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.