(Originally posted on Facebook here)
Last month, at Undisclosed Territory #11 in Solo, Indonesia, I participated in Ratu Saraswati‘s Gulai (1).
I sat across from her and her grandmother’s weighty, bible-like cookbook as she asked me a series of questions about my family, my memories of food and the kind of flavours I enjoyed in my food. Eventually, Saras reached for the hardcover, careful to avoid the failing spine. Turning to the recipe for Gulai Pagar Puri, a Medanese dish, she translated it into English for me on a piece of A5 card and verbally guided me through the instructions.
I have never seen or tasted Gulai Pagar Puri before. Grandma’s cookbook was also devoid of illustrations. Yet in participating in this performance and accepting this recipe, I seemed to have entered into an implicit contract with Saras, her grandma and the family that I told her about to complete this performance. That is, I felt obliged to execute the instructions, prepare a pot of Gulai to share and produce more memories of food. Tonight, I did just that. I cooked something I had never seen or tasted before based on my confidence in Saras’s guidance and the relationship we established over the short conversation with Grandma’s cookbook. And in a sense, the look or flavour of authentic Gulai Pagar Puri does not matter as much as the memory of how Saras shared the recipe to me. This memory of food, much more than the written instructions, propelled me to cook this dish and in this particular way today. This food memory has allowed me to produce more food memories tonight. Is this the end of this performance, Gulai (1)? Or is this gulai I cooked a memory of the performance?
If the latter, perhaps the gulai I cooked is the best description of Saras performance I could ever make. If so, sorry I couldn’t share it further. It’s all in my tummy now. Yum yum. (Asian level: forgot to take plated photo cause too hungry. Oops.)