The Cost of Expat Eating

Living in Jakarta as an expat has its challenges---but hey, that’s part of the deal, right? One of the reasons we live here? Didn’t we take overseas postings so we could experience different ways of life? And after all, Jakarta is a different country—on the other side of the world from the U.S! It makes sense that the customs, attitudes, life-styles would be different, doesn’t it? Still, that doesn’t stop us from wanting to stock our cupboards with some good, old-fashioned home-style comfort food staples, such as All Bran and Crisco and Fritos. When you ask expats what it’s like living in Jakarta, the one hardship almost all focus on is FOOD. The difficulty they have finding their favorite “home-style” food. “I had to go to three-four-six different import stores to find the ingredients I needed to make this ___________(fill in the blank with some American, you-can-find-it-at-SAM’s Club, Dutch, South American, French, or Italian specialty),” they complain. Right now Curtis and I are in the Taipei airport transit lounge waiting for our flight back to Jakarta. After 6 long weeks away, I was really looking forward to getting back home—was being the operative word. I just downloaded my e-mail. Included was a notice from Mary Ann Wiley the founder and owner of Upper Crust, our friendly, neighborhood American Comfort Food Caterer (who also serves up a tasty Mongolian BBQ). Mary Ann moved to Jakarta with her husband, Claude (an oil guy), back in the late 70’s or early 80’s, back when the only expat food available had been smuggled into the country in some expat’s suitcase, back when the only restaurants in Jakarta were in hotels, back before McDonalds, Burger King, and KFC started competing with the rolling food carts off the road. Mary Ann built an empire by catering to Americans needing a comfort food fix. And now, with imported food scarce again, she is making a come-back.

Upper Crust e-mail, Friday, March 06, 2009: (The exchange rate is roughly 10,000 Rp to the dollar so RP 50,000 is about US $5.00)

Because of the Indonesian government's ban on imports, there are a lot of things we can't find in Jakarta now. I have access to a number of items you may be searching for.

Chocolate Chips * Rp 50,000 per 12-oz. bag Vanilla * Rp 40,000 per 100-gram bottle Imported Lay's Classic Potato Chips * Rp 70,000 per bag Desiccated Coconut *(can't get Baker's Angel Flake) Rp 50,000 per lb. Refried Beans * Rp 60,000 per can Unsweetened Baking Chocolate * Rp 50,000 per bar Cocoa Powder * Rp 50,000 per lb. Flour or Corn Tortillas * Rp 40,000 per dozen Pita Bread * Rp 40,000 per dozen Tortilla Chips, our own brand * Rp 50,000 per bag Sweet Potato Chips, our own brand * Rp 50,000 per bag Upper Crust Mayonnaise * Rp 40,000 per pint Our Own Salad Dressings * Rp 40,000 per pint Vinaigrette * Honey Mustard * Ranch

Oscar Mayer All-Beef Hot Dogs Package of 8 * Rp 70,000 Add 8 hot dog buns for a total of Rp 95,000

Oscar Mayer Bacon 1-lb. package * Rp 70,000

Texan-Made Pork Breakfast Sausage 1-lb. package * Rp 70,000 Add 6 biscuits for Rp 30,000 extra Add 1 pint Country Gravy for Rp 50,000 extra

Deli Meats * Rp 90,000 per lb. Sliced Beef, Sliced Ham, Sliced Smoked Turkey Breast, Sliced Lemon-Herb Chicken Breast Deli Cheese * Rp 90,000 for 8 slices * Cheddar or Swiss

Bread * Rp 15,000 per loaf Country White * Whole Wheat * Sunflower-Oat * Multi Grain * Cinnamon Swirl

English Muffins * Rp 40,000 per dozen ** Dinner Rolls * Rp 40,000 per dozen

Soup * Rp 50,000 per pint Tomato-Basil * Mushroom * Chicken Noodle * Minestrone

Whole Apple Pie * Rp 150,000

Big Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake, with personal message and balloons * Rp 150,000

To order, push Reply, and give your address, phone number, and time you would like delivery. If you don't receive a confirmation e-mail from me, call 765-4476. Sometimes my internet server isn't reliable, and I don't want to miss your order.

Dang! Why didn’t Mary Ann send this note before I left for the states? We could have stuffed our suitcases with food, glorious food instead of the usual clothes, books, toiletries, and vitamins. Just think of the profit I could have made selling prepackaged, processed, sodium and nitrate-filled tasty treats? I would have been rich! RICH!