Food, friendships and family are all very serious things to us. Food – provision, consumption or donation – binds a community, nourishing the soul while nourishing the body. We socialize around food, talk about food, communicate through food, and share our experiences with food.
In Indonesia, our agricultural and forestry wealth has created a rich food tradition that we use to reaffirm our strong societal and family ties. Our food also reflects our differences: the same ingredients have been adopted for different uses across different islands, as cuisines evolved to suit local tastes, needs and availability.
The vast tropical forests of Sumatra, for example, contain a wide variety of spices. With important supply and shipping ports on the coast and rivers, Sumatra was essential to the spice trade and has been influenced by the culture of migrants over the centuries. Sumatran cuisine has evolved to incorporate many ingredients from China and the Middle East, and has a wide variety of dishes in its repertoire.
Padang food is the most famous. The Minangkabau people of the highlands of West Sumatra mastered the use of coconut milk and chili peppers to prepare complex curries and casseroles. Padang’s signature dish, Rendang Beef, is now recognized as one of the most delicious dishes in the world.
Java cuisine is simpler and less spicy, especially Central Java dishes, in which even savory dishes are heavily sweetened with palm sugar and kecap manis, our beloved sweet soy sauce. Popular examples of iconic Indonesian staples enjoyed by locals and foreigners alike include Nasi Kuning (yellow rice), Soto Ayam (turmeric chicken soup), and Gado Gado (vegetable salad).
Isolated and sparsely populated islands tend to have simpler cuisines due to the lack of variety in the ingredients available. But even these pockets of specialty cooking add to the diversity and, literally, color to Indonesia’s culinary selection. For example, in the forest regions of Kalimantan (Borneo), sour eggplant is a common ingredient in the cuisine of the Dayak tribes. Yet this ingredient is generally unavailable or unknown to the people of Java as it does not travel well and few Dayak leave their homeland to settle elsewhere.
But every corner of Indonesia, from the cosmopolitan trading port to the isolated fishing village, shares one dish: sambal. This blend of crushed chili and other ingredients can vary from Java Terasi, a thick and aromatic blend of fish and tomatoes (not for the faint of heart) to Bali Sambal Matah, a paste made from lemongrass and shallot. shiny and fresh. Other sambal recipes use coconut, tamarind, and even durian. With over 200 types of sambal to choose from, cooks have limitless options for turning common ingredients like chicken, beef, or vegetables into an incredibly wide range of dishes.
Because they grow easily in a variety of climates and are found on many islands, turmeric, cilantro, shallots, candles and ginger are commonly used in our cuisine, forming the basis of the flavors that people recognize as distinctly Indonesian.
Casual dining and sharing experiences
Food is a shared experience: we tell people where to go and gladly refer our friends to where they can find that amazing dish or snack, whether it’s at a restaurant, roadside stand or home bakery. selling cakes on Instagram. Like an American hot dog stand or a kebab cart, street stalls sell specialties ranging from Bakso to Gorengan (fried bananas, cassava, tofu, and tempe), which is our version of the chips. Except in Indonesia, these stalls are not only places to get food, but also opportunities for social congregation.
“Food is where real life is expressed through all the senses – we eat with our hands, we smell
food when we cook it, we see a range of colors in the natural ingredients of the food, and we hear about what to eat or how to cook from others.
Enjoying food helps us live in our senses and savor the moment as part of an overall wellness practice (not diet). Although Indonesia has the widespread empirical health tradition of jamu, Indonesians eat primarily for flavor and pleasure. Whether it’s street food, home cooking or dining out, we don’t just eat our meals, we savor them, because savoring food is part of life.
Food for gatherings
Community food has come these days from hunter-gatherers where people lived, hunted and ate together as a clan. It creates strong links between the peoples of the village tribes who perpetuate it today.
In Bali, local communities usually have a ritual or celebration that community members are expected to attend. Unfortunately, this can create conflict when a tribe member has to choose between attending a ceremony or going to work, but the ties to the community are so strong that he would rather risk being fired for lacking work instead. than being excluded from your community. Even if you don’t live in a city with your family, many leave to come back on weekends. And in cities, extended families, even over three generations, usually come together for weekly meals.
Since gatherings are important, thinking about what food to bring to the occasion is important. We don’t just grab a bag of crisps to bring to the party. If you want to bring tokens, you had better bring them from a reputable place for tokens. If someone brings up a simple offer, you can assume it’s from a place known for that specific dish.
But these places don’t have to be upscale establishments. One offer could be Es Puter, a coconut milk ice cream, bought at a famous little roadside shop, or a simple pudding from a neighborhood bakery where it’s his specialty. The biggest compliment should be asked where you bought the food and the biggest freebie you can give is to share the contact information of where you bought it. Word of mouth is still the most powerful and exciting way to hear about the latest and greatest foods.
This is an excerpt from the new book, Jamu Lifestyle (AfterHours Books), by Metta Murdaya. It is published here with permission.
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–4547 (Pixabay, Creative Commons)