Midnight Snacking On Globalization

a jar of pandan jam and a box of Danisa butter cookies

Pandan Jam and Danisa Butter Cookies.

As the years have passed I’ve accumulated quite a range of favorite snacks. The foods of my families and backgrounds don’t match standard college campus food, and when I’m homesick for my childhood of non-cafeteria edibles I look at pictures of pretty pandan desserts on the internet. Making my way to a Vietnamese market this week to gather materials for my potluck contribution was overwhelmingly wonderful. The smells, sights, and sounds reminded me of the countless grocery shopping trips I’ve taken with my mother – not something I expected to ever be nostalgic for. Even more exciting this week was finding an aisle in the market with a section of Indonesian goods.

My relationship with my Indonesian roots are a little funky – I never know if I should describe myself as Chinese or Indonesian since my mother comes from several generations of Chinese living in Indonesia. We call our grandparents “Kung Kung” and “Po Po,” as many of my Chinese American friends also do, but Bahasa is what I’ve grown up hearing spoken in my mother’s family. I’m comfortable with this mash-up at home, but at the same time I’m not sure how to navigate it in American society as someone who passes as white and has lived only in Thailand and the States.

All that said, I was thrilled to find an Indonesian section in an Asian supermarket and have the opportunity to look at so many familiar goodies. For a hybrid potluck contribution I decided to pull inspiration from my childhood foods and mixes, hence the following purchases:

As a little kid I adored pandan jam and have a distinct memory of throwing up after consuming too much once in Bangkok. That particular incident caused my parents to limit my pandan jam intake in the future, so I don’t actually remember the last time I had some. Enter adulthood and finding the Indonesian section in a supermarket! I’ve been yearning for pandan jam all semester so I could not resist bringing it to share with the class. I wanted to experiment with spreading the jam of a people on the cookies of their colonizers, and providentially found boxes of Danisa Traditional Butter Cookies being sold at the end of the aisle. I think this brand is based in Indonesia, so I’m mixing it with another Indonesian product, but archetypally European presentation is a stark reminder of the huge and lingering impact of the Dutch-East India Company’s presence in Indonesia. (Pandan jam, meanwhile, represents the Indo culture that prevails, though I’m not actually sure of the origin of pandan jam. Isn’t “jam” an English word?)

Accompanying the cookies of colonization and the jam of assimilation are several other fun things. First is Nutella, a favorite amongst both sides of my family but one I associate primarily with my dad, whose Canadian mother loves chocolate products. (I unfortunately didn’t get around to making Nanaimo bars or any other Canadian goods, but Nutella probably has more capital in my associations with my Canadian side of the family.) To contrast with my hazelnut European-descent roots I found a package of Regal Marie biscuits – an Indo-produced brand of Marie biscuits, which is a version of the rich tea biscuit that is most popular outside of the UK, its land of origin. These are always in my Po Po’s kitchen, so I figured they could combine the favored snacks of my two grandmothers. (Plus, my Canadian grandmother has British and British Columbian roots, so the legacy of the British Empire is a good unifying theme for this collection of food.) Next up is a jar of durian jam, which I confess I have not actually eaten before. Durian is one of my favorite fruits, and I was sorely tempted to get a package of frozen durian to bring into the classroom. Internalized concern about the olfactory senses of the American public is not something I’ve gotten over, though, and I figured jam might be a more manageable option, and would flow well with my themes so far. My final pieces are a bag of Mungbean cookies, an Indonesian snack, and a bag of pretzels bought on campus, since pretzels to me are pretty quintessential American staples. I think I see bags of Mungbean cookies in pretty much any Indonesian food store I’ve shopped at, while pretzels I see everywhere in American joints.

Here’s to food!

a plastic package e of mungbean cookies and a plastic package of pretzels are seen up close side by side.

Pretzels and mungbean cookies.

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