The European Taste Stigma in Indonesian Food Internationalization

Back at the Bango Panel Discussion, I was commenting on Om William Wongso notes about his experience presenting real Indonesian taste to international audience, and the misconception of many Indonesian chef in believing that Indonesian food must be toned down to meet International standard.  I presented some of my own experience in encountering "International taste" in Bali, and one of my favourite story is my first encounter with Will Meyrick's cooking:

Having been living in Jakarta and Bandung for practically most part of my life, I too believes that Indonesian food in hotels are tend to be pale, but it is necessary as to meet the International standard, hence I always avoid ordering Indonesian food in hotels -- except for some occasional Nasi Goreng craving. Back then the standard of reducing, taming down Indonesian cuisine I believed as a standard set in stone.

That's why upon first encountering Will Meyrick's cooking in Mama San, and later Sarong, in Bali, I was thrilled by how dare and "evil" his cooking are, compared with the cooking style of most chefs I know. Will didn't hesitate of delivering extra tanginess, saltiness, or even piercing spiciness into his cookings, something that I never know a "bule" chef can do. And with this kind of extremity, do his audience hates his food? On the contrary, both Sarong and Mama San sits at the top South East Asian restaurants on Mielle Guide and some other publications, as well as known to have a regular westerner clients.

Second one, is from my own presentation during Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2014:

Being invited as a food blogger to share about street food in Indonesia with ibu Amanda Niode, I was curious about how an international audience would react in experiencing the taste of Indonesian street food, and decided to do a small experiment with presenting my 30+ mostly westerners audience a collection of sate I brought at various street food sellers.

Despite their unfamiliarity with the more exotic meat like chicken intestine and bone marrow, it turned out that the audience love the experience. (And no food poisoning report).

Third one, is from my favourite Nasi Ayam in Bali, Nasi Ayam Ibu Oki in Uluwatu:

Despite its scorching heat, among the regular patrons this eatery has are tourists, both the Asian ones and Australian. This place also known to present the "extra large" portion which consisted of extra rice portion, and are favourite among Australian surfers.

I have also conducted an impromptu interview with one of the westerners there, which I saw didn't even break a sweat after consuming a whole plate of Nasi Ayam Ibu Oki. Turned out that Bruce, is an American teacher on a NGO project in Lombok, but every once in a while visited Bali. He said he didn't mind the heat as he love spicy food, and likes Nasi Ayam Ibu Oki for it.

So, learning from all the three examples, with an appetite and taste preference not really different with us Indonesian, why on earth then, so many Indonesian chefs still believe that authentic Indonesian food is too overpowering for international standard? While many examples against it lies in their own backyard? This have to change!

As a note, I do aware though that some people can't tolerate even a modest spiciness on their food, but it simply mean making small adjustment during the final preparation of the food, instead of toning down all the flavours and making it a standard practice.

Or even better, pick from the hundreds of available Indonesian recipe, those that naturally have a softer taste spectrum. (byms)

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