Fast Fool Nation (Part 1)
A Look at Dished Out Deceptions

Despite what the sidebar tells you, I am not a food blogger. Truth is, I’m not an anything-blogger. I sometimes like to think that I am a bloggist, but I cannot possibly write that down on a government form, can I? When I told my high school counselor in 1995 that I wanted to blog, she suggested a line of work with more dignity and recommended livestock insemination. So no… not a food blogger (even though I have an unhealthy preoccupation with food and tend to write about it often).

Count yourselves lucky, though. If I were a food blogger, I wouldn’t just post more about food topics. I would go on to publish dissertations on the big issues relevant to me, such as: if the muscles that hold in pee and poo are different, why does my underwear look like this?


Image Withheld – Editor

Please understand me. The issue is just basic mathematics and nothing else. As a wise man once told me, the basic formula goes: the more you eat = the more you shit. If I became a food blogger, I would just be fecally fuller. Everyone knows that I’m already bursting enough as it is without me telling you whether something is to die for or is better than sex. Besides, those descriptions are reserved only to be used by those who were bred to die as virgins.

You cannot blame me for being so wary about food, though. I already know that I am, but why must the food also be full of shit? Oh, you don’t know? The food that you know and love have been untrue to you, and some for generations. They’re liars.

For instance, have you ever gone to your neighborhood French Baker because of a hankering for a danish? It’s like that, you see… your simple action already had you lying to yourself on a number of levels. You might as well just get the Korean Beef BBQ meal from French Baker. First of all, you went to French Baker for danish – shouldn’t you have gone to a Danish Baker? Sure, why not? Just know that, in Denmark, a danish is called wienerbrød. As you try to pronounce that word, know that it simply means Viennese (“wiener”) bread (“brød”), because it is a Danish specialty that originated from Vienna. Wait, it gets more confusing. Turns out that you were right all along, because the French apparently did popularize the danish (and other Viennoiserie). We are therefore right to assume that our French-inspired bakeries in Manila have the best Danish Viennese bread.


As far as pastries go, it’s quite flaky. [thanks, Wikimedia]

That’s just a quick example. There are more of these poseurs around, and a lot of them are common in Filipino fare. Case in point:


Thanks, WikimediaJava Rice / Java Sauce

The Defendant

Java Rice is yellow fried rice that should be familiar to everyone who’s ever been to The Aristocrat. The ‘Philippines’ Most Popular Restaurant’, easily considered an institution, serves Java Rice with their famous barbecues. For many Pinoys, this is the only acceptable pairing for grilled dishes. Likewise, this meal is never complete without Java Sauce, a dark soy-peanut flavored syrup. Since Aristocrat’s introduction, Java Rice has become prevalent in the Metro, served usually with grilled or sizzling food. Java Sauce, though not as widespread, is still popular. It even became a limited edition Chicken McNugget sauce in the early 90s.

 

Alleged Point of Origin

Java is an island in Indonesia. It is the most populous island for that country (and the world), and is also where the capital, Jakarta, is located. Most of you probably already know that, especially computer programmers who have a caffeine addiction.

 

Trail of Evidence

While on the hunt for yellow rice in Java, one may try Nasi Kuning because snakes on a plane. Nasi Kuning literally means “yellow rice”. This is rice that has been cooked with coconut milk and turmeric (to which it owes its characterstic yellow color). The yellow rice is often molded into a conical structure (tumpeh) to serve as centerpiece on a bilao along meaty side dishes for special occasions. The to-be-expected coconut-ginger taste, however, excludes it from being Java Rice as we know it.


We need something just as yellow but oilier. [thanks, Wikimedia]

It wouldn’t be too difficult to find yellow fried rice in a country whose national dish is – well – fried rice, would it? Truly, Nasi Goreng exists in different permutations all over Indonesia that there is no single definitive recipe for it. When in Java, one may ask for Nasi Goreng Jawa (“Javanese Fried Rice”), but one may get disappointed because it appears more brownish than yellow. Likely as not, a yellow version of Nasi Goreng exists although it may not at all be called ‘Java Rice’ (if it is even called anything).

Why is it brownish then? Well, that’s mainly because of Kecap Manisa treacly soy-based condiment. It is basically soy sauce and (a lot of) palm sugar. It looks like the Java Sauce that we are familiar with but without the distinct peanut taste. This is a travesty, I say. In the Philippines, something that sounds like Ketchup Mani should give you something peanuty. What kind of witchcraft is this Indonesian ‘sweet soy sauce’? Can’t we get something called ‘peanut sauce’ or something?

Why yes, of course. Peanut sauce is the best. In Indonesia, it is often called Sambal Kacang, but we may know it as Satay Sauce. Being paler and chunkier, it doesn’t look at all like Aristocrat’s Java Sauce, but it does taste like peanut. It is used to accompany skewers of grilled meat called satay. Zoinks and zegads! That sounds so familiar…

Aristocrat had us fooled all along, it seems. Their Java Rice is a Pinoy adaptation of fried rice, while their Java Sauce seems like an amalgam of two Indonesian condiments. I feel so heartbroken. At least their barbecue is genuine, right? Look again, because our Pinoy barbecue tradition has less in common with Western ‘barbecue’, and more with Indonesian satay preparations. Our established concept of ‘barbecue’ is that of a grilled bamboo skewer of meat chunks that have been marinated in something (often) sweet, isn’t it?


So… satay is Indonesian ‘barbecue’? [thanks, Wikimedia]

 

Verdict

Java Rice seems to be a dish classifiable under Nasi Goreng. Java Sauce on the other hand, seems to be an inspired combination of Kecap Manis and Satay Sauce.

It must be noted that Artistocrat was established in 1936, during the American Occupation. Whether or not they were responsible for introducing the Filipino concept of ‘barbecue’, it would help to appreciate the social context of the times. Under the Americans, it would have been de rigueur for ‘exotic’ fare to be presented in Western terms to appeal to the public. In this case, Indonesia (a neighbor) was deemed more exotic than jazz music from half a planet away.

Aristocrat, I forgive you. You still do have the best barbecue in town, after all. I grew up on your awesome. Like most things Pinoy, your barbecue meal is simply a hodgepodge of different things and traditions. Indeed, searching for Java Rice or Java Sauce in Java would make any Pinoy look like an idiot. Once upon a time, you introduced Indonesian-inspired fare into the Filipino palate (but under confusing nomenclature), thus giving us Java Rice and Java Sauce – two things that are now more Filipino than Javanese. Pity about the name, though.

 

Acts of Perjury – Javanese Court

On a rating scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being most honest, Java Rice would rate a phi, while Java Sauce would be a pi. Doesn’t it make one feel smarter to use Greek letter constants for numbers?


* Java Rice: “The dog ate it.”
* Java Sauce: “All dogs go to heaven…

As far as lying is concerned, Java Rice and Java Sauce are little white lies familiar to kids, likely involving dogs. These two supposed Javanese items are pretty harmless even though the Philippines was still quite young and impressionable during the 1930s. When they were introduced, the Filipino national identity was that of a forty-year-old teenager. Java Rice is like Santa Claus in that, by the time one stops believing, it’s not anymore relevant – who cares at all if Java Rice isn’t authentic if it’s awesome anyway? In this regard, Java Sauce is like the Tooth Fairy – whoever believed in the fairy should grow up to have unresolved issues. Do Pinoys even believe in the Tooth Fairy? Likewise, why would you care? It’s just sauce.

 

Prepare to be lied to again in our next installment.

Categories: [culture], [food]

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