One man’s pleasure is another’s treasure

Indonesia has struck a mighty blow against inflation. 

In a battle for market share in South-East Asia’s biggest economy, e-hailing rides Gojek and Grab are giving discounts of as much as 50% and more on purchases made online or with e-wallets.

It’s making food more affordable especially fried rice, the country’s national dish, whose price has dropped by half. It’s even allowed the country’s central bank to cut interest rates. 

The Indonesian obsession with fried rice, or nasi goreng as they call it, goes all the way back to 1842 when the country was still under Dutch colonial rule. 

Pa’ Kapuas had been one of the cooks in the kitchen of Pieter Van de Voort, the then Dutch Governor when the word came down that the great colonialist was sick of pea soup and would appreciate something different.

PK was racking his brains for an idea when his eye fell idly on some steamed rice, salt, eggs, onions and chilli in that order. A superstitious man might have shuddered and thrown some of the salt over his left shoulder to avoid the evil eye. 

A weaker man might have gone for the safe option and prepared an omelette. But PK was made of sterner stuff and he stir-fried the whole combination, delicately garnishing the result with some crisply fried garlic.  

Laid before the potentate, it made for an appetising sight and it pleased Pieter powerfully. Indeed, the personage pronounced it patently pleasurable and promptly named a river after the delighted chef. 

This was how Indonesia’s longest river – the Sungai Kapuas – got christened. And if the dish was good enough for a Governor, it was good enough for the people. 

In fact, Jakarta is considering applying to UNESCO to recognise its fried rice as an “intangible treasure”, a valuable heritage not unlike India’s yoga, the US’ Dylan and Italy’s pizza.

The Italians knew they deserved the honour because Dean Martin himself had equated it to love in his famous Amore.  But they weren’t happy that Chinese fried noodles had also been given the same status. 

It made the Italians furious actually because they thought it was nowhere near its Roman equivalent. That’s why they were convinced it was an impasta. 

For their part, the people in that country could not understand why everyone kept referring to its cuisine as “Chinese” food. In China, everyone just called it food. 

Like the Indonesians, the French also yearned for its breakfast roll – the baguette – to be UNESCO heritage-listed. In fact, when not marrying his teacher, France’s President Macron was constantly writing letters to the UN organisation reminding it of its forgetfulness. 

The baguette has a proud and noble role in French history. 

It sustained many a French army marching towards surrender.  Marie Antoinette even lost her head over a careless reference to the revered dish. 

When told sometime in the 17th Century, that the French people were starving and needed food, the queen replied irritably: “Let zem eat baguette.”

You could see why some people might get testy over such a remark.

Malaysians might be pleased to learn that the traditional dance of mak’yong has been heritage-listed by UNESCO as far back as 2005.  Unfortunately, the Kelantanese traditional dance has also been first banned, then degraded by the Islamic party PAS which takes great pride in being Holier than Thou. 

“Holier Than Thou” is also the name of a tattoo and piercing parlour in Jinjang.