Domestic God(dess)

Cooking is something – I can say this with confidence – that many Indonesians don’t master. Generally we are spoiled rotten by our family who can afford maids (or sometimes maid and cook), and by the widely available good and cheap food on every corner in Indonesia. Because of this, some people never visit their own kitchen, or have more than one (one for display, one for pantry, and one for the maids who do all the cooking and where the real work presents. Seriously, this is true), or live merely by eating out or deliveries. It makes sense, anyway, that if you only need to pay USD 20.00 for a delicious main course in 5-star hotels, or much less in nice restaurants, why bother to cook?

Since Indonesians are spoiled all the way, it’s no wonder that few of us understand which knife to use for cutting meat and which one is for veggies. Horrible stories like burned toast or even burned boiled water, lack of kettle usage ability, and so on, becomes a constant joke in the country and abroad. I hardly meet someone who thinks cooking is a hobby, let alone an art. Those who do cook, usually discover their hidden talents by force of nature, being kicked out of home to study somewhere else, and as typical (poor) students, we get bored of Indomie instant noodles or suffer from acute homesick (especially when we live thousands miles away from our home country). In some rare cases, some of us are forced to cook when we get married and must impress the in-laws, or jump into a couplehood and are asked to pamper their partners, or sometimes cannot runaway from social responsibility for presenting signature dishes on holidays like Id or Christmas (the closest example would be my own mother who every year became so busy cooking for Id and she made from nastar cookies to her signature beef soup. It was a stressful time usually because we would have an open house for probably 7 days and wouldn’t know whether 13 or 30 people would turn up everyday).

I am, however, lucky (?) enough to be forced to cook since primary school. I was in all-girls school until junior high and as well as sewing, knitting, and reading (yes, every week we were shoved to the school library for several hours and must read and write a report what we have read afterwards), we had to cook something which we could sell to our schoolmates who were either brave enough to chew them or wanted to find a way to mock us, like our half-burnt spring rolls or half-fried doughnuts. It didn’t make me to be a cooking master, but at least I have become friendly and confident enough with kitchen utensils. But I never had to utilize my skill until I lived abroad and occasionally had to feed 3 other blokes who lived with me in our apartment. We’re certainly not rich enough to eat out everyday so soon I had learned to master many recipes – although mainly Chinese – including some cakes like muffins. Back to Indonesia with long hours of working and cheap food again, I soon only used my kitchen to boil a kettle for my morning coffee.

In Indonesia, mr. Mck and I hardly cooked, either we got home too late, or there’s always an invitation to attend a function where dinner will be served, or to have a reason to eat out. If we threw a BBQ party in our place, we asked Roos from Bugil’s to handle everything, and she would march into the BBQ arena with her soldiers and prepare the fabulous meal and the drink and serve them with style; all we had to do is show up and be merry. I couldn’t remember whether my high school friends could cook – it wasn’t something we normally talked about. We gossiped about latest music or movie, but never about our skill in the kitchen. If girls hardly talked about it, let alone guys who mainly discussed about cars or sport. During college I only knew one girl who likes to cook, and a guy who claims he could cook – that because his parents lived somewhere else and he had to nurture his younger twin sisters. At work cooking wasn’t a subject at all unless we talked about spending a weekend at company’s villa, and only one name came up as the absolute master of barbecue. People like my cousin Ayu who cooks and bakes as a hobby, or like Rocky who will be our head chef when we open our dream noodle station (we’re still figuring out the menu and the restaurant maybe open in the year 2050, so watch out), or Stuart’s dad who took some culinary lessons, or Sherwin who practices endlessly, are a rare kind.

However, I’m happy to tell you all that I know some blokes here who are just as clueless as spoiled Indonesians. Those are the kinds who have been pampered by their mothers or sisters so when they have to leave and live by themselves, they survive by take-outs and ready-meals. I have heard a famous story about a guy who had no idea about how to make tea, and put the teabag into the kettle and boil the water and the teabag altogether.

Anyway, when we’re back to live in Aberdeen, I have to dig my long-forgotten skill. I’m not a bad cook, at least Stuart lives up to now and hasn’t had food poisoning (yet). I could cook Asian food, from easy Chinese stir-fries to Vietnamese beef noodle (pho bo) with my eyes closed. I can make good spring rolls (thanks to years of training since junior high), and occasionally make them very spicy so Stuart can give them to his colleagues who brag they could take spicy food. But even that, only a week a go I was brave enough to try to make something different, like beef goulash (it was a successful attempt, thank you very much). I have cheekily handed the roast recipes over to Stuart, as I believe men make fire, men handle the meat, ergo men roast.

But even though I can cook and my friends look at me in awe (because they can’t, hehe), I know perfectly that there are others out there who bring this activity to a serious level. One day during lunch, there’s one lady whom I just met on the table claimed herself to be the queen of baking. She makes the best carrot cake in the world and only makes it once a year to keep it special. She has a special ingredients stuffed in her famous cake, and she refused to tell us what. She makes her own bread, and it’s much better than those in bakery shops. That day she planned to make a chocolate cake, and her husband can eat the entire cake by himself because the cake is – according to her – very very delicious. I felt like I was in the episode of Desperate Housewives, really. It was surreal.

I find it very intimidating when I hang out with expat friends who have been cooking for their entire life, those who collect and practice Nigella or Delia or Jamie Oliver recipes, and with Indonesian ladies, who reinvent themselves as cooking masters! I mean how can they suddenly change overnight from spoiled-Indonesians-who-cant-even-boil-a-kettle, to be those who bring sushi and other posh dishes to pot luck events? One day I showed up with crab cakes, and everybody complimented them and asked how I made them. Made them! I bought them from McLeish! (I’m practical *cough). And of course everyone starts telling each other how easy they cook this and that (hint: means they could do much more that the ones presented on the table).

Suddenly I’m put in a totally different situation, from nobody-cares-about-whether-you-can-cook-or-not, to be in an endless competition to become a master chef. Even for guys, as we had a cooking competition a few months ago, with Stuart and the other two competing to cook the best starter and main course, and three of us as the judges. Suddenly I find out myself flicking through the recipe books more often. Being a competitive as I am, I would re-emerge as a domestic goddess. Soon.

Anyway, I’m now building a solid track record and will find my signature dish. In the mean time, I still have Indomie for emergency situation…



  1. accordingtod says:

    Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m guilty as charged. I used to cook when I was still in Indonesia, mariied to a man who loves to cook, then I don’t anymore. Spoiled rotten. BUT… he hates to clean up after the mess he created post cooking. I don’t mind it. So, there. A perfect combination, eh?

  2. I am one of the lucky girl who was raised by an old fashion mom. In her book, all girls must be able to cook. We live in a small town with just enough people to not be rural and we didn’t have a refrigerator, because the electricity relied on the generator set. Mom taught me to pluck the chicken feathers, washed it and put it in one side and left it to her to cut up to how many pieces. Then I also had to learn to clean the intestines and the gizard as they were also be cooked later on. When I live in the dormitory school, we didn’t have to cook but we had have a task to arrange the plates, cups, forks and spoons for 200 children. Everyday there were 2 or 3 people assigned to do this job. So, I can say I didn’t have that spoilt-rotten privilege since young age :) Even though I have maid who always cooks for me now, I still wash my own plates, cups or the juicer since I use them everyday.

  3. the writer says:

    Sadly, I am one of those you mentioned who was “forced” to learn how to cook when I moved here to study :)

    But now I can say that I am proud with my own cooking, although the main ingredient is usually the instant spice sachet bought from Asian shop :)

    I was embarrassed once when I found out that my friend, who was a guy, could make a wonderful banana brownies while the big oven in my kitchen has remained untouched for quite a long time (ever since we moved here LOL)

  4. What a coincidence!

    I’ve been without a maid for almost a month now so I’m learning to cook simple dishes. It’s actually quite fun but not when it turns crap.

    The amazing thing is that I found cooking not really that difficult as what I’d imagined. I dreaded that I’d burn stuff and create fires but those things didn’t happen.

    So far… lol

  5. Sam is the kitchen Nazy according to his ex-girlfriend, so he masters the kitchen way better than me, I have to admit that my cook ability is at the beginner level.

    But I’m learning though, even though I had to rely on oyster sauce and instant ingredients :))

    When his maid took long holiday, I was “forced” to cook because we bored of dine out and I want to show off my increasing cook level to Sam. Good thing he said my fried kwetiew tastes good, relieving from my side :)

    Once I tried to cook beef rendang (with instant sauce) but apparently I didn’t cook it long enough so the meat still hard and the next day his maid offers to re-cook it LOL

  6. rimafauzi says:

    ha! I was one of those spoilt rotten not-so-little princess!
    I arrived here when I was 25. I had never washed my own clothes, never cooked, never done my own dishes. (In NY, I lived with my aunt and uncle, they had maids)
    Mr. husband was the one who taught me to cook rice using a rice cooker. and do laundry, and the dishes.
    Now I am perfectly contect making somay, pempek, lemper, martabak as i am making quiche, meat pie, cheesecake (I have been told by ex manager of hilton jkt riza suryo that my cheesecake is to die for), authentic sicilian lasagna. My Christmas Roas Turkey and cranberry sauce, cornbread and baked potatoes are also a legend.
    ok.. now i’m bragging.. lol

    The reason why I cook so well is because I love to eat (never trust a skinny cook is my motto, and yes i am one big momma!) and could not afford to go out for ‘jajan’ all the time. so i was forced to learn to cook and found i quite love to do so, and bake too. it’s very therapeutic and to see people enjoying what i made, that is the best feeling!

  7. OMG the comments is full of women’s confession. LOL.

    Seriously, i enjoy every line of this article. and i was thinking, damn..she wrote nothing but true. hehe.

    i use to say, i can’t cook. but i do cook. (obviously one of the cooking to survive kind of person 😀 )

    But it turned out great. i love cooking for appreciative eater now. not really that kind u wrote above (that they can cook better than what presented on the table). wuaahh..aku kira cuma aku aja yang merasa aneh..heran, some people still think they look brighter when they blow away other’s candle.

    harree geneeee..hehe

    bagiku orang baru belajar masak harus selalu di encourage. karena masak baru bisa jago kalo udah banyak latihan. so even when your friend’s food isn’t taste that good, at least you can say..”it looks good” or “i’m sure you meant it to be good”. hahaha

  8. @Rima:

    Can you adopt me? lol

  9. eh share info, as i am currently working with related issue, i found out that home made food are better than market (traditional) made food and market made food are better than factory made food. in terms of nutritional value.

    but this is in my study, i dont know about expensive restaurant in Indonesia siy.

  10. Finally Woken says:

    @Diny: good for you, although I prefer the other way around. It takes me longer to clean rather than to cook!

    @Elyani: I’ve seen what you’ve cooked in your blog my dear, always yummy!

    @The Writer & Ecky: it’s a first step. Once you find your confidence and you know when they say 4 tablespoons of oil doesn’t necessarily literally mean that, you’d be fine. Plus you know instant spices won’t go wrong.

    @Therry: do you think you need fire extinguisher? hehe.

    @Rima: I’d definitely come down to Brussels one day and try your cookings. They all sound yummy. And yes, money – or lack of thereof – is a big motivator to force us to find other ways to survive *lol.

    @M: I agree, but we also have to tell the truth – in a nice way of course. Otherwise they won’t learn from their mistake, no? And yes, home-made cookings are much better than ready-made ones. No idea about the nutritional contents, but Indonesia does have lots of good restaurant.

    Wonder if we’d get comments from boys?

  11. rimafauzi says:

    boys!! boys!!! where are you???
    I dont know why they havent commented. I wouldve thought theyd be flocking in here at the mention of ‘goddess’. maybe its the domestic part that is not very appealing to them. post something titled ‘im a dominatrix goddess’ and i am sure they will all come. lol

  12. @FW: he eh 😀

  13. Rob Baiton says:

    I can cook!

    I almost became a chef and even went to chef school for a while…but ended up leaving early and coming to Indonesia instead (just as well I live my life without regrets because if I had of stayed in school I could have still ended up in Indonesia cooking for a living rather than writing for one)!

    I am not gonna brag, I don’t need to, I alrady know that I am good!

  14. @Rima:

    “Dominatrix Goddess” – you should write one Rim, I can imagine you in that get up complete with the whip and knee-high boots. Rrrr…

  15. johnorford says:

    by indonesians, you mean wealthy jakartans in this article, i suppose…

  16. Finally Woken says:

    @John: no. Most Indonesians DO have maids. I’ve been to my friend’s tiny village in the middle of nowhere in East Java and they do have maids too. I spent over a decade in a city in Sulawesi and as far as I remember, everybody had maid(s).

  17. esthertanudjaja says:

    I always love to cook, but when I was back in Indonesia, had difficult pregnancy for 7 months and had to bed rest, I never cooked anymore. I would simply give the maid the recipes and she will have the food ready. Now that I am back to the US, I am glad that I am able to cook by myself again. :)

  18. When I was growing up, I hardly ever went to the kitchen. Heck, I even hardly ever lifted my plate after I finished eating.. the maid came and cleaned up the table after each meal. And we’re not a rich family, just an average middle-class one.

    I learned how to cook when I went to university in another city (no more mum and no more maids). Then more intensive cooking when I lived in Germany for my master’s degree. And even more intensive now as I live in Bali. I can’t say I’m a good cook but I really enjoy cooking. My blogs tells what I cook.

    When I first started to cook, it was all instant packaging, just-add-meat kind of stuff. But now my hubby and I are such health freaks, we (yes, we) cook everything from scratch to make sure it’s preservatives and chemicals free. I even make fresh food for our dogs daily from meat, fruit and veggies – no canned nor dried dog chow for our babies.

    I do think cooking is therapeutic, too bad some people just won’t take the time to learn. I believe anyone can cook if he/she makes an effort, my sister-in-law used to burn water but now she owns a successful bakery!

  19. Lorraine says:

    I also was ‘forced by situation’ to learn how to cook after moving to the NL. Today I can easyly prepare a complete Rijsttafel for 40 people! The ingredients for Indonesian dishes are very easy to find here.

    And the interesting part is: I’ve became a Culinary Snob who try to improve the cooking style.

    Bon appetit!

  20. Love your story, Nit! I guess if there is no other way, we are forced to become the chef hehe.

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