After living under the same roof for more than eight years (with other lodgers of course), mr Ahn and I have gradually forged a sort of cultural exchanges. At multiple times, we not only exchange stories but also foods.
I was introduced to kimchi, quite traumatizingly, in one afternoon. For Indonesians like me who hardly ever enjoyed fermented (almost rotten) foods except terasi and tempeh throughout our life span, eating kimchi is pretty much like munching some long-kept vegetables in the home refrigerator is foreign and inconceivable.
But as an amateurish occasional culinary adventurer, I took a risk this time. Kimchi, which is like vegemite to Australians, is an almost staple food. It is omnipresent in Korean dishes and recipes. Mr Ahn mentions there are around 120 food recipes he knows that includes kimchi as one of the ingredients. “You can add kimchi to rice, to miso soup, to thick soup, literally anything. And you can make sure the food is more palatable,” he voluntarily explains to me.
I am in awe.
So tonight he pulls up his sleeves and goes downstairs with me. “Let me cook for you. Get the kimchi now!” He rushes enthusiastically to the kitchenette and turns the stove on. “Oh and your olive oil!” He knows I save a bottle of it in my room.
I am standing next to him while he is in action.
A Korean man living alone like him for years abroad knows what it takes to survive in Indonesia: a little knack for cooking your own food. Because if you can hardly swallow local foods down your throat, you have to feed yourself still. This is why Korean folks here form a tightly-knit community. The stress is much higher if you are living alone as an expatriate and if you work to earn a living for your family, defiitely you are not allowed to commit suicide abroad. To avoid such suicidal tendency, Mr Ahn, for example, regularly goes to church. The church located in South Jakarta was built and is currently attended by Koreans mostly. It is here at the church he frequently gets his real Korean food supply. The kimchi he gives me is not one everyone can buy at a commercial Korean restaurant. “It is made by an ajuma (a married middle-aged lady) at the church and she gave free kimchi for members of church.”
How nice that ajuma is.
Though I never actively encourage him to try Indonesian foods, mr Ahn finds his favorite naturally. He is known to be a greedy eater of rambutan, a tropical food he can never find in Korea unless it is imported.
His freestyle Korean fried rice is finally done. In a plate, the rice is mixed evenly with kimchi and poached egg.
“It’s all natural. No flavoring. Healthy.”
He really understands my tendency towards eating health foods.
“You know me so well. Gamsahamnida,” I quickly remark, thanking him in Korean. A simple expression I long ago acquired from Song Hye-kyo in “Full House” drama series.
I scoop the reddened yet plain-flavored rice. And with a smile from ear to ear, I give a diplomatic brief review,”Massisseoyo!” (delicious).
He smiles back at me and that pretty much concludes our culinary exchange session tonight. (*/)