Saturday, March 14, 2009

Riding the Gravy Train

This week finds me in rather ill health. My usual lean mean fighting machine demeanor has taken a severe battering from that familiar old local foe, the dodgy plate of rice. It could have been a fish in chili sauce, it could have been the Jengkol beans that Indonesians always laugh at me for being fond of. Experience tells me however that a rogue prawn may have been to blame, one should always fear those warung prawns. It's hard to say with any degree of accuracy without the aid of my personal proctologist, the good Doctor Schweinsteiger, last seen heading for Bangkok with a suitcase full of prophylactics.

All of this speculation is rather shutting the rest room door after the horse has farted however. Once a classic Jakartan food poisoning has commenced and you find yourself spending more time on the commode than Elvis did during his later 2 foot long peanut butter and banana sandwich period (albeit for the opposite reason) you have to be a bit proactive.

If you can drag yourself away from the smallest room long enough, then head round to your local chemist or drugstore for a plastic bag full of medicinal sweeties. My first line of attack is usually the charcoal tablets. These are popular in Indonesia and are supposed to cleanse one’s system of organic toxins. They certainly make for a colorful variation on the usual lavatory experience but I have my doubts as to their true efficacy. Rehydration salts also go into the bag although generally I swear by the restorative powers of a few bottles of Heineken which is simply packed full of essential vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. Enzyplex tablets are also worth buying and are full of good digestive enzymes that may restore some Zen calm to your tremulous bowels. A strip of mild antibiotics will knock whatever it is you've got on the head if all else fails, leaving you lemon fresh and ready for action again.

Other more traditional herbal remedies have also been recommended to me at one time or another however I rather suspect that the local manufacturers of these potions have foregone the scientific rigor of strict clinical double-blind trials. An Indonesian friend of mine once gave me some Chinese diarrhea medicine that she swore would work. However she also swore to me on a separate occasion that she once saw a man walking on the sea and a snake as big as a banana tree, so perhaps she can't be relied upon for the most reliable medical testimony.

Despite my tri-annual battle with intestinal turmoil, nothing but nothing will stop me enjoying my daily lunchtime fix of cheap Indonesian food. I'm a martyr to the stuff it would seem. My local shack, one of around 5 million in the capital, let's me eat heartily after selecting from a dozen tubs of brightly colored and above all delicious vegetable and meat dishes. Okay so the food is never refrigerated safely in these places but who needs fridges when you have a dainty little antibacterial net curtain behind the food to keep the microbes at bay.

Aside from the odd es jeruk (orange juice) that tastes like washing-up liquid, I generally can't seem to get enough of the fare on offer at these roadside palaces. I maintain that it is possible to eat pretty healthily hereto if you avoid the fried stuff and the dishes that are heavy on the coconut cream. Rice, vegetables and grilled fish or chicken plus a free colonic irrigation sessions three times a year, all for Rp.15,000 a go, who can argue with that? After a decent lunch, and if I'm not feeling violently ill already, I like to finish off with a few slices of watermelon and pineapple from the food cart outside.

In fact, it amazes me, that Western fast food franchises ever manage to get a foothold here at all but I suppose that you can always rely on the power of the aspirational consumer and her insatiable desire for a slice of Americana. It does, however, never cease to amaze me how such tasty Indonesian delights and fresh dishes manage to emerge from kitchens that look like Guatemalan prison cells after a heavy riot.

There are limits to how far I'm prepared to go in search of a cheap Indonesian meal however. Baso (Indonesian meat balls) are definitely off the menu as far as I'm concerned. These gelignite and plasticine monstrosities are, for reasons that remain unclear to me, loved with an almost sexual fervor by virtually all Indonesian females. When there's so much other appetizing stuff on offer why opt for these flaccid things? On the other hand, one is perhaps unlikely to become ill after a good Baso chomp session as I very much doubt that anything organic could live on the stuff.

Anyway, I'm going to have to draw things to a hasty conclusion for another week as nature is once again calling. And so, as smoke starts to drift up from my struggling water pump downstairs, it’s time to once more get the waters of life a flowing, open a copy of the Globe and have a damned good sit down. Will I never be set free?