Nasi Campur

Nasi campur (Indonesian/Malay: “mixed rice”, also called nasi rames in Indonesia) refers to a dish of a scoop of nasi putih (white rice) accompanied by small portions of a number of other dishes, which includes meats, vegetables, peanuts, eggs and fried-shrimp krupuk. Depending where it originates, a nasi campur vendor might served several side dishes, including vegetables, fish and meats. It is a staple meal of the Southeast Asian countries, and popular especially in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and southern Thailand, and also the Netherlands through its colonial ties with Indonesia. A similar form called chanpurū exists in Okinawa. — Wikipedia

I had identity issues growing up as Southeast Asian kid in the United States. Inevitably people always came up to me and asked, “Where are you from?” Most people aren’t placated by “Colorado” or “Chicago” or the various places I’ve lived in the United States. “I mean, before that,” they always ask. Others straight up ask “What are you?”, and some attempt to answer their own question: “Chinese? Japanese? Korean?” Or “Are you mixed?” No one has ever, not even once, gone through enough Asian countries to actually guess my ethnicity (Indonesian). I don’t know how to respond to any of it. These conversations always leave me flustered — no one ever seems to ask white friends what ethnicity they are. And, really, can any people claim to be purely any ethnicity? Not to mention the rudeness of the phrase, “What are you?”

I didn’t really know anyone else around that was Indonesian, besides my immediate family. There weren’t many other Asian kids in my hometown, or Asian characters in movies, but even if there were, they were almost always East Asian.

As a kid, I used to wonder, where it is that I should call home? Who should I root for in the Olympics? Which country should fill me with patriotic pride, where should I consider my motherland? What am I really? When you’re young, feeling like you belong is nice. But of course these days, it doesn’t much matter anyway. For most purposes, I’m American, and being wonderfully eclectic and diverse is what America is about, right?

I never really fit in in America. Or at least, white people seemed to love reminding me that I didn’t. But when we vacationed to Indonesia for the first time, when I was 16, I wasn’t really convinced that I fit in there either. I wasn’t good at the language, it was so hot and humid, everything was so unfamiliar. Yet, I had this strange and nostalgic feeling. I didn’t know what it was at first but then, I realized — my stomach and tongue had found home. It wasn’t necessarily that the food reminded me of my childhood, or my mom’s cooking — my mom loves experimenting with international food, and I grew up eating her French roast turkey, her hearty lasagnas, tasty fried wontons, and of course, drool-worthy Indonesian siomay bandung, just to name a few. But her Indonesian food tasted different than the food I was getting to eat while in Jakarta because she had always had to fudge the hard-to-find spices. Yet, it was as if my tastebuds had been fitted with a homing signal. There was no question. I love food, I love all kinds of food, there is not a single region of taste that I’ve tried that I haven’t loved, Ethiopian, Tibetan, Afghan, really, I love it all. But Indonesian food, wow, it matched the resonant frequency of my mouth, so spicy, peanuty, coconutty, ahhhhh it was so perfect. That’s how I knew I was really, truly, Indonesian. Seriously, home is wherever someone will make me mountains of nasi campur, and bake me basketfuls of nastar.