I was happily surprised the other day to find jars of Sambal Matah (Indonesian salsa) smiling at me from a shelf at Trader Joe’s, my favorite neighborhood grocery store in LA. This is proof that Indonesian foods are finally finding their way into mainstream supermarkets in the US. This is a significant step forward as part of the gastro-diplomacy and nation-branding mission, presented to us during the first Congress of Indonesian Diaspora at the Convention Center in Los Angeles in 2012, not with just any dish, but 30 iconic culinary assets, ranging from appetizers to beverages, that best represent Indonesia, as set by the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry. Indonesia wants you to fall in love with them by targeting your tummy with the most delicious foods, so that you book a trip and further explore this archipelago of culinary riches. Expect more Indonesian restaurants to feature dishes like ‘Nasi Tumpeng’ (cone-shaped fragrant rice served with condiments), ‘Rendang Padang’ (beef cooked in coconut milk), ‘Nasi Goreng Kampung’ (stir-fried rice), ‘Lumpia Semarang’ (spring roll filled with shrimp and bamboo shoots), ‘Klappertaart Manado’ (coconut cake) or ‘Sate Lilit Bali’ (minced fish satay), just to name a few. All these 30 dishes have a history, linked to the region and community they represent.
Another way Indonesia expects to become noticed and gain ground is to cater to the needs of the health conscious niche market. At the Authentic Indonesia: Food Tasting and Workhop event, held at the Consulate General of Indonesia in Los Angeles last January 16th, we got a demonstration and taste of Indonesia’s rich heritage of local food biodiversity and culinary traditions. The sharing session was presented by Mrs. Helianti Hilman, Founder and CEO of PT Kampung Kearifan Indonesia. She proudly explained, that after 5 years of operation under the JAVARA brand, the company has successfully build partnerships with over 50,000 farmers and 50 food artisans from across Indonesia, partners who wish to retain indigenous wisdoms and are committed to pass on & preserve such heritage. Mrs. Hilman shared the health benefits of the many natural and organically grown products, using local (non GMO) seeds, processed naturally without using chemical additives such as artificial coloring, deodorizing, flavoring, preservatives and bleaching. Music to the ears of those who are looking for balanced diets and embrace the organic foodie lifestyle.
Did you know that Indonesia has about 7000 rice varieties? Javara uses heirloom rice seeds. I was most impressed with the innovative Infused Rice products, yet to be launched. The Secang Infused Rice, orange infused & colored, using Azadine Wood, which can be easily found across Indonesia. Some research indicates that this wood may have properties of blocking carbohydrates. Another innovative product, a modernized version of the traditional Nasi Kuning (Yellow Rice), is the Turmeric & Coconut Infused Rice, easier to cook when you have limited time, without loss of flavor, color and texture. Then the Pandan-Infused Rice; the pandan leaves provide the beautiful green colour as well as the signature aroma. Most surprising was the Blue Pea Flower Infused Rice: this flower originated from Ternate Island (Moluccan region). The flower gives of a beautiful blue colour when soaked in hot water, and is traditionally known for soothing and serving as anti-depressant. I call it ‘happy rice to beat the blues.’
We also got to sample Coconut Jam and Coconut & Cocoa Spread, which can be used for spreads as well as topping for muffins and cakes. Coconut Nectar Syrup, as a substitute for maple/honey over waffles and pancakes. Coconut Butter, for baking and spread, infused with turmeric (for smoothies etc.). Just Google the health benefits of coconut and turmeric and you will add these to your list of ’need to haves.’ Also interesting are the noodles made with organic roots & veggie and a whole new range of spice blends, infused salts and an interesting pesto made with Kemiri (candlenut, for those allergic to pine nuts). Another issue these days is Gluten-Free: Javara offers many different organic flours without gluten, made from rice, soybean, cassava, corn, arrowroot etc. Like the Sambal Matah, some of these condiments can be used as dips with nacho chips or combined with Western style dishes.
Indonesia is moving forward to creating more awareness and making Indonesian cuisine more accessible, easy to make, easy to like, appreciated by many tastebuds around the world and making the ingredients easier to get. More Indonesian chefs are encouraged to open restaurants and entrepreneurs to open food businesses abroad. We can expect more events for the coming year, ranging from cooking workshops, instruction classes at culinary schools and the import of food products from Indonesia.
During our coffee break at the Consulate General we were served Kroket Kentang, Risoles and Cake Surabaya, not on the list of 30 iconic dishes, but well known national snacks with an Indo Dutch/European heritage.
From the ITPCLA press release: The Authentic Indonesia: Food Tasting and Workhop event was a collaboration between Indonesian Trade Promotion Center Los Angeles (ITPCLA), Consulate General in LA and Javara. Opening remarks were given by the Consul General of Indonesia in Los Angeles, Mr. Umar Hadi, stating “Promoting Indonesia’s culinary to the U.S is going to be one of this Consulate’s focuses. Thank you, Ibu Mari Elka Pangestu, who has been one of the prime igniters to promote Indonesia’s culinary and food heritage internationally.” As a foodie himself, the Consul General is looking forward to better explore and promote Indonesian food in Los Angeles and working closely with Indonesian Diaspora community in Los Angeles. The former Minister of Trade and Minister of Creative Economy and Tourism of Indonesia, Mrs. Mari Elka Pangestu presented a speech along with a presentation about Indonesia’s 30 Traditional Culinary Icons. “Indonesia has an extraordinary potential in biodiversity and it should be the biggest asset to increase Indonesia’s authentic food and culinary culture around the world. Our culinary has also the number 1 biggest potential from Indonesia’s Creative Economy TOP 15 products. ” said Mrs. Pangestu. The 30 Traditional Culinary Icons were developed to narrow down – simplify and intensify – the diversity of Indonesian food promotion that it will accepted in any taste buds around the world. Head of ITPCLA, Mr. Arief Wibisono, during the sharing session said “We initiated this event with a vision to inform, educate and encourage the communities in LA about Indonesia’s authentic food. We also created this event Indonesian diaspora in LA as an encouragement and inspiration to develop a passion for entrepreneurship in Indonesian food and culinary related businesses.” Mr. Wibisono said that as more similar food and culinary-related events will be initiated, we are full of hope that in the next several years Indonesian food and culinary culture will be well-known in the U.S as well as internationally.
© 2015 Jeff Keasberry.