Two days ago I found myself in Jakarta, the largest city in South East Asia. I spent a delightful evening with two Indonesian business partners savouring a variety of spices, sauces and curries. Welcome to a culinary paradise!
My business partners order an Indonesian rice dish called “Rijstafel”. Isn’t that Dutch? I have guessed right. Indonesia was part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands up to 1949. They tell me this is why Indonesian dishes are often milder than in other Asian countries.
I am looking forward to this “table of rice”. The kitchen door swings open. I get quite a shock. The kitchen staff place one bowl after another on our table. 25 bowls and plates! Isn’t it boring with all that rice? A quick look and a sigh of relief! Only one bowl contains rice. A cornucopia of foods and sauces is placed before me. Beside me there are peanut-coloured satay sticks, over there is a red chicken curry with pink prawn crackers and green vegetables – and sauces everywhere. Green sauces, yellow sauces, orange sauces, chilli sauces, coconut sauces.
I take a little of everything and focus on trying it all. I feel like I’m in paradise. Well, almost. My business partners have suddenly stopped smiling. The owner of the restaurant is not smiling either. Nobody is smiling! Oh no! My culinary reverie is suddenly shattered. I had forgotten to smack my lips. It is considered good manners in Indonesia as a way of showing that you are enjoying the food. I give it my best effort and start smacking my lips as if my life depends on it. As loud as I can. We all smile again and nod at each other in appreciation.