‘Aruna’ Inspires Film Buffs and Foodies at Berlinale Film Fest
In terms of foreign cuisine, Berlin has a lot to offer: in the German capital, diners can find culinary treasures from all over the world.
Food from Indonesia, however, is much less well known among the city’s foodies than that of neighboring countries from Southeast Asia like Vietnam and Thailand.
The premiere of Aruna dan Lidahnya (Aruna and her Palate), therefore, and a subsequent dinner at this year’s Berlinale film festival – attended by director Edwin, actors Dian Sastrowardoyo, Hannah Al Rashid and Nicholas Saputra as well as author Laksmi Pamuntjak, on whose novel the film is based – may have helped to whet the appetite of the German audience for food from the archipelago.
The road movie follows epidemiologist Aruna (Dian Sastrowardoyo), as she embarks on a journey to investigate a potential avian flu outbreak, while at the same time exploring the regional cuisine of the places she visits together with a group of friends. The close-up shots of tasty dishes, fresh ingredients and colorful spices make for the perfect visual introduction of Indonesian cuisine to the culinary impaired.
Aruna was screened in the festival’s “Culinary Cinema” section – already in its 13th edition this year, which according to the Berlinale official website, “draws attention to the fact that taste is not only a culinary but also a cultural value about which one can have splendid arguments, even though the proverb says that there is no accounting for taste”.
While Edwin has been to the Berlinale before – his film Postcards from the Zoo was selected for the festival’s prestigious “Competition” section in 2012 – it was Dian’s first time attending the country’s most important film event.
“I think it’s a very interesting festival because it showcases many different genres in various sections,” she said. “It offers a place for unique films to shine and stand out. At the same time, the Berlinale also gives viewers the freedom to choose the films that they want to watch, according to their own taste.”
Following the premiere, the guests continued their Indonesian culinary adventure in the festive pop-up restaurant where The Duc Ngo, a Vietnamese chef based in Berlin, and his team presented a four-course-menu. Each of the dishes was created by the chef for the occasion, based on his own interpretation of Aruna.
“I watched the movie and did my research – I watched videos on YouTube and googled a few things, but I also talked to some people from Indonesia,” the chef said about his approach to crafting the menu.
“Of course, I already know about Asian food, its ingredients and how to put them together so they can keep their original taste – so, in a way, it was quite easy for me to create the flavors of Indonesia. And it was a lot of fun, too.”
The amuse-bouche, already waiting for the hungry diners at the table when they took their seats, consisted of gado-gado (vegetable salad with peanut sauce), sambal matah (shallots and lemongrass in a chili sauce) ceviche and fried fish served with homemade fried sambal oelek.
As a starter, The Duc Ngo prepared a noodle soup with shrimps, fish balls, squid and kerupuk (crackers), the perfect way to warm one’s stomach on a chilly Berlin evening.
A fish curry, savory and rich in taste, was presented as the main course, whereas the pineapple lychee passion was the refreshing final act of the evening.
“The secret is to put good ingredients, spices and herbs together, and you have to make it from scratch,” The Duc Ngo said. “Only then will it taste fantastic. If you buy the condiments in the supermarket or an Asian market, it will be a [very different outcome].”
He also bemoaned the fact that Indonesian cuisine was still a relatively blank spot on Germany’s culinary map, but attributed this to the fact that the number of Indonesians living in the country was relatively low compared to other Asians.
“In Berlin, for instance, there are many Vietnamese people who have opened their own businesses and restaurants,” he explained. “This is not the case with Indonesians. But I do hope this will change in the future. Someone actually just asked me when I’m going to open an Indonesian restaurant because they were really satisfied with the food they tasted tonight – and you know what, I will think about it.”
Although The Duc Ngo’s creations were based on his own interpretation of Indonesian food and the taste may have somewhat differed from the original and truly authentic dishes one can find in the archipelago, the chef was greeted with approval and praise from the diners – including the guests from Indonesia themselves.
“[Chef The Duc Ngo] has given me a new perspective on looking at Indonesian food,” Dian said after the dinner. “My personal favorite was the sambal matah ceviche. I have tasted sambal matah in Indonesia before, but tonight, I was presented with a completely different way to experience it.”
Laksmi Pamuntjak, not only an accomplished novelist but also a renowned food critic, had the privilege to be present for the test run of the dinner in January.
“I knew what was coming, but the lovely thing about food is that it’s never the same,” she said. “This doesn’t change the fact that I loved it the first time, and I still loved it this time around. It was a feat of flavors.”
This article was first published in the Jakarta Post on February 15, 2019.