There is no such thing as Indonesian cuisine. There are Indonesian cuisines. Plural.
This country, an archipelago sandwiched by two continents, literally has hundreds of ethnic groups. The government officially recognise six religions and there are more unrecognised ones. Our traditions are also laced with Arab, Indian, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese influences. Diversity means there are lots of cultures and lots of cultures means lots of ways of cooking.
Javanese and Sundanese cuisines are mostly indigenous in style with minimal foreign influences, even though Javanese and Sundanese arts are heavy with Indian influences. The former is (in)famous for its sweetness due to the heavy use of palm sugar and sweet soy sauce. The latter is known for its earthy taste due to the heavy presence of raw vegetables.
As a Sumatran city, Palembang is unusual for the Javanese influences in its dishes and their restrained use of spices. They also heavily utilise both freshwater and saltwater fish; in major Indonesian cuisines, it is usually either or.
Minangkabau and Malay cuisines are known for their rich, cholesterol-inducing and spice-heavy coconut milk gravies. Both are heavily influenced by India and the Middle East. The latter is also influenced by China and it is related to Peranakan cuisine, a Chinese fusion cuisine also existing in Singapore and Malaysia.
While there are Peranakan dishes in Indonesia, non-spicy Chinese-influenced dishes are more popular here. They share more resemblances to the ‘original’ Chinese ones.
Batak cuisine is notable for its use of the tongue-numbing andaliman, a relative of Sichuan pepper, and there is one dish that use cow’s cud as an ingredient. Christian Batak people -well, some of them- are also infamous for their consumption of dog meat.
Minahasan cuisine is more infamous because, apart from being one of the spiciest cuisines in the country, it uses way more ‘exotic’ meat from animals like bats, jungle rats, snakes, macaques and yes, even dogs.
Betawi cuisine is the most fusional of them all. It is heavily influenced not only by other regional cultures, but also foreign ones. Remember the foreign cultures I listed earlier? Betawi covers all of them! Due to the high eclecticism, I still don’t know what makes Betawi dishes uniquely Betawi. For some reason, I associate them with the smell of lemongrass, even though not all of them use it.
I have tried only a handful of Indonesian dishes. Yet, my limited experience already reveals how diverse Indonesian cuisines are and how I have only scratched the surface. Heck, I am sure people who haven’t eaten a single Indonesian dish in their lives would acknowledge the diversity just by reading online sources that get the basic facts right.
The variety means one crucial thing: Indonesia could have catered to a wide range of taste buds. Regarding popularity, our foods could have beaten the ones from Japan and South Korea, two highly homogenous countries. We could have been a global culinary powerhouse!
Sadly, reality says otherwise.
Popularity is achieved through confident self-promotion. The promotion must be consistently done and the promoters must believe their own words. Even I know that and I am awkward as fuck!
Our self-promotion is pathetically lethargic. We are lazy and we even don’t believe our own words. We are ashamed of our own cultural existence. We only feel validated when foreigners openly commend our cultures.
There is a reason why you can find lots of foreign Youtubers who make videos eating Indonesian foods.*
I do know Indonesians who are proud of their foods. But, more of than not, they can only enjoy Indonesian foods; in some cases, they can only enjoy ones from their ethnic homelands.
Basically, they are bubble dwellers who have yet to live a truly cosmopolitan life.
*I make it sound like the presence of foreign Youtubers (many of whom are Koreans, for some reasons) who make a living eating Indonesian foods is an inherently bad thing.
I don’t think it is. In fact, I genuinely adore some of them. I just want to make a point that Indonesians still crave outside validation like insecure teenagers.
While we are it, there is a concern about foreigners exploiting our insecurity. I personally believe the concern is legitimate. But, just because it is legitimate, that does NOT mean all of them are guilty!
If you want to publicly accuse them, make sure you are backed with solid evidences. And no, your feeling is not a fucking evidence!
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