Indonesian Food: Culture Through Food In Java – TripAnthropologist

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17,508 islands, 300 ethnicities, and a long history of trade with the Middle East, China, India, and Europe: Indonesia and Indonesia cuisine is a melting pot of culinary influences and ingredients! What people eat, how they eat, and who they eat with tells us what is important to a culture or society. Read on to discover what Javanese food tells us about eating culture in Indonesia and Indonesians.Indonesian Food, Culture and Community

The most populous island in the Indonesian archipelago is Java with over 150 million people squeezed onto this volcanic island with fertile rice fields and tropical fruits and wondrous spices.  

It is home to the capital, Jakarta, and the world’s largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur Temple, near the regional capital Yogyakarta.

It is also home to an indigenous cuisine that reflects this vibrant, tropical trading nation’s history and culture.The sheer variety of ingredients added to dishes regionally throughout the island is staggering.

For a comprehensive list of the very best street foods to try when you’re in Indonesia, read Indonesian Street Foods.Rice Terraces – Bali, Indonesia

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Steamed rice, rice cakes, and rice flour are all important ingredients in Indonesian meals.

If you’d like to be among the wonderful rice terraces of Java, there is a great tour to Selogriyo Temple, only an hour from Borobudur and two hours from Yogyakarta. You can check out prices, availability, and reviews here.The Tastes of Java

The Javanese, like the cultures of the nations close by (such as Myanmar), like to identify strong sweet, sour, salty, and bitter tastes in any meal. The overall or lingering sense of the meal should be a hot and spicy flavor.

A milder version of these tastes has become popular in nearby Singapore and Malaysia, but it is Indonesia that brought the world wondrous spices such as nutmeg and cloves.

Tempeh (fermented soybeans) also originated in Java. Javanese food is slightly sweeter than the other Indonesia Food parts of Indonesia and so it is often possible to identify a Javanese dish from its taste.This is due to the sweet soy sauce and palm sugar (kepac manis and gula jawa) that are used in many of its simple dishes. It is also because of the use of coconut in wonderful dishes and Indonesian desserts you can find in roadside stalls like coconut pancakes and curries that use a coconut milk base  (especially in Bandung and Solo).

Dishes here use a little less chili than in other parts of the country.

Tamarind, turmeric, and shrimp paste balance flavors and spiciness in dishes, and the sweet notes of peanut satay and coconut add smoothness to key Javanese dishes. It makes for unforgettable sauces such as the spicy peanut sauce, gado gado which goes over a kind of mixed salad.

Fried or sliced shallots are often served over dishes. You’ll find many of your meals will come with some vegetables on the side and the most popular include bean sprouts, cabbage, cucumbers, cabbage and potatoes.

Prawn crackers are also sometimes served alongside a dish. As a large and densely populated island, it’s not unusual to find regional variations of the key Javanese dishes.

Karedok, for example, is compared to gado gado because it uses peanut sauce but originated in West Java.

Some of these regional influences come about because of large populations from other countries such as the influences of Chinese cuisine upon cities on the coast such as Pekalongan and Semarang.Javanese soybean pudding in ginger and palm-sugar syrupWhat the Javanese Eat

In Asia, people feel strongly that a contented, full, and satisfying feeling occurs if a meal contains rice.

Whilst this holds true in Indonesia, other starches often substitute for rice in many places in Indonesia, especially noodles which are used extensively in Indonesian dishes as well as cassava.

The goddess of rice, Shri Dewi is honored by the Javanese by ensuring that they eat all the rice placed on their plates. Rice is processed as either ketupat or lontong.

The particular meats, seafood, and plants are grown on the island are unsurprisingly present in everyday dishes.

Water buffalo, eels, yams, jasmine, jackfruit, eggs, and fresh-water fish have been a part of traditional Javanese cuisine and continue to give Javanese dishes unique flavors.Steamed rice, as well as tofu or tempeh, are served on the side. Leftovers constitute dinner later that evening.Nasi Jamblang: a traditional Western Javanese dish from Cirebon of rice and a variety of common side dishesMonique from TripAnthropologist at an Indonesian restaurant, Jakarta

A proper meal also has to contain a number of dishes and this is also common in Asia (otherwise it’s a snack!)

Meat such as beef, mutton, or chicken (but not pork) and fish, vegetables, rice, and soup would be the minimum dishes to make up a satisfactory meal.

In the image above you can see me tucking into such a midday meal on a weekday (all this, just for me!)Indonesian Food Culture: Typical Javanese dishesGudeg

Nasi gudeg is a great example of Javanese cuisine and of the rich food culture in Indonesia. Gudeg means jackfruit. 

It has a base of coconut milk and uses indigenous ingredients such as buffalo and of course, jackfruit.

The dish includes spiced buffalo skin crackers (krecek), a spiced egg that is cooked in coconut milk (opor telur pindang), baby jackfruit also cooked in coconut milk (gudeg), and fried chicken (ayam goreng).

In this dish, you can see how the produce and slight sweetness of Java come through, as well as the interest in having several different textures in a single meal.

Note: Fried and grilled chicken is often localized using spices or techniques indigenous to a particular island or region. Ayam taliwang, for example, is similar to ayam goreng but is a specialty of Lombok.Nasi Gudeg: a Traditional Javanese Rice Dish with Jackfruit Stew, White Chicken Curry & Spicy Cattle Skin StewSambalAneka Sambal Nusantara, Several Popular Spicy Condiments

Sambal is a dish that comes from Java and has spread through neighboring countries. Of the 212 known variations, almost all come from Java.Sambal is essentially a chili paste where one or more kinds of chili are mixed with other flavorings.

The most common additions are garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, lime juice, and the palm sugar that is added to so many Javanese dishes. The main ingredient of this popular accompaniment to pretty much anything fried in Java came from Europe.

Cabya was a long pepper that was found in Java and Bali, but it was supplanted by the capsicum that was brought by the Spanish and the Portuguese to Java in the 1500s.Soups

Soups (soto), satays (sate), rice (nasi) and vegetable (sayur) dishes abound, often containing herbs or spices grown locally, such as soup with lemongrass or rice with turmeric. Timlo is a favorite chicken soup dish (soto ayam) from Solo and the Surabaya (in East Java) variant on this popular dish is called Soto Abengam. Offal is used extensively, especially chicken innards, and tempeh can be found throughout the island.

Some dishes are a combination of soups and rice and it’s sometimes hard to know what to call them! Nasi liwet, for example, cooks the rice in chicken broth and coconut milk.Nasi Pindang Kudus, Javanese Meal of Rice in Beef, Keluak Fruit and Coconut Milk Soup from Kudus, Central Java

Two great options to try a street food tour in Yogyakarta are the Yogyakarta Historical Walking and Food Tour, a three-hour tour that begins at 9 a.m., and the evening Yogyakarta Night Delight Walking Tour (from 6.30 pm to 9.30 p.m.)

Both tours have free cancellation up to 24 hours prior to the tour commencing. They each visit a market and a series of snack stalls and are both very well-reviewed tours. Check prices, availability, and reviews below.A Javanese Meal

I find the way in which Javanese people eat at mealtimes to be fascinating (or maybe I’m just nosy!)

During the day, when not grazing on small snacks, Indonesians may eat three meals with lunch being the largest.

What interests me is that there is no ritual about family or friendship and community although this necessarily occurs more these days during holidays and it was the case traditionally in Java.Angkringan in Yogyakarta (closed) selling Indonesian street food

For the most part, on weekdays, you just tuck in and eat, often alone. In almost all societies, past and present, eating is a communal affair and loaded with significance to do with politics, religion, status, and gender and kinship relationships.

In Indonesia, meals are traditionally eaten without utensils whilst sitting on a mat on the floor. In this sense, the indigenous Javanese and Indonesian traditions are similar to the rest of Southeast Asia’s indigenous traditions.

But Indonesia is also a highly populated and urban nation. In cities, lunch can be a quick food hall meal, or eaten on stools outside food carts in cities, towns, and villages.

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