Klepon, good things come in tiny shapes
Klepon, a boiled rice flour ball with liquid coconut sugar filling, is strong evidence that good things don’t necessarily come in big packages. Klepon are tiny, around the size of the upper section of a grown man’s thumb, and a package of klepon usually comprises only five tiny balls, a smart marketing gimmick to push the customer to buy more.
Almost all traditional Balinese cake sellers have klepon on their tables since they are thought to be one of the best companions for a cup of hot black coffee, the favored breakfast of Balinese men.
In Gianyar, making klepon has grown into a lucrative industry. A klepon “factory” that goes by the name of its owner, Ida Bagus Nyoman Rai, produces thousands of klepon per day, which is quite a feat since it doesn’t have any modern machinery.
“All of our klepon are made manually, by hand, and I sometimes work day and night when we have many orders to complete,” Rai’s wife and the actual manager-cum-forewomen-cum-worker of the “factory”, Desak Ketut Rai, proudly said.
Next to her, Desak Putu Merta nodded in agreement as her wrinkled but powerful hands kneaded the humongous ball of klepon dough made by mixing 10 kilograms of sticky rice flour with salt and green-colored water — the result of boiling suji (Dracaena angustifolia) leaves. The water gives the klepon dough its fresh and alluring green color.
Gianyar’s klepon are well known for their taste and quality, the result of the commitment to use only the best raw materials, including genuine sticky rice flour. In other regions, klepon makers are known to add cassava flour to pump up the chewiness of the klepon.
“In the old days, we bought sticky rice and pounded it for hours to make the flour for klepon,” one of Gianyar’s oldest klepon artisans, Anak Agung Oka, recalled.
The klepon makers in Gianyar only use sticky rice flour from Tabanan and coconut sugar from Dawan, Klungkung.
Both Rai and Oka used to be invited to Jakarta to make klepon for important dignitaries and state guests.
“[Former president] Pak Harto and Bu Tien were among the important people who liked my klepon,” Rai said.
Rai’s “factory” lies on Jl. Mangku Giwang, north of the soccer field in downtown Gianyar. It is an open facility where buyers can watch the klepon as they are being made.
— Photos by Luh De Suriyani