I don’t usually have the time to just sit and write something, but as we all know we are currently still on lock down, so here I am in front of my computer typing away my thoughts.
I am the kind of person who likes to find something new to create and the more the groundbreaking and challenging the better.
Prior to moving to the UK with my husband and our three boys in 2008, I was the chairwoman of an organisation in Indonesia to fight for the equality of citizenship for Indonesian women in a mixed nationality marriage. Before the movement, Indonesian women who are married to foreigners are prohibited to grant their Indonesian citizen to their children. Children from mixed nationality marriage by birth will follow their father’s nationality.
Without causing any riots or damage we managed to burned the barrier and succeeded to change the Indonesian Citizenship law from single nationality to dual nationality for children until they reached the age of 21 years old. Further down the line, this movement became the benchmark for other organisation who until now is trying to push for the adoption of dual citizenship principles in the Indonesian law. Mainly those living abroad. But that is another story.
When I step my foot on the shores of UK, I was a bit lost not knowing what I want to do next. Going back to working as a lawyer seemed to be too far fetched as I have to go through the system and not to mentioned at the time my children need attending first. The idea of working for a corporation wasn’t for me anymore.
So years went by, and then one day…as I was walking around the Harbour side, I saw a group of street food traders doing their routine and it dawn on me that in Bristol there are no such thing, either a restaurant nor street food selling Indonesian food. I spoke about this observation and presented my idea to my fellow Indonesian living in Bristol who are in my opinion a good cook to try out offering such services to the public. But… my idea didn’t resonate well.
Not to be defeated by it, I then moved on to established Bristol Indonesian Society (BIS) in 2015 with one mission – that is – to promote Indonesian food and culture to the public. The organisation to date has had 4 successful events and is still waiting for the pandemic to go before producing another festival. But that will be another journey on my chapter…
Back to my story on becoming a street food trader, though the events organised by BIS was in part trying to support Indonesian small businesses to venture out, and branch out to the public, none came out. It did not happen, nothing happen, zero.
So instead of burying my idea under the shrubs, I end up taking it on board myself. I am not a trained cook, I am a trained person to put together legal agreements and documents. But…my mom -blessed her – taught me how to cook, and she was taught by her mother and her mother was taught by hers and so on…so it is a generational cooking training, but I also know that Indonesian cooking was more like a communal effort each have their job to do to put together an exceptional meal. Whilst here, I am on my own, though it is a bit daunting, but…I know there’s an opportunity out there and I will be damn if I don’t seize it.
So in October of 2016 Enggi’s Kitchen was born, I choose that name firstly because it gives me authority in my own kitchen. Secondly, finding a name is not easy, it cannot be too foreign, it can not be too fancy and it has to be personal. So using my own name given by my parents is the most logical thing to do. Thirdly I choose street food as suppose to a restaurant is because I still want my freedom to create whatever is next, it is easier to respond to the market demand, and it does not require a ridiculous amount of investment to begin with. In short street food for me is easier to navigate in this unknown territory.
And then there’s list to pick up what kind of food I want to trade and how can I do it in a consistent and continuous manner without rocking my entire life altogether. Choosing from thousands or more types of Indonesian food is a daunting tasks, not to mentioned the availability of the raw ingredients.There are so many to introduce to the market but one has to be realistic as well.
My first experience as a street food trader was participating on various events held by the Indonesian community all around the country, this is to test my cooking ability and my readiness before going solo. And who would be the better judge in my cooking than my Indonesian fellows?
My first solo was at the Harbour side, but I always had an eye for St Nicks Street Food. I think it is because of the location, it is organised by the city council and the stalls are incredibly diverse. Luckily after doing trading in St Nicks as a guest traders an opening brings luck to me for regular trader, hence since 2016 until now I am one of the constant feature in the market.
At the same time, I send out proposals to many event organiser in Bristol and again I was really lucky that BEATS accepted me as a member and from them I learn a lot about street food trading and networking to cater for a variety group of clients, from Universities to private hirer. From St Nicks, I am able to secure an interest from LoveFood captained by Lorna Kapman to do various market such as the Vegan Market and St Nicks Night Market. I also tried The Sunday Market at Tobacco Factory, The Sunday Market at Portishead, and other events that sometimes it goes through and sometimes it didn’t. In short during the first few years, I open myself to try different venues, working with different types of event organiser, gain as many experience as possible and decided which ones to work with the best.
I remember one time when I was at a Christmas party, a lady asked me what do I do and her reaction was, well no one knows what Indonesian food is so you could cook anything and called it Indonesian food, to her surprise I told her…that is not what I want to do. I want my customer to experience a little bit of Indonesia in their plate and I have a duty to offer a good service. But it is suffice to say we did not get into an argument because both of us was a little bit merry and all is good. Walking away from that party, I realise there’s much to do to promote Indonesian cuisine.
The other side of being a street food trader, is the friendship that is formed amongst the traders, from exchanging food, to helping out each other on the day. Some might need a spare biodegradable food carton, or extension cable, or asking to look out for the stall while they have to go somewhere or whatever that is. I feel a close kinship with my fellow traders and I am so honoured to have such golden opportunity.
All was going extremely well until Covid-19 hits globally, though in my part I am still able to stay afloat by switching my mode of trading from take away to delivery. But it is not the same energy as being in the market, seeing my dear customers queuing, exchange of news and just the general healthy market atmosphere that is missing. And the truth is, neither of us know when all of this will end and everything will be back as it use to be.
So here I am once again scratching my brains for new idea during the second lockdown, and I did found one!! The idea is to create a group of small medium scale businesses run by Indonesian in UK , and the goal is simple: 1) to form synergy between us and 2) to promote Indonesia in UK. It is in its first inception but I can feel that it is going to be an exciting journey.
Here are some pictures down the memory lane.. while I was browsing to choose which pictures I want to share, I cannot help but feeling a bit melancholy. Especially when I happen to come across a picture of my son George, who had passed away in 2018 due to his illness. He is my source of inspiration and he is the one that design Enggi’s Kitchen Logo : a mother and her three children cross legged, a precise depiction as how a traditional Javanese family do when they are about to have a meal. A part of me goes with him, and the other part…well..still going on trying to make the best out of life.
So to me being a street food trader is not just trading, but it helps me to carry on during the darkest day of my life and also it provided me with ample opportunities and ideas on how to execute my initial thoughts which is “What can I do to promote Indonesian food, art and culture in Bristol and in the United Kingdom?”
Hopefully the next time around I will write something about how we all survive this pandemic.