With more than 300 ethnic groups calling Indonesia home, picking an official national dish has posed a challenge.
After a months-long selection process, however, the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry decided on tumpeng, the popular cone-shaped rice dish.
The ministry expects President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will soon sign a decree declaring tumpeng a national dish and requiring all hotels and restaurants to serve it to their guests.
Tumpeng comprises a cone of usually yellow rice surrounded with meat and vegetable side dishes that is served during traditional ceremonies. It symbolizes joy and gratitude.
“Tumpeng tells a lot of stories and the shape represents how most Indonesians perceive life, which should be balanced between their relationship with God and their surroundings,” Achyaruddin, the ministry’s director for special interest and meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) said recently.
Achyar said Indonesia had around 5,350 traditional recipes and the ministry along with culinary experts had chosen 30 official national dishes in late 2012, including gado-gado (mixed vegetables with peanut sauce), sate maranggi (veal satay), rendang (beef simmered in coconut milk and spices), rawon (beef stew cooked with black nut) and chicken satay.
“Out of the 30 dishes, we picked one that binds the diversity of our various culinary traditions. And based on our study, tumpeng is known in almost every part of the country. That’s why we chose it,” he said.
He added that the ministry hoped Yudhoyono would sign the presidential decree by next month.
Beginning last year, the government has served tumpeng at state banquets, including at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Bali last year.
According to Achyar, the ministry has held trainings on tumpeng preparation for hotels and restaurants across the country, with 150 chefs participating last year.
He said the ministry had allocated Rp 7 billion (US$575,610) to the directorate general this year to promote the dish both within the archipelago and overseas.
“We will hold exhibitions and festivals to introduce the new national dish. We will also delegate professional chefs including Vindex Tengker and William Wongso to introduce the dish overseas,” he said.
In January, the ministry started the promotion program in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where around 20 chefs participated in a cooking class on preparing tumpeng.
“We will also hold the class in London, Berlin, New York and Singapore this year,” Achyar said.
He said that the ministry had faced both support and opposition from culinary experts in its choice of tumpeng as a national dish.
“A lot of culinary experts think that tumpeng does not truly represent Indonesian cuisine. We tried to explain that it is the best representation of our cuisine because we don’t want to highlight a dish that only represents Java or Sumatra, for example,” he said.
Meanwhile, Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI) chairperson, Wiryanti Sukamdani, said hotels and restaurants welcomed having tumpeng as the country’s national dish, saying that they had started serving tumpeng at special occasions last year.
“The industry has been waiting for such a guideline for us to promote Indonesian cuisine and tumpeng can definitely represent the country’s cuisine,” Yanti said.
Culinary expert Bondan Winarno also supported the government’s decision, saying that Indonesia should have one official national dish that would instantly remind people of Indonesia.
“Just like tom yam, which represents Thailand, and sushi to Japan,” Bondan said.
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