As an Indonesian who does not cook much (next to never), it is such a scary idea to leave home where all cheap ‘warteg’ and ‘warung’ are. When it comes to what to pack for a year-long living abroad, I put ‘food’ into my very first priority. I love to eat! The fact that I cannot just go to the neighboring ‘warung’ to get something to eat is somewhat challenging and scary at the same time. How can I survive? My mom bought me a lot of ingredients I have no clue what they are used for or what spice goes with what. But it has been a month since I stepped my feet in Seattle, and I SURVIVE, ladies and gentlemen.
The big question remains: HOW?
The very basic thing you need is YOUR MOM or at least someone you know and you can bother to ask even stupid questions about cooking. My mom has been my superhero. She packed four boxes of instant ingredients for me and she even made time to write me simple recipes to help me survive. Thank you, Mom!!!!! :”””””)
What did I bring in my suitcase?
The next thing you have to know, especially if you are traveling to the United States, is that you cannot bring any kind of meat or vegetables in any form, even ABON! No darling, your precious ‘abon’ cannot help you this time. When I first entered Seattle airport security screening, the security officer even asked me in the same exact word: “Do you bring ABON SAPI?” She pronounced ‘abon sapi’ fluently as if every Indonesian who enters United States through Seattle always brings beef floss in their luggage thus it gives her time to practice pronouncing the word correctly.
I am not sad about beef floss, but I am sad about TERI or English-speaking-world may call it anchovy. I love teri balado very much. When I was in Natuna, I ate teri balado every single day for my breakfast. Teri balado is love, my friend. I did not bring it with me considering the US law.
So, you cannot pack meat or vegetables or its product, then what to pack?
Have you ever heard about instant spices or ingredients or whatever? YES baby, you should remember those term well because they are your savior!
I bring tons of spices from Bamboe, Indofood, Royco, you name it. Make sure to check if those spices have MSG or not. I prefer those that do not have MSG in it, like Bamboe.
I have enough instant spices to keep my belly warm for a whole year. Since I love soup, I bring plenty of Bamboe Sop, Opor, Kare, Soto Ayam, and Soto Daging. You need ‘Bumbu Balado’ and Rendang as well since it is much easier food to pack for lunch. Please do put these spices in a plastic in case they spill. The most important thing you have to pack is: SAMBEL PECEL or Javanese version of spicy peanut sauce. They are easy to make but delicious!
Being a graduate student is not easy. For this quarter, I have 4 classes but the reading assignments are super. On Monday and Wednesday, I have 3 classes while on Tuesday and Thursday I have 1 class. But, how can I finish all those reading assignments? I have Friday to Sunday for that. Then when do I have time to cook, let alone having a social life? Please forget about social life for a while, your books are your friends T_T Grad life is so hectic that you don’t even have time to just stop and enjoy the life you have.
But anyway, what I am trying to frame here is when do I have time for preparing food if most of my times are better spent for reading a hundred pages of textbooks?
That’s when you have to be creative on what food you should cook. Unless you are super rich and you don’t mind spending at least $10 for every meal you purchase (most of the times you will spend around $15 for a meal), you have to cook no matter what.
I arrived in Seattle on August 22, 2016 but I head directly to Idaho for Fulbright orientation. I officially entered Seattle on August 26, 2016. At that time, food was no problem at all because I lived with a host family for a week until I could move in to my apartment. Once I moved in to my apartment, I had to do this Summer Institute on Transnational Law and Practice right away. The summer course was supposed to be a 2-week program with tons of reading assignments as well. No time for honeymoon, really.
For my first week in my current apartment, I made ‘Ayam Ungkep’ using the spices I brought from home and I bought some vegetables to make ‘Pecel’. I had no idea that my frying pan is not the non-sticky one so I failed miserably on my first try on frying a chicken. The ‘ayam ungkep’ sticked on the pan thus making it hard to stir. Fortunately I had my vegetables and ‘sambel pecel’ so it was mucho delicioso!!!!
After finding out that frying chicken requires a non-sticky pan which I do not have, I boiled some eggs using my rice cooker. It worked very well. So I had hard boiled egg and pecel for the next days.
What other meals can you prepare for a busy grad life?
Any kind of Oseng-oseng (literally a mixture of everything you have in your fridge) will keep you alive. For my first experience, I made Oseng-oseng Daging (n this case I used potato, beef, carrot, and cabbage) which turned out really good but only lasted for 3 days. Fortunately, the following 5-6 days, I got free food during the Summer Institute because we had to do some site visits to U.S. District Court and a law firm (supposedly owned by Bill Gates’ father). Here’s a side note about law school in America: they put a strong emphasize on NETWORKING. Thus you will find many activities that will allow you to network (and get free food).
After a week being a freeloader, I got myself back into cooking business. I decided to make Orak-arik Wortel since I had plenty of carrots left in my fridge. This meal did not last long either. Even worse than Oseng-oseng Daging, this mixture of egg and carrot only fed me for a day. Luckily, I still had some beefs in my freezer. Yay! What’s the easiest thing to make with beef? RAWON!
Super simple. I used half of Bamboe Rawon for this recipe added with lemongrass and lime leaves. Quick and easy, but most importantly it tasted heavenly!!!! Alhamdulillah I have plenty of Thai chili so I added some chilies along with sweet soy sauce. My goodness this is a good stuff. What made me happy was that with only 1/4 kilos of beef and about 30 to 45 minutes of cooking time, I could have 10 bowls of yummy beef soup (ehemmm I ate 2 bowls for each serving).
The rest of the week in September, I depended on potluck leftover (Quick info: about 20-30 Indonesians were gathered to welcome the new Indonesian students at UW). I got some Ayam Rica-Rica, Telur Balado, and Pecel enough for 3 days. Then since I was running out of food budget, I made use of beef sausage, turkey bacon, and sambel pecel to keep myself out from starvation. Though by September 31, I gave up and went to get some beefs for making Rendang.
- You can live for $30 per week in the U.S. (Disclaimer: Rent and phone plan are not included in this calculation. This number may differ according to location). Make sure to sign up for membership at major supermarkets in your town, it will help you save up enough money for other things. In Seattle, I suggest you to sign up for membership in Safeway, QFC, and Costco. I don’t recommend buying food from Dollar Tree though. I only shop at Dollar Tree to buy toilet papers and candies, but for food no no no (I once bought instant pancakes which were supposed to expire next year but last week when I opened them, they were spoiled already). I mostly shop at Safeway because it is close to my apartment and they have lots of discounts for members. $30 for food is enough to get you the basics like egg, beef, milk, rice, even a liter of Starbucks vanilla latte. I am serious. I will post more about this later on.
- Cooking is much cheaper than eating out. Trust me. If you want to hang out or dining out with friends, you need to bear in mind that your “social” budget is not included in the $30 calculation. You need $15 for food only. If you want something cheaper, you can go to McDonalds and other fast food restaurants. I once bought 2 cheese burgers for $1.5 each! If you want to watch a movie, you will need $9 (student price in the cheapest theater in town, not even IMAX).
- Deciding what to eat is tricky. You have to be creative so that your budget does not exceed yet you can still enjoy healthy and delicious food at your convenience. Some suggestions: always have (1) Eggs; (2) Rice; (3) Bacon; and (4) Sambel Pecel. You can survive with those. I usually make a list of monthly “menu” so I can kind of budget my food expense.
If you have any question, just drop a comment below! Thanks for reading.