Saturday, July 7, 2007

DALTON TANONAKA


Nasi Goreng And Bill Clinton

I will stand in line for only two things – to interview Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. And for my paycheck.

That’s why I just didn’t get the long lines at Burger King upon its recent reentry into the Jakarta market. Opening-month customers at its high-end mall location waited up to an hour or more to get their hands on a Whopper Junior with cheese. That’s like Americans lining up for goat satay at a Sate Khas Senayan franchise in Michigan. It doesn’t make sense.

“People like to show off that they know about the trendy things, so they want to be the first to try it,” explained final-year college student Candice.

So it wasn't really about the food in this case. But it should be.

Indonesia has a lot more to celebrate on the culinary front than onion rings. Its indigenous cuisine is as good as it is diverse. And to break out internationally, all industry leaders need to do is focus. And promote.

Take my recent business trip to Seoul. One of the featured items in my hotel restaurant was “Indonesia’s Nasi Goreng.” For 20,000 won. That’s Rp 200,000, or more than US$20!

What that says is that we have at least one dish that people outside of this country feel is worth it to pay more than 10 times what it costs at home. And as travelers from Tokyo to Tasmania can tell you, the fried rice specialty is found on many major city menus.

But there are other items that could join nasi goreng as an exportable culinary product. As restaurateur Amalia Wirjono sees it, it's just a matter of choosing.

"I like (Indonesian food) because of the diversity. I drive to Bandung and the style of food is already very different (from Jakarta). I go the other way, say to Bogor, and it's different there," she says.

"And in terms of quality, it's expanded." The 38-year-old owner of the trendsetting Koi Restaurant & Galeria in South Jakarta says she gets bored easily and needs new flavors to keep her juices flowing.

"Take sambal (chili sauce)," she cites as an example of a possible breakout food product. "There are so many kinds, every place has its own special recipe. Bali has its own sambal, Yogya has its own sambal. That's what makes food here unique."

She agrees that for Indonesia to become the next Thailand as a source of popular cuisine globally, marketing is essential.

If nasi goreng is what government and industry leaders decide should be our “national dish” – and that’s the most logical choice – then a promotional campaign should be built around it. Have a nationwide competition for the “Best Nasi Goreng” from each province. That’s sure to generate tons of positive coverage from media outlets weary of corruption scandals and mudflow stories. Then use embassies and consulates to expand the competition overseas in selected high-profile markets like Los Angeles, London and Hong Kong.

I can picture the CNN feature story on the U.S. finals in Atlanta (that’s where CNN’s headquarters are). The judges are Bill Clinton and Agnes Monica.
The announcement:
“The winner of the Best Nasi Goreng in America is… DeShon Miller of Chicago! She will now go on to the White House to serve it up for President Hillary Clinton!”
You get my point.

But back to domestic food choices. To say there is a wide range of options here is like saying TV presenters like mirrors. Yuh! But how wide a range?

There should be lines outside Amalia’s fine dinery, not a burger joint, customers with forks in hand ready to plunge into her signature tofu salad or cradle her oven-hot three-flavored chocolate melt dessert.

And you don't need to measure the meter-long sausage at Kembang Goela to find out how special it is. The atmosphere and quality at the upscale Javanese restaurant in Central Jakarta are superb.

At the other end, there are the countless ayam goreng (fried chicken) stands and gado-gado street vendors. I just wish they'd clean up their acts - and dishwater - so hygiene isn't such a question mark.

But one simple concept takes the cake in my recipe book. I know I'm a newcomer and don't quite understand all the subtleties of this culture and society.

But can someone tell me what is the appeal of "Corn in a Cup?"
Hawaii native Dalton Tanonaka is the co-anchor of Metro TV’s “Indonesia Now” program, seen on Friday nights at 7:30 p.m. He can be reached at dalton@metrotvnews.com


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