Cracking an Indonesian snack

“Is it a mushroom?” Papa ventured as he munched on the cracker, a shrivelled mass of dark brown and black hues.

Mamy reached out for another cracker after having swallowed a couple. “It has a weird smell, like urine,” she said while concentrating on her iPad game.

Meanwhile, Papa was still very intent on guessing the cracker type. After several seconds, he finally said apprehensively, “It’s some animal flesh, right?”

“Yes,” I answered, casting an in-the-know look at Mr. P. We had just introduced this snack to my parents without telling them what it was. “So do you want to give up guessing?”

Both of them nodded.

*Drum rolls* (Stop reading here if you still want to guess what this cracker is made from. Otherwise, continue scrolling.)

“It’s made from snails,” I offered, using the Chinese term wo niu (蜗牛).

Papa gave a wavering smile while Mamy spat out the entire contents in her mouth. And they immediately stopped eating the crackers after knowing what it was.

“It wasn’t so bad! YC said the snails were from rice fields,” I said, trying to calm their nerves.

“You don’t call that wo niu!” Papa exclaimed. “These are tian luo (田螺). Wo niu are those that slide and crawl in the garden.”

On the side, Mamy started chiming in. “Yah, tian luo sounds so much less disgusting.”

This was a thoughtful food souvenir from YC, my fellow Southeast Asian enthusiast who bought this crispy pack during her five-month language stint in Malang. She had read about our ‘snail-y’ adventures in Udon Thani and wanted to share this popular Javanese snack with us.

Mr. P and I started comparing notes when we first sampled the snack. He thought it was very similar to Thailand’s pork (khaep muu) and fish (nang plaa) cracklings, but the Indonesian snack lacked the punch and aesthetic appeal of Thai food. (There goes the Thai boy again, always lauding the superiority of Thai cuisine.) While we didn’t take entirely to the snack, there’s nothing we love better than to give our palates little challenges and find out a little more about the food cultures of Southeast Asia. Thanks, YC!

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