The Jakarta Post
Indonesia’s culinary expert and author, William Wongso, launched the Indonesian version of his newest cookbook, "Cita Rasa Indonesia: Ekspresi Kuliner William Wongso" (Flavors of Indonesia: William Wongso’s Culinary Wonders). (JP/Muthi Kautsar)
William Wongso, an Indonesian culinary expert and author, has always believed that food is the oldest language of diplomacy in the world. He agrees that food brings people and even the world together through taste, trade and travel, and that food develops and spreads through cultural exchange and meetings.
Due to its size and strategic location along major sea lanes connecting East Asia, South Asia and Oceania, Indonesia is blessed with rich biodiversity and culture, hence the unique food. However, the country’s culinary wealth is still lacking global exposure. There is still so much to be shown aside from the famous nasi goreng (fried rice), gado-gado (mixed vegetable salad with peanut sauce) and rendang (slow cooked caramelized beef).
An avid explorer of Indonesian food since the early 1970s, William dedicates most of his time on the path to put the country’s rich culinary heritage on the global food map. Recently, he launched the Indonesian version of his newest cookbook, Cita Rasa Indonesia: Ekspresi Kuliner William Wongso (Flavors of Indonesia: William Wongso’s Culinary Wonders). The original version of the book won the Best Book of the Year at the 2017 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Yantai, China.
While Indonesia’s culinary wealth is a blessing, it is also a challenge to compile them in one book. William agrees that it is a complicated matter, and that the only way is to highlight the most important according to the theme. Cita Rasa Indonesia, therefore, presents food in the context of cross-cultural diplomacy, featuring local foods that represent acculturation.
Featured in the book is a range of dishes from the ones served in formal receptions for state visits to Indonesian street food similar to food truck Turkish kebabs in Berlin, small Chinese joints in Sydney and Spanish food cart churros in New York. Those are the kinds of foods that bring together people of different races and nations, to a global daily interaction.
The book also carefully maps the archipelago’s culinary wealth from the west to the east, depicting each of their distinctive characteristics. In short, William said the further east, the subtler the spices. The further west, the stronger the spices, probably due the area’s exposure to the Silk Road hustle and bustle in the past.
There are stories behind every food featured in the book, from the glorious architecture and royal tradition at the background of royal Javanese cuisine, to the robustness of ancient spices and the freshness of produce in traditional markets in Sumatra and other islands. Photos that illustrate the stories were taken by William himself over the past decades, carefully curated by his publisher.
William is positive that Indonesian cuisine will continually increase in popularity, but he feels that more local culinary experts are still needed by the archipelago.
“I am proud to be a citizen of Indonesia that is blessed with abundant culinary wealth. Let us preserve this blessing together,” he said at the end of his book launching event.