I am very much enjoying Indonesia, the culinary experience. I considered the possibility of an Indonesian restaurant back in Minneapolis/ St. Paul. The more I thought about it, the more I dripped sweat into my Soto Ayam, the more I realized that the idea just wouldn’t fly.
It’s not that the food is too incredibly different, though it’s very unique; Minnesotan hipsters are capable of moderate culinary adventures. It helps, also, when the cuisine has an exotic yet easy to pronounce name – anything to give the self proclaimed connesuir a feeling of cultural “in”-ness. It’s more than that.
Eating Indonesian, in Indonesia, like Indonesians, is less a different flavor as it is a different state of mind. It might be possible to export the experience, somehow, though I don’t know that any amount of imported furniture, expensive lighting schemes and carefully chosen background music would do the trick. And I’m sure there are some excellent Indonesian restaurants in Minnesota; I will not condemn them offhand. I will have to be convinced, however, that they can come close to selling to Minnesotans how it feels to eat Indonesian in Indonesia. And this has a great impact on the taste of the food, in my opinion.
I have yet to put my finger on it exactly, of course. It’s impossible to summarize the experience of any place in simple sentences, it’s always something complex and outside the realm of vocabulary. The aesthetic ofÂ IndonesiaÂ so permeates you, is an all-encompassing and self-contradicting thing. You will be eating the most amazing thing in the world, and part of the reason that it is so damned ‘enak’ is because it hurts so much. This pain/ pleasure sensuality is an important part of the Indonesian aesthetic, for me.
Another perhaps impossible to replicate feature is the fact that, quite often to even the locals, you can’t really be sure what you’re going to get. Take soto, for example, a signature dish of the country. On Jalan Margonda, Margonda Street itself, inÂ front of the train station by Universitas Indonesia, there are four restaurants with this spicy soup in their name, each claiming to serve it in the style of a different region. The radical difference that these regions can offer is understandable, considering that Indonesia is a conglomeration of thousands of separate islands and ethnic groups, and comprises a still developing national identity that seems to bring together countless unique worlds.
Anyway, I’ll keep eating my way through Indonesia, and I’ll try not to add too much sambal next time (I’m still paying the price for enjoying that last bowl of soup too much – again, the pain/ pleasure thing).
Until next time.