Mamayu is an Indonesian word, with roots in the Sundanese language, which refers to the appetite one gets after recovering from an illness.
Mamayu is definitely the zone I’m in after my week of German hospital food and those first few post-surgery days where I ate just for subsisting. Not sure when my mamayu will wane, whether there’s a certain checklist of comfort foods that need to be ticked off before.
This February and March, my medical condition landed me in Berlin’s Charité hospital three times. I am now recovering at home from a (planned) major surgery. I spent 2 days in the ICU ward of the Charité after some complications during the surgery, but now I’m generally doing well. My hospital stays set me on a journey on the “German hospital food” train-of-thought.02
“Your family holds picnics at the hospital…”
That’s what the handsome-and-talented husband told me when I started to write this post and it sounded so absurd and silly to me that I laughed and laughed. No, really, he insisted. Someone gets sick, gets admitted into the VIP suite (yes, there are such rooms, comparable to private German/European clinics) at whatever Jakarta hospital and the whole family shows up with food parcels, family members sign up for caretaking duties which includes sleepovers and whoever comes to visit gets a nice cup of tea or other drinks and a plate of snacks or food.
I should state at this point that the whole “family member on caretaking” shifts is widely practised in Indonesian hospitals (except in ICU wards) and sometimes you’d even see family members sleeping on cots near the patient’s bed. The loose regulations around hospital access allow various food vendors and visitors to enter hospital premises, and in most hospitals this is an accepted practice. It’s less accepted in the posher, private hospitals, but they do congregate outside.
It’s almost like a foodswap, the handsome-and-talented one continued. You come bearing a fruit basket, and during your visit, you are served Indonesian snacks, or jajanan pasar as we call it, refering to snacks from the market, for many so often a source of comfort food.
The image above is an example of the meals we get in a Jakarta hospital, albeit a private room in a private hospital. It’s abundant, and includes fresh fruits and raw veggies as well as snacks for the family member or friend on current caretaking duties.
Yes, the quality and amount of food varies from the types of hospital and rooms, with some only offering breakfast, and relatives/friends have to supply the rest. What about people who don’t have friends or relatives to bring them food? In Indonesia, a country where the question “How are you?” is followed by “Have you eaten?” someone will always take care of your food when you’re in hospital.
Food vendors are found all around the hospital vicinity, from fruit sellers, juices, snacks to Indonesian staples/comfort food like rice congee, curry soups, sate (at night), and noodle dishes. These days, GoJek for now solves this issue around major cities and towns in Indonesia.
I do worry about the poor, who are covered by the state health service which should cover basic daily needs, but I was unable to get information on how well the Indonesian state health service is performing for those who need it most.
To the handsome-and-talented husband, this Indonesian way of “family picnics” at the hospitals is a way better alternative than the European hospital food.
My beef with German hospitals
Obviously it’s the food. Breakfast I’m not so fussy with; a few pots of yoghurt, fresh fruit, herbal tea instead of the bad hospital coffee and I’m good to last till lunchtime. Lunchtimes are often hit-and-miss; I’ve been served dishes ranging from a bland, scalding hot broth, to an unappetising glutinous brown stew to a decent penne-in-tomato-sauce bowl (in photo above). This comes with a side salad and/or dessert, which parallel the disgusting-to-decent main course spectrum.
Dinner is the typical German “Abendbrot” consisting of sad slices of brown bread (usually delicious when freshly baked at the bakery), sad slices of cheeses, sad slices of cold cuts (ranging from boiled hams, cured hams to “aspic”) and sad little disposable containers of bread toppings/spread. Sometimes we’d get pickles or a side salad.
A couple of hospitals I noticed do a “buffet” breakfast and dinner, served in a communal room with tables and chairs, to force the more mobile patients into social interaction. The less-mobile patients get theirs on a tray, delivered by a cheerful nurse.
The menu for the week is usually printed and placed on the visitor’s table in every patient room. One of the staff members comes round mid-morning every day to take everyone’s orders. One of the first things I do when I arrive in my room is check out the menu and schedule my friends to bring in food for me on the days where I think the dishes will be sub-par. I’m only half right in my guessing and usually end up frantically, if not tearfully, messaging friends and the handsome-and-talented husband to sneak in food for me during their visits.
I really wonder how people will get well from this kind of food?! My body’s been through stress, trauma, injury and I need fuel to heal it! Fresh produce! Fresh fruits! Probiotics! Lean fish and meat! Not processed and pre-packaged foods!
I feel awful for people who don’t enjoy the hospital food and have no one to bring them better, healthier food to help their recovery. Once, my hospital roommate who was pregnant complained that she could not survive on just “bread and cheese” and 30 minutes later a pizza delivery guy was standing in our room with pizza for her. Not necessarily healthier, just more substantial fuel.
The week before my surgery, I did look into food delivery services for my time at Charité. Foodora could be a viable option and they were very friendly in our Twitter conversation regarding food delivery to hospital; don’t mention Deliveroo, they are on my black list. There’s definitely a gap here, especially in the front door to room distance; what we call the last hundred yards.
We want better hospital food!
The main challenge around hospital food seems to be how to deliver healthy and delicious meals to a huge number of patients with various dietary needs (e.g low fat, low sodium, gluten-free, lactose-free diets etc) in a streamlined way. The main barrier is still cost, followed by others like the food preparation not being on-site, large volumes and many variations of a menu.
A quick search on the topic revealed a plethora of opinions on the matter, in case you were interested in reading more on the topic. I thought the most interesting ones were:
- The Guardian: “Hospital Food is a recipe for disaster” by Prue Leith
- The campaign for better hospital food, UK
- The Cure for Hospital Food
- Why is Hospital Food So Bad? on Quora
FYI, my mamayu zone
Things I crave for when I’m in a mamayu zone, with any illness, not just last week:
- Indonesian-style bubur ayam/rice congee, with shredded ginger chicken, spring onions, fried onions, a tiny bit of sweet and salty soy sauce, prawn crackers and slices of cakue; in above picture.
- Steamed broccoli florets, still crunchy, with a bit of garlic and almonds, with a mayo-soy sauce dip.
- Buttermilk biscuits or waffles and fried chicken with a bit of maple syrup and grits with brown sugar: must be my Southern U.S thing kicking in.
- Crunchy diced cucumbers, in a bit of sesame oil.
- Mangoes (in fresh, sliced format or in juice/smoothie) and fresh ripe papayas and persimmons and peaches.
- Indonesian klepon and onde-onde.
- A full English breakfast: leftover of my London uni days when we’d have a post-hangover fry-up breakfast at the greasy spoon round the corner from our flat.
- A big juicy cheeseburger.
I hope this is my last mamayu for a while! See you next post!