The Joy Of Soy From Indonesia


January 13, 1991|By ROB KASPER

This is a story about how thanks to another guy's high school girlfriend, the meals at my house are much spicier.

It is a roundabout tale that ends up with me holding a bottle of a soy sauce called Ketjap Manis, and giving one of those all-over-the-lot, soy-sauce testimonials.

The kind where I point to this bottle of soy sauce and proclaim that it makes meat taste better, fish taste better, even rice taste better. I don't claim it removes unsightly facial hair, but I come real close.

I testify that the sweet, clean finish of this soy sauce is unlike any other soy sauce I have tasted. This statement is true, but glosses over the fact that until recently the number of soy sauces I had tasted was three. The mild-mannered Kikkoman brand soy sauce, and the two you find in Chinese and Japanese restaurants.

This soy sauce comes from Holland, by way of Indonesia and Sparks, Md.

Holland, I remember from my geography classes, is where the Dutch live. And the Dutch, I remember from history classes, like to sail around the oceans and pick up things. One thing they picked up was some real estate that now is called Indonesia.

Another thing they picked up was a taste for Indonesian soy sauce, which turns out to be less salty and sweeter than the Chinese, as well as spicier than the Japanese soy sauces. It packs more punch than the soy sauce that years later would show up in American groceries.

So for years the Dutch had this Indonesian soy sauce in Holland. And when visitors came to Holland, they did what many guests do, they took home some souvenirs. Some took home a bottle or two of soy sauce.

This is getting close to part of the story where the other guy's girlfriend comes in.

Back in Baltimore there was a Calvert Hall High School student named Colin Patrick Kness. And as young men do, he pursued a young woman. Her name was Jennifer. He went to Jennifer's house. He was introduced to her father. It turns out that the father and young man, in addition to sharing a mutual interest in Jennifer, also shared an interest in cooking. Jennifer's father, a world traveler, introduced Kness to this amazing Indonesian soy sauce.

That was eight years ago. Since then Jennifer has moved to Pennsylvania. Her father moved to Virginia. Kness has remained "good friends" with Jennifer, and has taken a passionate interest in the soy sauce.

When he couldn't find the soy sauce in local stores, he set up Modern Import Distributors and bought the sauce by the caseloads. Modern Import Distributors is not a big operation with a fancy office and a staff of hundreds. The main fixture of the business is post office box, No. 395, in the Sparks post office. Kness is one of three employees. He also has another job, selling computers.

Being a person who believes in "hot and sweet" flavors, Kness began passing out bottles of this soy sauce to other "spice driven" people. He said he enjoyed watching skeptics reluctantly sprinkle the soy sauce on a pot roast, then end up licking the plate.

To get more sauce, the converts would send correspondence to the post office box. Kness only sells the sauce by the six-bottle case, and it is expensive, $36 for a case of six 16-ounce bottles.

One day last summer he sent a bottle of soy sauce to me as a surprise. I treated it with great suspicion. First, I made sure that whatever was inside the package was not ticking. Then I opened the box up, pulled out the bottle of soy sauce and waited.

I waited for some person in plaid to descend on me, telling me how this was greatest stuff in the world. How it would not only change my meals, but would also change my life and remove unsightly facial hair. I waited and waited. Nobody called.

After six months of waiting, I finally opened the bottle. It was magnificent stuff. It had sweet, spicy flavor, yet had a clean finish. I began to sprinkle it on everything, considering it even for use as an after-shave lotion. My wife, however, hoarded it. It became "the good soy sauce" for use only on state occasions.

One day as I cleaned my desk at the office, I came across the letter Kness had sent me with the sauce. I got in contact with Kness, who told me me the story of the sauce.

It is pretty much the story I have just told you. With one addition. Now I, too, have ordered a case of stuff and will soon experiment with it as an after-shave.

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