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>sambal terasi with Rijsttafel

Too bad the Clinton visit to Asia is mostly seen through the lens of the traditional media, where the world revolves around (is boxed in by??) terribly important issues such as nuclear proliferation, climate change, trade agreements, fight against terrorism and world peace.

It's not a bad thing that I often see Indonesia through the sentimental lens of memory. I can trigger it s
omewhat instantly with Bengawan solo, for instance.

I spent most of my teenage years in Singapore and its surrounding countries. Indonesia was a short hop across the straits. When soulful chants wafted from mosques, it mattered very little to me what religion the sounds signified. I was moved by their lyrical charm, just as I was with Gregorian or Tibetan chants. (I'm thankful my parents have never been religious.)

And of course, who would forget the tantalizing aroma of spices accompanied by red-hot equatorial heat?

The most unforgettable pungency is that of terasi ("trassi"), dried shrimp paste, equivalent to Malaysian blacan/belacan. That and hot "cili" peppers.

If I want a shortcut to these flavors, bottled sambal terasi does the trick, I was later told in America. Just a tiny spoonful, it improves the flavor of any dish, a kind Chinese-Indonesian lady told me; y
es, try it in Dutch Rijsttafel dishes.

Alas, I have never been able to reproduce the feel of a grand tropical Rijsttafel feast. Even at Indonesian restaurants here. Perhaps you can't simply bottle the essence of a place and time.

In any case, I can still say, aku cinta kamu, Indonesia.