For a guy moving himself off to Jakarta in a month, I’ve eaten surprisingly little Indonesian food—none, in fact, because Google knows of no place within a hundred miles serving such fare. So it was a fateful day indeed when Andy and I stumbled across a some-assembly-required salsa packet for Nasi Goreng.
And so this becomes the blog that is not a food blog.
It’s got some tamarind, some chilies, some onion, and some garlic, some powder of prawns, and some coconut oil, and quite possibly some voodoo magic and oriental mysticism that transformed my heap of pasty rice into an orange and exotic and altogether tantalizing Nasi Goreng, Now, the last thing I want to do is risk the internet’s collapse under the weight of another food blog in its servers, so let it suffice to say that after tasting it, I could definitely see why the Dutch took such an interest in old Batavia and the Indies. Heck, offer me some Nasi Goreng and I’d be right there with them, helping subdue some islands and enslave some indigenous and generally making myself another obnoxious imperialist. Spice, after all—that mystic taste and tastebud tingle and the odor of frying cumin and cinnamon and chili—that’s what brought all the power-hungry (and possibly just plain hungry) imperialists to the islands in the first place. It’s what led Columbus to America, too, and kept him there—at least until all Europe realized other natural resources stood to be strong-armed from peoples less influential in militaristic persuasion.
As a post-colonialist, it’s tough to see exactly what the pre-colonialists and imperialists were really thinking.
Yes, spices make foods more enticing. But do you really need to sell your soul for them? Yes, the tropics have rubber trees and mineral stores and gold buried deep in mountains—and cheap labor to boot. But do you really need to visit at gun tip and overstay the welcome by several hundred years? Yes, Nasi Goreng is nonexistent in Missouri, apparently, but ought I really to kick in some un-expectant Jakartan’s door, plant myself and the table, and demand a plate of it be brought to me at once?
On the other hand, I wonder if our generation is really so advanced in human rights. I recently finished an MA degree, and one of the great ironies, at least to me, was to listen to discussions on post-colonialism in literature. Time and again I’d hear rational and astute classmates and professors be appalled at the inhumanity of denying segments of the population the right to vote, the right to a voice, the right to independence and to dignity and to opportunity. And then I’d hear those same pundits support abortion.
Is it possible to be more of an imperialist? How much more ready are we today to deny suffrage, to deny dignity, to deny voice and economic opportunity and identity so that someone might enjoy increased comfort? Aren’t we stepping all over the rights of an inconvenient, disenfranchised minority all over again?
It’s an aberration of our times, and perhaps our descendants will eventually “grow out of” this manifestation of imperialism just as the rest of the world has—mostly, at least in name if not completely in practice and attitude—has grown out of imperialism.
In the meantime, I think I’m going to enjoy my Nasi Goreng with a new appreciation—of the clout of spice and the pull of the exotic orient, yes, but also on the inventive human spirit to forever and forever trample its fellow. At least I have to believe that it’s not the trampling that tastes so good, but rather the greed of pleasure that will provoke such trampling.
And if anyone knows of any Indonesia cuisine in the St. Louis area, I’d love to hear about it. I promise not to kick in any doors.