ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Indonesia is the world's fourth-largest country. And its population is young. The median age is in the late 20s. In the U.S. and China it's in the late 30s. So in some ways, you could say that young Indonesians are the future of the world. This week, we've been looking at the threads that tie this country together. And for young Indonesians, one of those threads is social media. In Jakarta, I met a 29-year-old food blogger and Instagrammer (ph) at an outdoor food court with dozens of hawkers selling dishes from all over the country. My first question was about his name, which it turns out is also food-related.
PRAWNCHE NGADITOWO: Actually, it's prawn and che. Prawnche.
SHAPIRO: Is that a common Indonesian name?
NGADITOWO: No. My dad, he was doing business in the prawn industries. And I was named (laughter) - I was named after the industry.
SHAPIRO: Wow. Your father was, like, a shrimp farmer, a prawn farmer...
SHAPIRO: ...And so he named you Prawnche?
NGADITOWO: Yes. I was just grateful that it's not Shrimpche, right?
SHAPIRO: Prawnche Ngaditowo grew up in a city called Medan. His family is of Chinese descent. In 2006, he moved a thousand miles away from his family to the capital city, Jakarta. That's where he began to explore the variety Indonesia has to offer through its food. By day, he works in advertising.
NGADITOWO: At the weekend usually I explore food. I also get to eat a lot. And I write about it.
SHAPIRO: You don't look like a person who eats a lot.
NGADITOWO: I eat a lot. Believe me.
SHAPIRO: So in the stuff that you write about on your blog and on your Instagram account you are talking about what it means to be Indonesian and all these different foods from all over. But also, by writing in English, you're doing something a little broader even than just Indonesia.
NGADITOWO: Yes. I thought, why not, you know, use English to introduce all our food? And people can read about it and, you know, maybe decide to visit Indonesia somehow. Do you ever try fish meatballs?
NGADITOWO: Yeah, this just kind of like that, but just drier. No soup, just peanut sauce. You should try one. Yes.
SHAPIRO: Yeah, it smells leafy from the banana leaf, and also from the grill there's a little smokiness.
SHAPIRO: It's shaped almost like a Tootsie Roll.
NGADITOWO: Oh, yeah. You can say that, too.
SHAPIRO: Indonesia is a country where half the population is below the age of 30. And so I wonder how you view your future.
NGADITOWO: If you ask me about my generation and my father's generation, my dad has no luxury in finding creativity. I mean, he just worked just to let us live.
SHAPIRO: When you say your father just worked to pay the bills, are you saying that your parents' generation would never understand spending all of your time and energy photographing food for an Instagram account?
NGADITOWO: Yes. My dad used to be very skeptical about it. Why are you doing this? You are not making money. You are not doing good things. But as time passes by, my dad's starting to see what I do - what I try to do, actually. And now he's starting to see the good side.
SHAPIRO: Is there one food in particular here that reminds you of your childhood?
NGADITOWO: Oh, of course. The one - soto medan...
SHAPIRO: What is soto medan?
NGADITOWO: It's coconut milk-based, so it's kind of thick with a lot of coriander and a lot of stuff like that. And it feels - especially right now it's raining, right? - so it's really good for this moment.
SHAPIRO: Yeah, seems like a really good time to eat this.
SHAPIRO: Should we try some?
NGADITOWO: Yes, we should.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).
NGADITOWO: (Foreign language spoken).
SHAPIRO: This looks amazing.
SHAPIRO: Is soto medan something you can make at home, or is it too complicated?
NGADITOWO: My mom is very good at it. I think that actually my mom made better (laughter), so...
SHAPIRO: Everyone thinks their mom makes it better.
NGADITOWO: Yeah. Yeah. Of course, right? I mean - (laughter).
SHAPIRO: I know that sometimes in Indonesia people of Chinese descent are treated as...
SHAPIRO: ...Second-class citizens, treated unfairly.
NGADITOWO: Yes. Yes. Being a minority here, yeah, it's kind of like a stereotype thing. They thought that, oh, you Chinese? You stingy. Oh, you Chinese? You just want all the money. And that happen.
SHAPIRO: Social media has obviously been a very powerful tool for you to build bridges and connections...
SHAPIRO: ...Across differences.
SHAPIRO: And social media is also being used as a tool to exploit the differences that are inherent in diversity.
SHAPIRO: Is that something that you've seen, too?
NGADITOWO: Yes, obviously, because I use social media, like, a lot. And then I actually experience a lot of positive things, too. But, yeah, I can't deny it. A lot negative things happen from that, too.
SHAPIRO: So to be able to come to a food court like this and sit at a table with food from Java and Sumatra and eastern Indonesia and western Indonesia, like, this is the dream.
NGADITOWO: Yes. Yes. This is the dream. I just hope people can do that all the time, you know, sit together and eat a lot and laugh together. I just hope that happen.
SHAPIRO: All right, let's eat.
That's food blogger and Instagrammer Prawnche Ngaditowo. You can find him online with the handle foodventurer.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALOE BLACC'S "WITH MY FRIENDS (INSTRUMENTAL)")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.