Nasi Mania

by Tabitha Kidwell

As part of hosting a fellow, my institution got to send one faculty member to the TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) conference in Philadelphia. We are sending my friend Bu Rini, who came into my office the other day very concerned.

“Tabby…” she said. “In America, where can I find the rice? When Pak Hammam (another faculty member) went to America he said he was very weak without rice. What do you suggest?”

Oh my. Indonesian people love their nasi. They eat it for every meal, huge piles of it. They might have ten fried goodies, some fruit, a sandwich, and some noodles, but they would say that they hadn’t eaten yet because there is no rice. When they ask what I ate for breakfast and I say something like “fruit and yogurt” or “oatmeal,” they look at me like maybe I didn’t understand the question because those are just not logical answers. They were looking for something like “fried tempe, vegetables… and rice.” Indonesian people are constantly asking me what we eat in America if we don’t eat rice. Potatoes? Bread? Pasta? Well, yes, we eat those things, but not everyday, and certainly not every meal. Trying to explain that we eat very different things at every meal just doesn’t quite compute for a culture whose idea of “meal” is a variation of sauce or fried food with a big pile of white grainy goodness.

So Bu Rini was very concerned. She had actually come into my office as I was eating my packed lunch, a tuna sandwich and cut up vegetables. I showed her what I was eating and reminded her that I eat like that and do exercise and don’t feel weak. She seemed skeptical. I told her to try Asian restaurants, or to order two “sides of rice” in American restaurants. She was still unconvinced. She left last Friday – we’ll see if she can make it back alive!

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