A contemporary record of Indonesian cuisines

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ANN) – The cooks and storytellers of the past handed down their recipes orally using regional languages and old dialects, many of which are not spoken or understood today.

Culinary tourism has been rising in popularity and has become a lucrative niche in recent years, making it one of the hottest topics among bloggers and conventional media.

While traditional tourism coverage only highlighted tourist destinations, culinary centres are no longer overlooked and are even in the media spotlight today. In Indonesia, the pioneer of culinary tourism in mainstream media is the late Bondan Winarno, a former investigative journalist who travelled across the archipelago’s many regions and even abroad.

Bondan savoured a variety of Indonesian cuisines as well as foreign cuisines. He published the stories of his culinary adventures and hosted several TV programmes on the topic.

Inspired by Bondan, Indonesian bloggers then began developing their own blogs to focus primarily on culinary tourism.

At a recent Jakarta discussion on culinary developments, celebrity chef and culinary entrepreneur William Wongso described the close connection food has with local culture and history.

For example, William pointed out that the dishes for the Balinese ngaben (cremation ceremony) required distinctive decorations and the best ingredients, as they were offerings to the deities of Balinese Hinduism.

Reno Andam Suri, who specialises in food storytelling and promoting Sumatran cuisines, mentioned how western Sumatra’s famous rendang – a traditional beef dish stewed in coconut milk and spices – used different ingredients in the montane culture of Bukittinggi and in the coastal culture of Padang.

“The difference is in the kinds of coconut and some of the spices, so that the texture of the resulting rendang are not the same,” she said.

Food also has connections with the cook-owner of a particular eatery, who is usually referred to as a “food persona”.

Willliam mentioned Mbah Lindu, who sells gudeg (young jackfruit stewed in spiced coconut sauce) at a roadside stall on Jl Sosrowijayan in Yogyakarta.

The Yogyakarta dish can be found all over the city, but Mbah Lindu – reportedly a nonagenarian – continues to cook and serve her famed version to customers.

“Anything could be the reason for her continuing customer service, even though she could simply leave the job to her children or grandchildren,” said William.

In the same vein, Reno spoke of Gustiati who makes bika lintau, a small round cake made from rice flour and coconut comparable to Java’s apam that the third-generation traditional baker sells at Payakumbuh Market in Payakumbuh, West Sumatra.