Four local dishes that have their roots in the cuisine of the Chinese
Today, Indonesians of Peranakan heritage celebrate Cap Go Meh, which literally translates as “the fifteenth day of the first month of the year”. It marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Nope, I’m not going to discuss on the merits of Lontong Cap Go Meh(rice cake in coconut milk). Instead, what I would like to do is to shine a light on the extent of the Peranakan’s influence on Indonesia’s culinary world.
Sure, there are plenty of dishes that originate from the amalgamation between Chinese and Indonesian cultures. Asia-centric website Things Asian states that this combination has brought about a distinctive flavour that has added a unique feature to Indonesian cuisine. Such Chinese-Indonesian dishes vary from one area in the country to another, depending on its culture. Some have managed to be acknowledged as the iconic dish of a city or province.
Here are four very well-know treats that were created under the influence of both cultures.
The people of Palembang love their Pempek, and so does the rest of the country. Some believe that its creation was inspired by kekkian, which is a fish-based snack that originated from South China. Another local folklore has it that it was first made by a 65-year-old Chinese man who lived nearby the Musi River in the sixteenth century. He mixed tapioca flour with spices and fish meat to create the Pempek. He would later offer it around his village by using a handcart, which was met with much fanfare. Patrons began to dub it Pempek, which is a derivative of the word apek, the Chinese slang term for “old man”. Nobody actually knows the true history behind Pempek, but either way, it is one of the best examples of an Indonesian dish that has its roots firmly entrenched in Chinese culture.
Frequent visitors to Yogyakarta would be more than familiar with Sekoteng, a ginger-based beverage that is topped with peanuts, green mung beans, bread dices, and tapioca pearls. Its name was derived from nyokot weteng, which is Javanese for “a drink that bites your belly”. But despite sounding very Javanese in nature, did you know that it was concocted in China? According to National Geographic Indonesia, it was Qin Shi Huang – a king from the Qin dynasty – who first drank it between 221-206 bc. Its moniker came from the Hokkien term su ko thung, which means “soup made from four types of fruits”. Originally comprised of lotus seeds and longan, they were replaced with its current ingredients when it was transplanted to Indonesia.
One of the most popular Peranakan dishes around, there are more than one type of Laksa that one can find in Indonesia, including Laksa Betawi, Laksa Bogor, Laksa Cibinong,Laksa Tangerang, Laksa Medan, and Laksa Palembang, among others. An article titled “How Intermarriage Created One of the World’s Most Delicious Foods” on Atlas Obscura depicts the origins behind Laksa, which traces back to the Chinese coastal settlements in Indonesia. These Chinese sailors went on to marry Indonesian women, who with their gentle hands combined chilli peppers and coconut milk with Chinese noodles soup to create Laksa. Each variation is born from adaptation to a culture specific to a geographical area. For example, Laksa Bogor uses oncom (fermented soy bean), while Laksa Tangerangcontains ebi (dried shrimp). Each variation was adapted to local cultures, as we can see from how Laksa Bogor uses oncom (fermented soy bean) while Laksa Tangerang containsebi (dried shrimp).
Finding whatever Bakmi dish in this country is as easy as ABC. While many countries have laid claim to be the pioneering source of the dish, National Geographic has reported that strings of 4,000-year-old noodles were found inside an overturned sealed bowl at the Lajia archaeological site in north-western China. Its name itself was taken from two Hokkien words “bah” and “mi”, which together means “meat noodles”, and they were brought to South-East Asia by Chinese immigrants. As is the case with Laksa, the various types of Bakmi in Indonesia are uniquely designed according to the area where they were developed, such as Bakmi Jawa, Bakmi Medan, Bakmi Bangka, and the pork-free Bakmi Ayam.