Cardboard boxes in white, red, yellow … piled high, tied up with string or in plastic bags .. carted around sweaty city streets on the back of motorbikes or in small vans …there is not much refrigeration yet in Indonesia. Transferred into buildings and offices where they sit in readiness for a gaggle of reporters, camera-crew and photographers who have gathered and are waiting for whichever event of the moment to happen.
Initially my western sensibility held me back from consuming these boxes that were brought in and stacked high. More stomach bugs! Eating food that has been sitting around and cooked and assembled who-knows-where?! No thank you. But in fact these boxes are for the most part well-prepared, with food which is made in a manner that suits a tropical climate. A fried outer layer, or chili in the vegetables, or curry sauces, all to keep the food edible for longer and kill bacteria. And quite good to eat. Fish, chicken, vegetables, some tofu, water … and rice of course! All you need! Enak! As it turns out, I started to look forward to those moments. While playing the waiting game, the food meant that at least the stomach was not rumbling as well. There was conversation with other local reporters. And it was a free meal.
It was also smart .. far better if you are a Bank Indonesia Director to face journalists not doubly hungry!
The lunch box was also an indicator of wealth to some extent. Former general and Presidential candidate 2014 Prabowo Subianto topped the game with a box at one function of beef rendang, curry chicken and fish .. all in one rather large box!
The little lunch box is such a feature of Indonesia that it will be sad to see it go if, for instance, stringent food safety laws are implemented (will that happen?) or the cost starts adding up. It will be interesting to see how this part of Indonesia’s food culture develops. I can’t imagine it is something that those numbers of reporters – some phony and just in it for the “extras” – will want to see go anytime soon.