Sitting down to the plate they have prepared for me, I only recognize one thing on the plate – rice. Plain, white rice. And some green stuff, brown congealed mush with skin, bright red dots and clumps that are NOT tomatoes (trust me) and the most disconcerning thing on my plate – two brown mis-shapen triangles that look like will hurt me if I attempt to eat them. And everyone in the room is watching. One of the young girls sets a mug down by my plate. In the mug the dark liquid pops and fizzes. My arch nemesis – Coke a cola. “I thought I banned you four years ago.” The bubbles dance on the surface. My hand touches the side of the mug – cold. Cold Coke. Ahh. Cold anything, I am quickly learning, is a rarity in this country. Everything is served hot, from the weather to the water. My parched throat can no longer resist. A sip. It is like the juice of forbidden fruit resting on my tounge. I hold the cold liquid in my mouth before swallowing – pops of celebration and defeat finally overtaking the taste. I reach for my fork and burp. Quietly. Oh dear. Again, a silent burp stirring in my chest. My eyes water. “This is why I gave you up, remember?” Too late.
My stomach and taste buds are still getting used to this new Asian flair they weren’t prepared for. Maybe depriving myself of Chinese food for the 6 weeks before I left wasn’t such a good idea. But then again, this is different than any Chinese take-out I’ve ever had. In fact, the dish before me is actually Indonesian, prepared by eager young Indonesian girls in the BH. No turning back now. I mix the brown and green with the rice. Turns out the green isn’t so scary after all, and tastes a lot like unseasoned green beans. That I can handle. The brown? Well. The color describes its taste. The texture was mushy and a little slimy, yet still solid. I have my suspicion it may have been a raw snail. I’m afraid to ask.
The hard part about this meal compared to the others is, this time, I’m the only one eating. I have no one to copy. I have no idea how to, or even if I’m supposed to eat the mangled triangels. The top looks as though very young small early barnacles have taken up residence. Mover over guys, I’m going in! The bottom side is a dark brown with yellow specks. I tap my fork to it and it cracks. Oh, its a crust! Inside I find white flaky meat – fish! I don’t like fish particularly, but I sucked every last bit of white out of that shell. Then I realized, the crust, not the barnacles, could be eaten as well, kinda like the skin off of fried chicken. This I like. Two for one, might as well venture towards the red clump. I put a little on my fork and move it towards my mouth. “Sister, you like chili?” I nod my head, thinking of cold nights in Kentucky, warmed by a delicious pot of brown beans, bacon, and brown sugar, topped with cheddar cheese. Comfort food. “Its hot Sister.” I was brought out of my chili-trance too late to heed the warning. Hot indeed!! My mouth on fire, I reach for the chipped mug of bubbling cold cola. Burp. No help. My fork retreaves the brown slug-thing, thinking its slick texture will calm my throbbing tounge. Only now, my mouth is hot, disgusted and burping. And I still have to finish my lunch.
That is why you always eat…then ask. (If you ask at all!) Three hours later, I’m still burping.
Just idea of a few other things I’ve eaten, minus the story:
-More triangular fish, only the second time, without realizing it I got the head. I had to grip the eye sockets to hold onto the piece.
-Lots of peppers and lots of rice
-A form of “potstickers” – or as they are called here Dumplings and Soup. The dumplings have some kind of pork in it, chopped finely, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a part of the pig I’ve ever eaten.
-Chicken liver and hearts
-Some strange looking fruit from the Philippines – a Tamarind
*I figured out a trick – mix whatever it is with plenty of rice, chew as much as you can stand, and right before you think you are going to make a face (or throw up), swallow and smile – because someone is watching!
All joking aside, it really isn’t all that bad. It is just taking some getting used to!