Sperziebonen

I have been back to Indonesia for some weeks when I suddenly missed cooking. In Wageningen, I always cooked for myself. But, here, in my home, kitchen is the territory of mom and grandma. Others can only enter as passers-by. I usually only cooked when both were away. Yet, that evening I felt the melancholic desire of preparing my own food.

(Or, perhaps, I just missed the north.)

I wanted to cook the recipe I ‘found’ in Holland. A messy mix of buncis/sperziebonen and tempeh. There was tempeh in refrigerator, but not the former. So, I had to go to Pasar Kemiri to buy some. Just five minutes away.

Buncis/sperziebonen is my favorite kind of veggie. I liked to mix it with many things: tempeh, tofu, tauge (bean sprouts), chicken, pork, egg, et cetera. In supermarkets in Wageningen, I always knew where the sperziebonen were. I also like to say that Dutch word: sperziebonen. I love the foreign feeling in spelling it.

When I arrived in Pasar Kemiri, I looked around. Sperziebonen were everywhere. There were many sellers and each seemed selling my favorite. “Buncis om,” I said to one seller, the closest from where I parked my motorcycle. I have that habit of calling strangers who sell something by om (uncle) or tante (aunt). Both words come from Dutch language. However, it will make no sense for Dutch to call strangers-sellers by familial call of om/tante. We absorb and make them ours. Unlike my sperziebonen.

“Berapa (how much)?” the seller asked. “Setengah (half),” I replied. I love this simple language of traditional markets. It is like possessing a secret language. My seller knew what I (and other buyers) meant by ‘half’. He started putting handful of buncis into the scale, making sure that the weight was half of kilogram. Slowly, he put my buncis in a plastic bag. All of those he did without saying a thing.

“Berapa (how much)?” I asked. “Delapan ribu (eight thousand),” he replied. I opened my wallet and gave him ten thousand rupiah. He gave me the change of two thousand. I thanked (“makasih om”) him and he thanked me back (“sama-sama”). The transaction was over in one blink of eye. Without Western-style formal greetings of “how are you”, “good evening”, or “good bye”. Without Dutch ‘tot ziens’.

I went back home and cooked my lekker sperziebonen.

Post-scriptum: Initially written for Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s the Transpacific Literary Project on relationship between market transaction and language.

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