Indonesia is more than just a tropical paradise – it’s perhaps the easiest and cheapest place in the world to eat (and drink!) fully plant-based.
When you hear the terms ‘Indonesian food’ or ‘Indonesian cuisine’, perhaps what comes to mind is rendang, the delicacy hailing from West Sumatra, voted the world’s most delicious dish in a 2017 CNN poll. Or maybe you think of nasi goreng, aka fried rice, voted the world’s second most delicious dish in the same poll.
Both dishes, in their many permutations, are typically heavy on animal meat or animal-derived ingredients. To understand Indonesians’ insistence on including animal products in their dishes is to learn its history of colonization.
Cattle were present in Indonesia well before the Dutch arrived at the end of the 16th century. In fact, the origin of rendang can be traced back to before the 15th century. The popularization of animal agriculture, coupled with the widening socio-economic-cultural gap between the Dutch and Indonesians, led to the notion that animal meat consumption constituted upward mobility. And this belief still persists to this day.
As a result, Indonesia’s largely plant-based culinary heritage, exemplified by the likes of tofu and tempeh, is widely thought of as the poor man’s meal due to its relative availability, affordability (a single block of tofu or tempeh – roughly weighing 200 grams – is usually priced at below US$ 1), and lightness, despite containing more protein and iron than, say, beef.
An Agrarian Affair
Indonesia’s geographical setting supports fertile farmland, allowing for a diverse range of plant-based ingredients to grow robustly. As recent anthropological research points out, numerous ancient inscriptions in Java and Bali describe how past civilizations were mostly plant-based, with rice and mung beans as the daily essentials.
In modern times, this is perhaps best exemplified in jajanan pasar, or traditional sweet snacks such as kue lapis (colorful soft rice flour pudding), klepon (sweet rice cake balls) and surabi (pancake made from rice flour with coconut milk) – all of which were invented in the 7th and 8th century.
Furthermore, there’s Indonesia’s version of salad in the form of gado-gado, which uses peanut sauce in lieu of dairy-based dressings as are customary in the Western world, or its veggie-free counterpart ketoprak, which consists of tofu, vegetables, rice cake, and rice vermicelli.
When all else fails, there’s always the classic gorengan or fritters. Battered, breaded, and deep-fried, gorengan refers to a wide range of oily decadence: bakwan (a mix of vegetables), ubi (sweet potato), tempeh, or tofu.
Then of course, there are the fruits. Fresh and nourishing produce such as coconut, watermelon, guava, and papaya are readily found in practically every corner of the archipelago. They can be metamorphosed into a wide variety of dishes and beverages, from cakes and juices to salad and cocktails.
Nature Inside and All Around
What better way to spend your stay at Everything To Sea than taking in the best that Indonesian nature has to offer, both literally and figuratively?
Aside from being an all-consuming marvel, Indonesian nature provides some of the world’s richest and most nutritious ingredients and dishes, all culled from the most natural resources.
Naturism can be viewed as an all-encompassing practice: more than just being physically naked, it can also include being in tune with the nature that surrounds us, and consuming what it so generously provides for humans.