Papuans love to eat! At least three times a day. ‘Selamat Makan’ means ‘Enjoy Your Meal!’ and it was one of the first Indonesian sentences I learnt here. They also talk about food a lot and a greeting including “Makan sudah?” (“Have you eaten yet?”) is very common.
As important as a proper meal may be, the locals don’t spend much time at the table though. They help themselves generously from the buffet, sit down, gulp down their plate with a spoon and get up 10 minutes later. Never mind if the person they were talking to while eating hasn’t finished yet. You may suddenly find yourself all alone at the table, even though you were surrounded by 5 people when you started eating. This may seem rude to us, but it doesn’t seem to be like that here. They probably wonder why we spend so much time at the table when we could be chatting, playing the guitar or watching videos on our phones in front of our rooms instead!
A meal is not a meal if it doesn’t contain rice, fish and vegetables - for breakfast, lunch and dinner, often in very similar combinations. Papuans don’t seem to request as much variety as we do. Vegetables are usually cooked (I miss salads!) and often in a broth, but they are generally very nice. Sometimes, they come in a delicious spicy coconut sauce which I really love.
Talking about spicy – the local version of Sambal (a spicy chili paste) is freshly made every day and generously applied on every dish. There’s a separate buffet for the guests with a sort of fusion cuisine of Western and Indonesian dishes, including the fresh Sambal which I also use every day. Only when the resort was closed, and we all ate the same food as the locals, did I find out that there are two versions of Sambal – one from Hell (for the locals) and a weaker one for wimps like us Westerners… The first time I added it generously to my rice and fish only to find out very quickly that this was a different version than the one I was used to from the guest buffet! I was desperately trying not to show how much my throat was burning and to prevent my tears from running down to not make a complete fool of myself in front of the locals. Not an easy task, but I somehow managed! And decided to take it easy on the Sambal until the resort opened again and there was a milder version.
Did I mention that the food is delicious here? Well, it really is! To make things worse, there are homemade cookies available all the time (!) and there is a delicious desert every evening. I quickly decided, I was going to skip desert, unless there was something with chocolate (I’m a chocolate addict!). And leave the cookies to the guests (ok, once in a while, I do allow myself one of the yummy chocolate cookies…). As my job here doesn’t involve a lot of physical activity, I definitely have to be careful not to end up like a puffer fish very soon...
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…