So the other night I was invited to go get tacos with a couple of my co-workers at a little restaurant called Taco Local. Since I’ve been here I have been told about a few Mexican food restaurants, but this would be my first experience eating at one. Now keep in mind that I did not go to this taco stand, I say that affectionately as much of the best Latin food is served from small stands, trucks or stalls, with high expectations, but I was hoping for at least the taste and/or smell of familiarity that would remind me of home. So I ordered the chili con carne torta, tacos con pollo and a shot of tequila and beer for good measure. The torta was essentially Texas chili with a blend of meat and beans with some added spices, but it was still good, and each serving came with most of the staples including salsa, onion and lime. Overall, by Jakarta standards (does a standard of Latin food exist in Jakarta?), it was a delicious meal and I definitely can’t wait to go back and try some of the other items on the menu.
As with many of my favorite places back home it was not just the food that made the experience so great but also the atmosphere and the people. The restaurant was literally shaped as a long hallway with the entrance at one end and the counter and kitchen at the other. Customers can sit on small stools at the long skinny table down the middle of the dining area or at a little extended bar down each of the side walls. It’s an intimate space and if I extended my arms to each side I could probably touch each of the side walls with my fingertips. The front counter and kitchen were so small only a couple people could stand within them and the counter space barely had enough room for the menu, cash register and a small tip jar next to the register with a sign proclaiming that the staff was collecting funds for a trip to Mexico. I made sure to add my donation as I fantasized about all the delicious food they could learn to cook for me, and all customers of course, if they truly got the opportunity to travel to the Motherland. Along the walls was thematic artwork but everything culminated in a large framed sign proclaiming Mi Casa es Su Casa.
For one night at least I was able to artificially recreate some sort of resemblance of home as I allowed myself to get lost in conversations with my fellow ex-Pats about favorite dishes, restaurants and all the and the pleasurable sensations that overcome you when you get to eat your favorite food. I remember my dad, who is the proud owner of my favorite New Mexican restaurant in Massachusetts https://www.facebook.com/autenticamexicanrestaurant, once described to me one reasons he enjoys serving food to his customers. He talked about the power of being able to provide a tasty meal to a person, filling their belly’s, leaving them satisfied and content. It allows people to fulfill a basic need while providing comfort and enjoyment in life. He finished by telling me that there is something about feeding people a good meal that makes them want to trust you. This human connection surrounding food is undeniable as when you ask most people their favorite food it usually begins something like my mom’s… my grandma’s… my dad’s… or people may even identify a neighborhood restaurant growing up. In the end, this was a much needed escape as lately I find myself knee deep in grips of homesickness.
I have been in Jakarta for three months now and I believe the homesickness is being brought on partly from the fading excitement of being in a new place and experiencing new things. I have definitely established a routine, which in no way is a bad thing, but it’s comfortable and it makes everything comfortable around me. No longer am I overwhelmed by the massive malls with so many stores of brands I have never heard of. Or the Pasar Pasar (Markets) lined with food carts and stalls selling everything from soccer jerseys, office supplies, fruits and vegetables, which are right next to your neighborhood motorbike mechanic and parts store. Yes these places have become normal and in fact the only real difference between Jakarta and back home may just be the fancier buildings and parking lots back home. There is a sense of tradition mixed with 21st century entrepreneurism that makes the markets captivating yet a little normal at the same time once you get used to the atmosphere of it. I feel much more comfortable which has allowed me to embrace my new home, yet in doing so it also constantly reminds me of everything I am missing back home.
I have met some nice people here, at work and church, and they have helped me to overcome my homesickness by inviting me to things like the aforementioned night at Taco Local. This post should in no way imply that I do not like Jakarta as I am very much growing to enjoy city life and after my excursion to Palembang, Sumatra and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (next post!), I am even more excited to explore all of the great places surrounding me. As I continue my adventure here in Jakarta, I hope my comfort will allow me to continue to embrace all the great things this city and country have to offer. But at the end of the day nothing will replace the love I have for my family and how much I will miss them until I can see them again! Good night.