Jengkol

Jengkol is my favorite party trick. In any food situation in West Java, I love the anticipation of eating jengkol.

Without fail, the Sundanese people near me will start to talk about how they can’t wait to see my reaction to the food, they’re excited to see my face when I eat the flavorful pile of sauce (it’s at this point, that they always completely forget that I speak their language and have lived in their world for over a year.)

Sometimes, the nicer Ibus will warn me that the plate of brown is jengkol and I won’t like it. Other times, the Bapaks not-so-gently steer me in the plate’s direction, speeding up the process that they expect will end in their laughter.

Every time: I eat the jengkol.

The entire room goes temporarily silent and then erupts as if I’ve scored the winning goal for Indonesia against Malaysia; they’re pleasantly shocked and can’t quite believe their eyes.

The white girl ate the smelliest food in our entire country and liked it!!! 

Oh yes, I like it. I would take the entire plate of jengkol if it was appropriate, but despite the fact that this large seed grows all over my neighborhood, there never seems to be a lot that actually makes it to the table. I settle by taking just a few spoonfuls when it’s available.

Jengkol is a seed grown on the dogwood (in English) tree. Raw, they look like little brown spaceships and grow in clusters. 

Generally cooked coated in sauce, jengkol is stinky; reminiscent of eating garlic after a brief sauté. I find it to be delicious, but many Westerners steer clear. 

In fact, many Indonesians avoid this mushy food that looks like something you might feed the dog, which is why I often announce to classrooms of students that I love jengkol. It always ends in a round of applause and looks of admiration: she’s becoming Sundanese. 

 

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