Interviews with Overseas Indonesians: Anjar

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Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk hails from Solo, the historic royal capital and cultural centre of Java, Indonesia. She has been cooking since the age of 12, and also performs and teaches traditional Javanese dance. Her dream is to eventually write her own Indonesian cookbook.

Anjar is originally from Pacitan, located in the Southwestern part of Indonesia’s East Java Province, famous for its pristine beaches and stunning caves. Anjar has been living overseas for more than a decade. In this interview, she shares her experiences about adapting to local food while overseas, and recalls some memories about her mother’s home cooking back in Indonesia.

Anjar’s Story

Could you tell us a little about your background? Where were you born and where did you grow up? Where have you lived and are currently based? How long have you lived in each country, and what do you do for a living?

Hello everybody! My name is Anjar Listyarini, and my friends call me Anjar. I was born and grew up in a small town in East Java, by the name of Pacitan. (If you don’t know where that is, please refer to a map! Hehe..) Presently, I live in Bangkok, Thailand, where I moved to in mid-January 2020. Before 2006, I’d lived in Indonesia my entire life, in Pacitan, Malang, Surabaya and Jakarta. I began my life as a wanderer in 2007, when I moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and lived there for seven years until end-2014.

When I first arrived in KL, I worked in an admin position and later did various other jobs, such as customer service in a hotel, telemarketing for an IT company for 2 years, and technical support. After that, I made the decision to take up a job offer in Shanghai, China, and worked for the same company there for 5 years, doing customer service for an online accommodation platform. Right now, I’m in Bangkok working as a Content Review.

Before emigrating, did you ever dream of working overseas? What did you imagine it would be like, and has it met your expectations?

I started dreaming of working overseas when I was still in junior high school, and I wanted to go to Japan or the US. I can’t remember exactly why I’d chosen those two countries, but I imagine it’s because I thought they were very progressive and developed compared to Indonesia. I ended up not finding work in Japan or the US, but when I managed to finally visit Japan, what I saw was exactly what I’d imagined. Everything was very modern! Hopefully, one day I’ll have the opportunity to visit the US too.

What food did you first try when you set foot overseas?

Wow, I can hardly remember! It’s been almost 13 years since I first landed in KL. If I remember correctly, I ate nasi lemak because it’s similar to nasi uduk in Indonesia. And since then, nasi lemak has become one of my must-have dishes every time I go to KL. 

Why do you like it?

I like almost every local dish in Malaysia, because the cuisine is very close to Indonesian cuisine. Apart from Malay food, I also enjoyed the Indian and Chinese food there.

How long did it take you to like local food?

Not long at all, around 3-4 months. At first, I only ate local food, and later found some restaurants selling Indonesian food. However, I ended up getting bored of eating out and starting cooking more often.

What do you do when you miss Indonesian food? Do you cook or eat out at a restaurant?

Both. I eat out for dishes I don’t know how to cook, such as rendang. Rendang also tastes better in an authentic Padang restaurant!

Which Indonesian restaurants succeeded in satisfying your cravings in China and Thailand?

Actually, there’s only one Indonesian restaurant in Shanghai, since the closure of another. The flavours are good, and the menu has a decent variety, except that it’s less spicy to suit local Shanghainese and other expats. I never managed to find an Indonesian restaurant in Thailand, but local Thai food is also delicious. But Indonesian food can easily be cooked at home in Thailand, because the ingredients found in Thailand are the same as those in Indonesia.

Before moving overseas, did you know how to cook?

Yes, but only very simple sauteed dishes and nasi goreng. When I first started cooking overseas, I had to browse recipes beforehand.

What was your favourite food growing up?

I didn’t have one, because I was a bit of a picky eater and used to annoy my mother because of it. (Sorry, Mom!) But I remember quite clearly that my mother often cooked vegetables in a coconut-based soup, such as lodeh. And like most Indonesians, we had tempe and tofu everyday. We ate red meat and chicken only occasionally, for example, when fasting during Ramadan. Fish was eaten more often, because Pacitan is a coastal town and fish could be gotten fresh, immediately.

Could you share an Indonesian recipe that you often cook when you miss Indonesian food? Why do you cook this dish often?

Oh no! Honestly, of my favourite dishes to cook, not one is Indonesian! I tend to look at Instagram and then modify the ingredients used. But because I like fish, I’ll share a fish recipe. Here we go!

Tilapia or Gurame Fish with Simple Seasoning

Method:

  1. Take 1 tilapia or gurame fish, cleaned, salted, and covered with lime juice to get rid of the “fishy” taste. Set aside for awhile, then deep-fry the fish.
  2. Take sliced onions, garlic, chilli and ginger, and saute on a frying pan. Add salt and sugar to taste.
  3. Add a little bit of thick coconut milk and bring it to a boil. Add the deep-fried fish. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce penetrates both sides of the fish.
  4. The fish is ready to be served. Enjoy!
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