a meal of memories…
Posted in amsterdam, food, personal May 12th, 2009 by piablog

Last night French Boy and I decided to eat out. It’s a rare decision for a Monday night, but I hadn’t made it to the grocery store during the day as I had planned (note: I didn’t MAKE the time to GO to the grocery store) and we had no food to speak of in this little boat of ours.

So off we went, with no plan in mind of where to go.

We ended up at the only Indonesian restaurant that we truly love here in Amsterdam. Dining in this restaurant is a rarity on any given night because usually it’s too packed and we are too spontaneous to make a reservation so we just don’t go. But last night, it was just nicely packed which means we didn’t have to wait too long for a table. So we went to the bar and ordered some wine, and then in no time, our table was ready.

But I’m not writing all this to tell you about the restaurant, or what we drank, or what we ate. I’m writing to tell you how this place makes me feel. And the only word that I can find that comes close to the feeling is ‘home’.

However. I’ve never lived in Indonesia. I don’t speak Indonesian, and let’s be honest, my skin is almost as white as it can come, with a splattering of freckles to boot.

So how is it that the moment I open the door to this bustling dining hall, I feel ‘home’? Well, this is my theory…

My great-grandmother was half Scottish, half Indonesian, raised in The Netherlands. She had 3 boys, one of them was my Opa. And my Opa and Oma had 5 boys (don’t worry, everyone thereafter has been producing girls by the truckload. funny, that). I was lucky enough to get to know my great-grandmother as she lived well into her 90’s and continued to travel the world, visiting her 3 sons who were spread across 3 continents. So she often visited us in Australia, and I had the pleasure of visiting her a few times in her home here in Holland.

My great-grandmother was beautiful. She had the most gorgeous dark skin, dark eyes and dark hair. She was very Indonesian, even though she had lived most of her life in Holland. My Opa carried on the Indonesian ‘look’. He had beautiful dark skin, and a wide nose. Even though he had spent most of his life in Holland and Australia, his Indonesian heritage ran deep. I remember him walking around at home in a traditional Indonesian batik sarong on hot Sydney days. And he and my Oma made us all rijstafel – an Indonesian/Dutch feast – almost every Sunday. Their home had Indonesian artifacts all over the place, and along with the Dutch ‘carpet’ that would dress the table, there would be batiks under that, and batiks on the wall, and handcrafted Indonesian puppets hanging throughout their home.

Of my Opa and Oma’s five boys they had one son that carried the Indonesian ‘look’. And that is my father. My father has the beautiful dark skin that turns almost black in summer, and the lovely dark hair, and the wide face. He looks just like his father. He and my Mum have cooked Indonesian food as part of our regular family meals since I was little. We would have krupuk to snack on, nasi goreng for lunch, and gado-gado for dinner, along with bolognaise, tuna casserole or sausages and steam vegies on other nights. My Mum and Dad still make the best peanut satay sauce I have ever tasted.

Of my Mum and Dad’s two kids, I have inherited the Indonesian ‘look’. I have the wide face, the wide nose, and Indonesian eyes. But white skin and blue eyes. I am forever asked where I get my Asian look from and I am as proud as punch to tell them where it comes from. I think of my great-grandmother often and still, after her passing away many many years ago, I think of what she might say, or think, or wonder about things that I wonder about. When I was just ten she turned to me with a very proud look in her eyes and said “You have my Javanese nose”.

So, perhaps that is why I feel so at home when I walk into Sama Sebo. Perhaps that is why when I sit at the table I get a surge of happiness when I run my hand along the batik table cloth. And why I am proud to teach my partner to eat with a fork and spoon rather than a fork and knife. And that the rice is dry-boiled which is how my great-grandmother taught my mum how to make it, and she in turn taught me.

Perhaps I feel at home because when the waiters bring all the glorious dishes for the rijstafel I am whisked straight back to my Oma and Opa’s dining table, filled with dishes of rendang, satay, cucumbers with yoghurt, banana and coconut, nasi goreng and krupuk. The bustle of the restaurant takes me straight back to the bustle at my grandparents home- all their boys and their families talking lively in Dutch and English, discussing politics and family gossip.

Perhaps when I take my first bite of the krupuk and taste that delicious crunchy prawn cracker I remember the bowls and bowls of krupuk my Oma would carry out to us all on the terrace, my Opa sitting in his favourite chair, sarong tied tightly around his buik, watching and listening quietly as his family grew before his eyes. Perhaps that’s why when the old-men waiters say hello and smile at me I feel like I know them. Perhaps that’s why I feel so at ease at this lively Indonesian eatery.


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  1. erin says

    such lovely story, so beautifully told. thanks for sharing!

    May 12th, 2009 | #

  2. A Gift Wrapped life says

    I think you should go there lots! Beautiful post, can picture your grandparents.

    May 12th, 2009 | #

  3. Yoli says

    Thank you for sharing this lovely story with us Pia! You are so beautiful and now I see where you get your exotic look.

    May 12th, 2009 | #

  4. lynne says

    love the batiks so so much

    May 12th, 2009 | #

  5. Maia says

    Funny, my mum remembered Nasi Goreng last summer from her Dutch side of the family. She described it to us, and then we found some spices and she made it for us one night. It was a delicious meal for the cool evening after a long, hot summer day.

    May 12th, 2009 | #

  6. jennifer says

    I was in indonesia (java, bali, lombok) a year ago and it was incredible. Thank you for bringing back some great culinary memories! We could not get enough of bintang, the indonesian beer. Do they have it at sama sebo?

    May 12th, 2009 | #

  7. royal creme says

    It’s so interesting how traditions and cultures get melded together. I don’t even think of nasi as Indonesian, I consider it Surinaams.

    May 12th, 2009 | #

  8. Ana says

    Gulp. (Goosebumps.)

    May 13th, 2009 | #

  9. Kym says

    Beautiful story Pia. You took me away with you to these lovely places. I’m craving a yummmy satay & rice now.

    May 13th, 2009 | #

  10. Laura says

    I absolutely love that you’ve shared a family story with us! Isn’t it amazing how food can bring back such waves of memories and family history? Ah, and now you’ve made me hungry as well. I’m off to cook dinner…

    May 13th, 2009 | #

  11. Novi says

    I feel so proud to be from Indonesia today. I was born in Jakarta, left when I was 3 and had returned only a few times to visit. I went back with my fiance in 1993 and felt so at home surrounded with the friendly people and the wonderful food, which I miss the most. Your post brought back so many good memories. Thank you Pia for your story.

    May 13th, 2009 | #

  12. jen laceda says

    I’m new to your blog, and now I am just ‘dying’ to see your look!! I hope you have posted some photos of yourself as I am going to hun around your blog now.

    May 13th, 2009 | #

  13. linda says

    Pia you made me cry, not of sadness but of the beautiful and clear way you described your feelings you feel inside of the mix of cultures you have had woven in to your life by all your beloved family members. Being from mixed race myself ( surinam, polish, indonesian) raised in Amsterdam but living in Seattle. Your story struck a deep cord. Your blog is a source of so much
    thank you kindly

    May 13th, 2009 | #

  14. Diana says

    What a dear story. This is also how I think of and remember my grandparents, grand-aunts and uncles and the big, bustling house we visited so often, in this beautiful small town: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorn_(Limburg).

    Oh, and now you got me craving for rendang. And that in Munich, where there is NO decent indonesian restaurant in sight.

    May 13th, 2009 | #

  15. Betty says

    What a beautiful post, Pia! I recognise so much you wrote about. I’m an ‘Indo’ too and everytime I see an Indonesian older lady or gentleman I smile at them and think of my grandparents. Every year my mother, sister and I go to the Hague and visit the Pasar Malem Besar (now it’s called Tong Tong Fair) the Indonesian market. We try to eat as much of all the nice food and bring even lots more home with us. Food is, like you, know very important in our culture. But beside the food I’m very happy that I can ‘taste’ the culture there, I’ve never been to Indonesia unfortunatly. So this day trip is something I look forward to every year. Hopefully my soon to be born daugther will like the Indonesian culture just as much as I do.

    May 13th, 2009 | #

  16. Christy says

    Pia, reading your post makes me long for food from back home!! Gado-gado, rendang, kerupuk, satay, and of course, Indonesian nasi goreng, the only fried rice in the world that’s truly my favourite!! My mouth is watering at the thought of it. One of these days I’m going to ask my mother to teach me how to cook it. Loved reading your post and knowing about your Indonesian background. With all the fond memories of Indonesian food that you carried into adulthood, your great-grandmother must have been one terrific cook!!

    May 13th, 2009 | #

  17. Michelle says

    Oh you write so beautifully! You make me miss you more and also make me miss Bali and their beautiful food. Ahhh I can smell the nasi goreng now …… xxxx

    May 13th, 2009 | #

  18. Brittany Noel says

    Family and heritage is very important to me, too. Reading this post reminds me a lot about my family (not ethnically, really). The things you remember about people. The special dished they cook. Beautiful writing.

    May 17th, 2009 | #

  19. Viola says

    Pia, what a lovely, heartfelt piece. Even though I left Indonesia many years ago, I still feel a deep sense of pride for my homeland and rich culture. Your writing melted my heart…

    May 27th, 2009 | #

  20. sari (female) says

    u know what pia, i wrote my own cooking book: RISJTTAFEL. that’s my 2nd cooking book (published by GRAMEDIA). unfortunely that edition only in bahasa Indonesia. the indonesian food so various, you should try once while you are in indonesia, sometimes…


    September 10th, 2009 | #

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