My friend Russel and his wife Judy invited me to their house for lunch today. Their Indonesian housekeeper Yati is a fantastic chef. I have had the pleasure of sampling her food many times before, but never took any photos because the food smelled and looked so enticing that I was always too eager to begin eating.
Yati was frying the chicken when I arrived at their house. The whole kitchen was so aromatic that it put my salivary glands in overdrive. She explained to me that the chicken had first been marinated and boiled before being fried. Historically, the Indonesians didn’t keep raw meat because it would spoil quickly in the hot weather. The meat had to be cooked immediately, then left to be cooled either under a net on the table or in a screened cabinet. It will later be fried at meal time or whenever one is hungry. Be it cuisine, architecture or art, it is interesting how the core of any enduring style evolves from function. We change, we improve, we create new forms and narratives, but we always return to our original reason, our ancient roots for sustenance and inspiration.
Semur Daging Sapi (Tangy Beef Stew)
Ayam Goreng Kuning (Golden Fried Chicken)
Tempeh Goreng (Fried Tempeh in black sweet sauce)
Sambal Goreng (Vegetables in sambal)
Indonesian cuisine is amongst the most intensely flavorful of all foods. Yati uses a myriad of fresh spices, many of which she grows in the back of the kitchen — turmeric root, galangal root, coriander, candlenuts, lemon basil, chili peppers, shallots, lemon grass… Her freshly made sambal sauce is especially good. It could make anything taste delicious.
After today’s lunch, I could see myself coming back to Russel’s house at mealtime very frequently in the next couple of months.
Russel is a very successful and renowned photographer in Singapore. We became friends almost 26 years ago at the inaugural Singapore International Film Festival. He was the only friend I actually met in a bar. I don’t drink and almost never go to a bar; I am also extremely shy and never talk to strangers. For some reason I was at the hotel bar that day and Russel came over to introduce himself. He just started out his career as a photographer and he was going to have a photo session in LA, where I lived. It must be his warm, cheerful and straightforward personality that put me at ease with him. Throughout the years, he has been to many of my film sets and I have seen him warm up many of his subjects and make them feel comfortable to produce his best work. Since that day, Russel and I have collaborated on many magazine shoots, but more importantly, we have been pigging out together whenever we see each other.