought at almost any store. Many people grow it in their backyards. Some people even believe that ghosts chew it. Others regard it as magical and offer it gods and use it to ward off the evil eye.

Betel nuts are usually sucked on or chewed like chewing tobacco. They are often prepared by boiling, drying and slicing. In India, Taiwan, the Philippines and Southeast Asia, betel nut is usually dried and cut into small pieces and sold already wrapped in a ready-to-chew pepper leave. In India it is dried and called paan Paan Masala refer to an aromatic been blend of spices and condiments chewed with betel. On Yap and other Micronesian islands the nut is bit open while still green and then wrapped in a pepper leave along with some lime made from burnt and pulverized coral or clam shells, and then chewed. Sometimes it is chewed with tobacco or tobacco soaked in vodka.

Betel Palm

Betel nuts are about the size and shape of a hen’s eggs and are yellowish to scarlet with a fibrous covering. They hang in bunches from the top of betel nut palm trees. Betel nuts are harvested when the fruits are ripe. When the nut is washed free of pulp it is about the size of an acorn. Most people who collect their own nuts do so by picking them from the tree or knocking them with a stick.

The betel nut palm is very tall and slender. It can grow up to 100 feet tall with a trunk only six inches in diameter. It is topped by a grown of three, six-foot-long leaved divided into many leaflets. An adult tree can produce 250 nuts a year.

Farmers like betel nut palms because they are easy to grow and maintain and require relatively little fertilizer. The trees bear fruit after five years and nuts are quite valuable. A farmer can earn about 16 times more growing betel than rice. Betel nut does not grown on the coral atolls and residents of these islands are totally dependent on large islands for their betel nut supply.

Betel Chewing and Spitting

Betel nut produces a stimulating high that is similar to the high one gets from chewing coca leaves (the source of cocaine). Both betel nut and coca are chewed with lime, which stimulates saliva flow and causes chemical reactions with the chemicals in the nut to produce the mild stimulant.

Betel nut turn the saliva a bright red color. Frequent usage turns the teeth, gums and the inside of the mouth red and eventually black. The red juice that users spit is quite unsightly and places with many betel nut chewers often have sign forbidding the nut. Betelnut. The lime causes the copious amounts of red saliva. Don’t swallow it.

You can even tell a betel chewer when his or her mouth is closed—the fingertips are also usually bright red. Many people who chew betel nut have terrible teeth. Ironically chewers say they chew betel nut to protect their tooth from tooth decay and recent scientific research seems to back up these claims.

Some people chew beetle nut without lime, for the taste. The taste of the olive-size nuts has been compared with licorice and cheap toothpaste. Betel nuts can be brewed like coffee. In India it is sprinkled with spices and wrapped in leaves and eaten as a snack. In Malaysia, it is mixed with acacia gun, lime and nutmeg.. You can eat betel leaves.

The active ingredient in betel nut is a volatile oil called arecoline. Released from the nut by saliva and lime, it is a mild central nervous system stimulant which increases respiration. Studies of the drug have shown that it improves learning and memory and counteracts intestinal parasites. Betel nut is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat headaches, stomach pains, venereal diseases, fever, rheumatism and other ailments.

Betel nut makes the saliva red. Regular usage stains the mouth, teeth and gums red. Long terms users have damaged and blackened teeth and damaged soft tissues in the mouth. Betel is considered a health hazard. It has been linked with throat, mouth and esophageal cancers

East Timor: A Gateway for Drugs?

Tempo Semanal reported: Citizens of Indoensia, Africa, China and Australia and other foreigners know that Timor Leste’s law gives light punishment to those that traffic drugs, and the fragility of the security institutions in the airport, port and land make them choose this nation as a destination to use as a free zone of drug transit, to send on to other nations in this region, especially Indonesia and Australia, passing from the sea and land. [Source: Tempo Semanal, October 24, 2012 -]

“Foreigners use Timor-Leste as a safe path for drug activities and as high way for drugs traffickers to import and export drugs from Africa to the region. Tempo Semanal was told that drug activities have reached the school children. A film that appeared showed sad images about the future generation of RDTL using drugs and dancing in a room although still wear their school uniform. This film shows the young age they begin to enter already into drug use. -

"I think that this problem that we confront, we give small penalty, so that often times the drugs come here for to endanger to other places, when pass to Indonesia, this shows they prfer to pass from here. After Singapaore come here, we are also a little fragile because people not very separate — people have the possibility to pass from Singpare to here. Their inspections are not very separate like in other places. With this weakness, now the people not bring directly to Indonesia but passing from Timor Leste and also they see opportunities to bring to other places from this country." -

“When asked if perhaps MP Duarte Nunes, has some thoughts to propose about strengthening the law against drugs, like in Indonesia has, members of CNRT said, “Yes, as a nation that has strong neighbors, we also need to be strong for to not give image that we are soft. The law needs to be strong so that when we capture we don’t have the death penalty, but at least give maximum. This I think our apparatus and also look to show our face. Looks indeed processes, if we don’t capture people, they won’t be scared”. -

East Timor Drug Bust

Tempo Semanal reported: In October 2012, “the security authorities of east Timor captured four Indonesians and one Mozambique citizen together with two bags contains of sabu-sabu drugs which smuggling from Africa through Singapore. On the October 20th the security authorities of Timor captured citizens of Indonesia and took a red bag that entered in the baggage section of the Silk Air plane from Signapore to Dili, close to two and half kilos of Sabu in it. At noon, the wheels of the Silk Air plane began to hit the tarmac at the Nicolao Lobato airport, Comoro. Some people stepped forward to get close to the gate in the eastern part of the terminal passing from the front of the cafeteria for to advice that “come already” said people that wore civil clothes, wore hat, but many people knew that the official was from security forces of Timor. [Source: Tempo Semanal, October 24, 2012 -]

“The people that came with Silk Air began to go out from the arrival room and some went directly to the cars that were ready for them, but the people in the airport were surprised with one Indonesian citizen that carry red bag, returned to the western terminal and one PNTL authority with a small camera filmed from the back. What is happening, asked one foreign woman who wanted to know about the captured red bag. According to those in charge in the airport, Indonesian citizens were captured by the Timorese because of suspicion that he was involved in drug trafficking through Singpore to Timor-Leste, passing from Silk Air, for to export again to Indonesia. “More or less, the bag weighed 18 kilos and had drugs of more than 2 kilos inside” said the top Timorese authority who also assisted the process of checked the bag document. Just after the security officials captured the citizen of Indonesia, whom pulled the bag that was referred to a nearby taxi. “The person that comes from Indoneisa, come to take the bag of drugs to bring to Indonesia, said person that is also close to the authorities”. -

According to several people that work in Hotel Central, who asked Tempo Semanal not to publish their names said, “on 18/10/2012 one Indonesian that stay in room number 20 was captured in the middle of the night”. This Indonesian citizen, with the initials AT, was suspected of bringing drugs from abroad, transiting through Dili to other nations like Indonesia. On 18/10/2012 security officials also captured two other citizens of Indonesia in the same hotel but in separate rooms, with the initials RS and S. Also, information that this journal found indicates that security officials also captured a person from Africa in Hotel Ventura. “True, yesterday (20/10), a foreigner living in one room here in this Hotel, was held by the police” said a person who works in the hotel which used to be Paximus and now change it name to Ventura.

On the same day in Central Hotel, several people saw an Indonesian citizen captured by the security officials, when he went in to the hotel bring with a bag to some of his friends in Hotel Central whom are under the control of Timorese Authorities already. It is confirmed that four Indonesian citizens and one African were held in Hotel Central for three days, together with two bags that were filled with drugs inside, together more than close to 8 kilos. -

Sex in East Timor

Maree Curtis wrote in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine: “In Taci Tolu, closer to Dili, we hear that, despite the strict Roman Catholic upbringing, pre-marital sex is common among the young and there are fears of an AIDS epidemic. Safe sex is not considered an option when condoms cost money. Many teens eschew the old ways. Marriage is not a priority. Some harbour the familiar Western dream of becoming rock stars. I meet an all-girl group, the Tony Pererra Band. The quintet learned music by ear and had been together for just a month before playing the "Big Gig" — the independence celebrations concert in May. They had boyfriends, but "maybe would marry them in three million years". "Before, when Indonesia was here, we couldn't play music, we couldn't do anything," one of the group said. "Now, we have had our Independence Day, we are free, we can do anything, go anywhere and everywhere." [Source: Maree Curtis, Sunday Telegraph Magazine(Sydney)August 18, 2002 /]

On his experience looking for chicks and his impressions of Dili, Naughty Nomad wrote: “The culture here is very conservative and 95 percent of women don’t drink alcohol. East Timorese faces are not as attractive as their Indo counterparts. However on a rare occasion, you do encounter the odd good looking one – particularly those mixed with Portuguese blood. Alas, some nightspots will be 90 percent male. The other 10 percent are mostly ex-pat women. If you’re lucky, when you’re on at prowl there might be 1 or 2 doable Timorese girls – tops. It may seem difficult to pick here with all the muscular miltary competition, but if you’re in flow you can do it! The girls here have great bodies by the way! Aside from the vapid nightlife you can pick up the locals with day game. If you do, be warned there’s a good chance you could end up with a virgin. If you’re the first guy they have sexual relations with, be prepared for constant texts, email and declarations of “I love you! I love you”. It’s not cool, trust me. [Source: Naughty Nomad, April 29, 2010]

Nightlife Recommendations: You have limited choices during the week. But if you want the REAL Dili… Follow the music into the slums. 20 minutes later you will find a clearing PACKED with Timorese girls and guys. There’s no alcohol, just ballroom dancing. You will be the only white people, and treated like celebrities as a result. Every song the first man who asks a girl to dance gets the privilege. They will dance with you NO problem. These girls are nearly all virgins and rarely speak English but it makes for an unforgettable night and is great fun!

Thursday nights here are the best craic in Dili! Anyone who’s anyone comes here. There’s live music and a good female options. You can hook up, but you need to put an effort in. Somehow, I got lucky twice here. Once by a rich Indonesian cutie who picked me up in her car after I gave her my number in a bar. She wined and dined me, then brought me back to her place. The second time was my last night in Dili. I went to motion and managed to pick up the sexiest Timorese girl in the place. It took a bit of work but a false take away got her in the end. I also had oral sex with another Timorese girl I met in the supermarket… She then started stalking me… in one day I had 23 missed calls! 23 missed calls!

Prostitution in East Timor

In 2008, Ofelia Vilanova and Rosita Sonet wrote on; “Five months after highly publicized police raids on Dili bars and brothels, people familiar with the bars say the prostitution business is still booming. Just ask the woman who sells cigarettes every day outside a bar in the Mandarin section of Dili. “I see old men with Indonesian girls and Timorese girls, going in and out of the bar (every day),” she says. “Some of them are hugging each other right in the front gate.” [Source: Ofelia Vilanova and Rosita Sonet,, June 18, 2008 |+|]

In January 2008, “police conducted several raids on Dili establishments. On Jan. 3, the Dili District Drugs Task Force of the National Police of Timor-Leste, in cooperation with the United Nations Police, arrested 10 women and seven men at the Monalisa Bar and Moon Bar in Bairro dos Grilos. Several week s later, the task force arrested 73 men and women from five bars, according to a report published in the newspaper Suara Timor Lorosae. The report said 20 of those arrested were Timorese, while the rest were foreigners. Police Commander Pedro Belo of the Dili district said in February that the evidence obtained in the arrests has been forwarded to the Immigration Police and the Public Prosecutor. |+|

“Carlos Jeronimo, the chief of Immigration Police, said that some visitors from Indonesia, China and the Philippines arrive in Timor-Leste on tourist visas but then go to work as prostitutes. He says his office tries to crack down on people who violate the terms of their visas. Violators will be deported and fined, he says. Aderito Tilman, chief of the Dili district prosecutor’s office, says prostitution is not illegal in Timor-Leste but says those who organize the business can be prosecuted under laws dating from Indonesian time. However, he said prosecutors face problems with the January cases because “the police officers who conducted the raids did not have warrants.” |+|

“Despite the police efforts, officials say prostitution continues to be big business in Dili. Domingos Guterres, chief of the Business Licensing Department at the Ministry of Tourism and Industry, says there are 32 bars and restaurants in Timor-Leste, and many employ foreign women. Police say suspected drugs were confiscated in the bar raids. Those substances are now being tested in laboratories in Australia, they say. Says Guterres, “The government will not allow any company that runs bars or restaurants to promote prostitution and drugs. Once we get solid information from police about such practices, we will close them down.”

“Five months after highly publicized police raids on Dili bars and brothels, people familiar with the bars say the prostitution business is still booming. Just ask the woman who sells cigarettes every day outside a bar in the Mandarin section of Dili. “I see old men with Indonesian girls and Timorese girls, going in and out of the bar (every day),” she says. “Some of them are hugging each other right in the front gate.”

Prostitutes in East Timor

In 2008, Ofelia Vilanova and Rosita Sonet wrote on; “Adelaide Guterres, an advocate at FOKUPERS, notes that women generally turn to prostitution because they are poor and have no other way to earn money. She says the government should develop jobs to provide them with other options. The government is trying to do just that, officials say. Bendito dos Santos Freitas, Secretary of State for Professional Training, said this year it will provide job training for nearly 500 youths. Member of Parliament Maria Rose da Camara said the issue is especially urgent because prostitution can spread HIV/AIDS. [Source: Ofelia Vilanova and Rosita Sonet,, June 18, 2008 |+|]

But none of this matters to”AM”, a 25-year-old from Suai district, Kovalima. She works as a prostitute every night from her home, sneaking customers into her room without her grandmother’s knowledge. “They pay me from $1 to $5, “ she says. “Sometimes they don’t pay anything, because they don’t have any money.” She says her husband divorced her because she was not faithful to him, and that she does not mind being a prostitute, although she doesn’t want her grandmother to know. |+|

“Her roommate, “C”, said that at first she knew nothing about prostitution. She came to live with “AM” after she discovered her husband was having an affair. Now, she says, she works as a prostitute too. “C” is now pregnant, but says she does not know who the baby’s father is. |+|

U.N. Peacekeepers: Prostitute’s Best Customers?

Lindsay Murdoch wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Teenage Timorese prostitutes gather just before dusk opposite a hotel on Dili's waterfront where drivers in United Nations vehicles can be seen picking them up and driving away. "It's disgusting … these people who have supposedly come here to help the Timorese are abusing these poor girls," says an Australian mechanic drinking in the hotel's second-floor bar, who observes the scene every night. Some of the 2000 UN police and civilian staff from more than 40 countries are openly violating what the UN promised would be a "zero tolerance" policy towards sexual abuse and misconduct in the deeply religious country, sources say. [Source: Lindsay Murdoch, Sydney Morning Herald, May 7, 2007 ]

“Expatriates say a dozen brothels have recently opened in Dili, and that vehicles with UN markings can be seen parked outside them most nights. One of the brothels is employing a dozen ethnic-Chinese prostitutes, expatriates say. A UN employee who asked not to be named told the Herald the UN is "turning a blind eye" to prostitution. UN employees often earn as much in one day as many Timorese families earn in a year. "The so-called zero tolerance policy includes prostitution but nothing is being done stop it," she said.

“Dangerous driving is another accusation against UN employees. UN vehicles have been involved in 80 single vehicle accidents since March, some of them apparently involving drink driving, and in more than 20 other types of accidents during the same period. Atul Khare, an Indian diplomat heading the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) told staff last week he was "shocked and distressed" by the behaviour of UN drivers. "We are guests in this country and we are present here to help the people recover from the trauma of conflict and not to perpetuate it," he said.

“When the UN Security Council established UNMIT in August, Sukehiro Hasegawa, then the top UN official in Dili, promised a crackdown on the behaviour of personnel serving in the mission, which includes 1600 police and 500 civilian personnel. The UN headquarters in New York had just received an internal report exposing a culture that covered up perverted and outrageous behaviour by UN staff in East Timor over years.

The report said peacekeepers had left behind at least 20 babies they had fathered to poverty-stricken Timorese women who were now "stigmatised" and in some cases "ostracised" by their communities. It also listed cases of sexual abuse of children. Since 1999, when UN personnel first arrived in East Timor, not one employee has been charged with a serious offence. Allison Cooper, the UN's spokeswoman in Dili, insisted UNMIT was strictly enforcing the zero tolerance policy regarding misconduct. A special internal investigation unit had received only two anonymous reports of sexual abuse by UN employees but had subsequently closed investigations because of a lack of evidence, she said.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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