If you have been following my blog posts, by now you might have a general sense of the Indonesian obsession with food. Most Indonesians eat smaller portions than the regular American meal, but more frequently. We love food so much, that we even talk about what to eat next as we are enjoying a meal! (The Italians might raise their hands and say, that sounds like us!)
Such mindset is translated even into the professional settings. You get snacks or lunch during meetings, seminars, and workshops. I got so used to it that I just assumed every meeting around the world would be similar. To my surprise, a large scale conference like the ASM General Meeting does not provide food. If they had organized it in Indonesia, there would have been MASSIVE options of complimentary snacks available for participants. Knowing that there will be plenty of speakers and participants from abroad, the committee will make sure to showcase traditional Indonesian cakes and savory nomnoms.
Even in smaller scale events, there’s always some type of food offering, usually portioned individually to make sure that everyone gets their share of snacks. The worst thing that can go wrong in any event in Indonesia is if you run out of food, or if you serve something not tasty. People will be talking about it endlessly. Thirty people registered for your workshop? Order sixty sets of snacks!
Let me introduce you to the holy trinity: a snack pack containing three assorted light snacks, accompanied by a disposable glass of mineral water. The packaging can be variable, either made of plastic or thin cardboard, but the content is always the same: something steamed, something fried, and some type of sweet cake. If you are lucky, sometimes a fourth member of the clan may appear in your snack box. Hells bells, if there are only two items, people will start complaining that the organizing committee is too stingy.
A preview of your typical snack pack: something steamed (lemper – sticky rice and chicken cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves), something fried (pastel – our version of empanadas with glass noodle and vegetable filling), and a type of cake (pandan and black sticky rice chiffon cake). This was distributed in a workshop for social media usage analysis on campus.
Mind you, the use of holy trinity in this case is not intended to offend any individual belonging to certain religious group, but rather suggest a combination of three subjects that are always found together. This term has existed for a rather long time and was popularized by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse to describe the three ingredients that are considered the foundation of Cajun cooking: onion, bell pepper, celery. So again, please take it lightly.
Back to our main topic. If the talk ends around noon, most definitely you are going to get lunch. In larger events, you may see one of these buffet pictured below. Speakers and moderators get their own mini buffet so they do not have to wait in line with us commoners.
The commoners buffet. This is only half of the actual spread of food!
In smaller seminars, lunchboxes are usually distributed upon exiting the conference room. Expect a portion of rice with grilled or fried chicken on the bone, with several side dishes, chili sauce, crackers and a banana or an orange. You’ll also find a plastic spoon in the box. It’s really hard to use, yet its nostalgic effect is ever so strong. Hayooo…yang lagi tinggal di luar negeri, siapa yang kangen makan nasi kotak pakai sendok plastik?
A complete meal for lunch. This lunchbox was also provided during the social media workshop. Two courses for a three hour workshop!
The legendary useless plastic spoon. Lihat sendok ini rasanya sesuatu banget, deh!
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we get free food too in the US. That’s how a majority of graduate students survive. The food options, though, are generally not as bombastic as we have in Indonesia. Coffee and cookies are most common. On a good day, there might be pizza. At times, it’s a brown bag lunch. Read: bring your own sandwich and weep. The availability of free food is unpredictable that to attract participants some events will even advertise: Refreshments will be served. Here in Indonesia, the holy trinity is guaranteed.
Food is not the only notable difference when you compare talks in Indonesian and in the US. Later on I’ll write more about the contrasts between these two worlds. Till the next post!