Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ramadhan and the power of food

This year was my first ramadhan. Well, I did not actually join the fasting, but enjoyed seeing a completely different Jakarta. One thing all expats and Indonesians alike agree about is that Indonesian like to eat. They don't just like it, they love it. They LIVE it! Usually the first question when meeting a friend or family member is "did you eat yet?"If not, we have a good excuse to go and find some good food somewhere. Some of my Indonesian friends have really turned talking about food into an art. They can (seriously) talk for hours about great flavors, combinations and places where to find all these. No matter what they do for a living, after a while the conversation WILL turn to food.

And if you talk the talk, you must walk the walk,right? Well, that is no problem either. At work, for instance, there is basically always someone eating something at any random moment. Walk into someone's room unexpected and they're hanging above a noodlesoup, opening a bag of crackers or mixing the spices to go with rujak (young fruit). Go to the warung (foodstall) in front and someone chews away some krupuk or nuts. Any meeting longer than two hours is a reason to order snacks; fruit, filled tofu, pastei, pisang goreng, sweet coconut jelly cakes and more.

Curtain behind which people are eating

So, how does this go together with a month of fasting? Well, the days have been somewhat long. Lunch was sometimes hard to find, since many of the food stalls were closed. In respect for those fasting the warungs were covered and closed by cloths, so it felt a bit as if we were secretively steeling cookies from the jar (my mom used to hide the jar in some high up cupboard, but I always found it). However, when dawn came nearer. things quickly became fun again. Almost every day there was an invitation for 'Bukber', opening the fast together. We've had several at the office. About an hour before people could start eating they would already prepare all the food and gather around it. Plastic cups of Kolak (coconut soup often with banana, sweet potato or cassava) and es buah (fruit punch) were handed out about half an hour in advance. And then, you wait.

Bukber with my colleagues (Photo copyright I. Fernida)

The atmosphere was truly amazing. Everyone made sure no one stood there empty handed. Sometimes someone said a prayer and then, food! After people ate. they starting talking about food again. What to eat later on? And what to eat for saur (the last meal before the sun comes up)? Of course plans needed to be made for tomorrow's meal. I'm not sure if it was necessary, but fasting made us all appreciate food even more.

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