The Secret Ingredient

Talents: Lembas Bread; Legolas, Son of Thranduil
Photographer: The Artistic Gwaihir

Last week we were at the lunch table. Just when we finished ordering, a friend, say the name Trafalgar, passed by. Taking a side trip to our table, he asked for a treat to Bonnie, who already ordered hers, hoping to get a free lunch.

“Heh, kagak,” Bonnie rejected the proposal.
“Aaah peliiit. Ya udah gue gak jadi ikutan makan,” Trafalgar threw a childish tantrum, was about to pack his bag and go.
“Heh! Kayak orang miskin deh, kalo gak dibeliin gak makan. -____-”
“Hahahaha,” he laughed out loud.

In a split second, I was astonished by her response. Whoa, Bonnie, you really don’t understand, do you?

No, Trafalgar is nowhere near impoverishment. He in fact owns a small side-business which gave him quite large sum of extra cash, considering he’s still our peer student. Yet, it’s his habit to ask for treat whenever he sees others are having meal, or even just chewing gums.

I, too, am a great fan of traktiran (a meal treat, that is). I like to shout, “Come on! Traktir us!” everytime someone celebrates a special occasion.

Really, it’s not about how much the food costs. My monthly allowance is enough for me to have a plate of lavish sushi everyday. I’m just… not showing that I’m getting more than the average of my social circle’s. I survived through the hardship of economy in my first and second year. My family’s economy have gone exponentially better since then, but I still cannot bring myself to enjoy luxuries. That’s what made me, until now, live a modest lifestyle, and restrict myself from buying pricey things—except for special occasions, like when I bought a star-projecting lamp (which is also a speaker!) to decorate my room and a pair of nice leather boots before I hiked 2665m-asl-Papandayan.

Traktiran is about sharing what we have, without hoping anything in return. It is universal in human cultures to give gifts. They don’t have to be expensive to send a powerful message of care. Traktirans are small gifts that matter to the bonding between us humans. Because, isn’t relationship about give-and-take? Though I restrict myself from living a bourgeois life, I totally don’t mind to surprise my friends with a fancy gift on their special days.

Yet even if you are someone who really relishes fancy wares, buying stuff for yourself is not the most effective way to increase your feelings of self-worth. A far bigger benefit can come from giving to others.  The effort you make to support another person often spawns a strong friendship, which has lasting gains for self-esteem, reported psychologist Jennifer Crocker, now at The Ohio State University, last year at the convention of the Association for Psychological Science (see “Give and You Shall Receive—A Boost to Your Self-Esteem”).

A Language of Love

Traktiran is a special word, here in Indonesia. It only applies to buying someone else meal, not other things. “Traktir me” roughly translates to “buy me a meal“. Why meal? Amongst other things that can be asked for gift, why Indonesian people, by default, choose someone to buy them meal?

“Few acts are more expressive of companionship than the shared meal,” writes Carolyn Steel. Heck, even the word “company” itself origins from Latin, meaning “together” and “food”. Dining together strengthens the bond between people.

Nadia Charissa, my beloved daughter, lent me a book from Gary Chapman: 5 Languages of Love, which are:

  1. words of affirmation,
  2. quality time,
  3. gifts,
  4. acts of service, and
  5. physical touch.

Traktiran simultaneously fulfills #2 and #3. While not everybody masters the art of making-things-edible (which will add the bonus #4), one can show affection by buying meals for others, and dine together with them. Dining together satisfies us physically and emotionally. We fulfill our basic human need, while enjoying the animal warmth of people sitting near of us. In other words, context—where you ate something, how you ate it, whom you ate it with—can be as powerful as the food itself.

Dear people, to build a lifelong relationship, traktir your friends. It’s worth ∞-fold your spending. Shared meals are more than food. They represent friendship, community, and welcome.

Extra: Why We Miss Homemade Meals

There is something that makes Mom’s cooking tastes far more delicious than the ones I could eat anywhere else. It can transform a plain, old meatloaf into a special birthday meal; or a regular soto into your go-to comfort food.

It’s because the secret ingredient: love (pronounced: luuuuuuuuvvv).

The effort she spent to prepare the (other) ingredients, cook rice, skin potatoes, mix the sauces, preparing it to be visually appealing… those are signs of pure affection. It’s also bought with the highest price a human can afford: time. Unlike money, time is irreversible. You cannot regain the time you’ve spent.

The same goes with everyone else who made me meals. (Thanks for the teriyaki and macaroni, Linskiw! :3)

It’s what make me, even though knowing that eating it may cause diarrhea for a month, will still eat Jovita’s handmade meals*. It’s not the solid substance that I digest, it’s the love inside the food that I actually consume.

One small bite of food cooked with love is enough to fill the heart of a grown man. It become our source of strength, knowing we’re being loved by others.

I’m supposed to do my thesis today. It’s due Wednesday. But I cannot help myself to keep thinking about this. After writing this I feel a lot relieved and ready to continue. :’3

*) Jov, I know you’re reading. It’s a joke, okay. Your meals are delicious. :’)
And for One Piece fans out there, in one chapter there’s an example of food made with love.

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