So foodie superstar Anthony Bourdain has hosted his own necktie party – most unexpectedly, as the fellow was in reasonably good health, and was even taping a series of new programs (which he has left awkwardly in the lurch). Why did the guy kill himself, at the peak of his fame?
Paid the bill, left the building
Maybe it had just become too much. He certainly had already soldiered through his ‘too much era’: in the 1970s he ran too many kitchens while perpetually too high on too much booze and all sorts of illegal drugs, up to and including heroin. He notably cut out the ‘too much’ and cleaned up his act before becoming a media star – but maybe the damage had been done, poor soul.
What was behind the uproarious fame that gathered magnetically around Anthony Bourdain? Well, folks everywhere are relentlessly looking for something new and exciting to eat.
Fire up the time machine and let’s head back to 1988, when this writer first arrived in Jakarta; this was just before the gates were opened, a tsunami of foreign investment ‘hot money’ started to pile in and a younger generation discovered what ‘globalize’ implied.
Jakarta was pretty sedate ( = boring). At that time, for instance, there was only one TV channel: TVRI = fat bapaks with fifty-thousand-dollar wrist watches shaking hands with other fat bapaks getting out of their new Mercedes, while the Rakyat (masses) were exhorted to admire them, shut up and Get Back To Work.
Imported goods were scarce and expensive; apart from dreary, dark stores like Golden Truly (what the hell language did that come from? Certainly not English), Diamond (fine for Chinese, bare for others) and Suzanna (no, not the horror movie star), there was only KemChicks, run by the itinerant-chicken-egg-salesman-turned-multimillionaire Bob Sadino of the kiddie-pants. It had a reasonable selection of goods for the expat crowd, forced to abide by its motto of ‘KemChicks: Why Pay Less?’
If you were making a run for the border, and Singapore, your expat office mate would beseech you to buy him some special baby formula, nowhere available in Indonesia.
Then BOOM. First Hero, then, popping up like huge toadstools, Carrefour, followed by Makro and Giant, and for the sleazy rich corruptors a new wave of billionaire-friendly stores like Ranch Market and Sogo (KemChicks having been sold off to an offshore conglomerate by then, as the Sadinos left the building).
But what a change. Get this: in 1989 I invited my Indonesian office mates to accompany me for a not-particularly-tasty Pizza Hut lunch. No more attractive alternative had yet opened (except for pioneering Yaudah Bistro, of course).
A couple of these portly gentlemen wrinkled their noses and went ‘UGH. I can’t stand the smell of cheese. It stinks!’
Now that, friends, is only history. Fast-forward to the new Millennium. New fare is everywhere.
Who would have imagined that these same local yokels, fifteen years later and amazingly wealthier, would be standing in line to get into Sushi Express – the same ones who used to tell me ‘Oh Mister, you were in Japan.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Is it true that they eat’ (pretend barfing) ‘raw fish’??
Apart from scarfing down radioactive tuna and glowing squid, local people have taken to stylish new foods in a fashion one could never have imagined in those days of rice, rice, a bit of chicken, more rice and pitiful vegetables.
How’s about some chewy fried Phyllophaga (that’s ‘beetle grubs’, dearie) in crispy starchy sago?
Not to mention the traditional-tasteless tubers: sagu, for example. Think of how you whined and complained and refused to eat tapioca pudding – even under the threat of death – when you were small. ‘Sago is a starch extracted from the spongy center, or pith, of various tropical palm stems, especially that of Metroxylon sagu.’ That is about as delicious as it sounds.
Well they gobble down the sagu and sinkong in places like Papua, as it makes them feel full – even if the vitamin and protein content is near-zero.
We can’t show the raw fish-loving customers as they’re being treated for severe radiation poisoning. Thanks Fukushima (aka ‘Happy Island’)
Motor around Jakarta today: even in lowly areas like Cililitan you can tour the food floors and see Crêpes, Takoyaki, Sashimi, Mexican tacos, frosty doughnuts, Viennese Sachertorte: if you have the Rupiah then the world’s cuisine is available.
Hey, ever notice how fat many local people are getting? That’s the downside of a ‘global diet’. Enjoy it sweety while you can.
And now a word from our sponsor – best eating for the money anywhere in DKI.
Seasoned travelers have for decades enjoyed healthy, hygienic and reasonably-priced global cuisine at Yaudah Bistro: European, Chinese, Indonesian and even some Japanese-style dishes, all to be washed down with fine European-style beers or rough-and-ready Balinese wine (don’t worry – it’s finally drinkable). Look at that big fat menu! We invite patrons to experiment, try something new and different. Trusted travel guides like Lonely Planet and others give us solid reviews; our devoted patrons keep coming back for me.
Life’s too short to waste on the same old fare, day in day out. (Back in Texas we used to joke about the Mexicans: ‘Their daily diet is beans and rice, beans and rice, beans and rice. When they get tired of that and want to try something else then they fix up rice and beans, rice and beans….)
Final Joke Alert!
During the Vietnam War American GIs were stationed in Thailand, and many liked to try the local fare.
Thermonuclear-hot Green Papaya Salad, or ‘Som Tam’
Bored GIs would make bet with each other as to who could eat the hottest Som Tam, and we are talking raging hot, a green papaya salad festooned with the little devils the Thais call ‘rat shit peppers’. There you’d see grown men weeping and flushed, about to have a heart attack from the salad.
Thai people just laughed at them: ‘Farang ba’ (‘Foreigner is crazy’).
And at that table over there a cute young girl is standing with a tray of fried locusts – YUMMY!
First soldier boy to his pal: ‘Hey I bet you won’t eat those?’
Second soldier boy takes up the challenge. ‘Sure as hell I will.’ Grabs a handful and stuffs them in his mouth. CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH.
First soldier boy winks at girl seller. ‘Boy I bet you have a hard time rounding up these little guys, hopping all over the place. How do you catch them?’
She smiles and nods and tell them ‘Not hard to get!’ as she waves her arm around, going PSSSSSSS! spraying imaginary locusts from an imaginary can of… insecticide.