The Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry has created a list of 30 iconic Indonesian dishes to promote and is pushing for standards for each dish.
Selecting 30 from a dizzyingly varied cuisine seems like a herculean task, but late last year, a group, including master foodie Bondan Winarno, came up with the list.
The group is a culinary working group formed by The Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry.
"Each dish should be easy to make, easy to get and easy to like," Bondan said last week.
“Easy to get” means that the ingredients should be easy to find or substitute so that an Indonesian restaurants overseas can create it.
“Easy to like” means that if it's a dish from East Java, people from other provinces like Sumatra or Papua will enjoy it as well.
Kunyit asam Solo (tamarind turmeric drink) is easy to make - as long as the recipe and ingredients are in order.
"Pick a young tamarind, not an old one, and you're good to go. You can also do your own thing by adding soda and, voilà, it's a unique welcome drink to serve in hotels," Bondan said.
Other than good ingredients, the tricks lie largely in the process. "Using the right recipe is not enough. Messing up the process just a bit can lead to different result, consistency and texture," Bondan said, emphasizing the importance of standards for each dish.
"When we added kue lumpur Jakarta (coconut pancake) to the list, which has a lot of different techniques, we have defined an ‘authentic’ recipe and want to make it standard, in terms of taste and color," he said.
To push for recognition of these standards, the dishes, which ranged from appetizers to beverages, had been promoted to tourism schools and hotels in Bandung, Medan, Pontianak, and Makassar, through coaching clinics.
Bondan thinks the coaching sessions were both interesting and challenging.
"During the roadshow, people would come up to me and complain that their local dish had not been included," said Bondan.
In Medan for example, some people insisted that soto Medan (aromatic soup) should be on the list. "I asked them, where is the best soto Medan in Medan? All agreed that Rumah Makan Sinar Pagi in Jl. Sei Deli was the one. It is also the oldest restaurant in the city selling the dish.
I asked them again, who is the owner? Because I have been there and I know that the owner is actually from Padang [West Sumatra]. And the difference between soto Medan and soto Padang is the addition of coconut milk. So it's very important that we don't just adore our traditional cuisine, but also recognize its history," said Bondan.
The selection of 30 iconic dishes is still far from being finished.
"It's a work in progress and won't stop here. We want all regions to participate and collect their best dishes because not all of us [ministry’s culinary working group] know about them," said Bondan.
Creating a recipe book of the 30 dishes with complete guidelines and publishing it online will be the next step.
The Ministry has included cuisine as the 15th sub-sector of the creative industry because of its strong connection to tourism — both domestic and foreign tourists spend money on local dishes when traveling.
The culinary sector represented almost a third the total creative industry sector’s in 2011, making it the largest contributor.
The 30 iconic dishes:
1. Nasi tumpeng (cone shaped fragrant rice served with side dishes)
2. Ayam bumbu rujak Yogyakarta (chilli roast chicken)
3. Gado-gado Jakarta (vegetable salad with peanut sauce)
4. Nasi goreng kampung (fried rice)
5. Serabi Bandung (rice pancake with palm sugar syrup)
6. Sarikayo Minangkabau (sticky rice with brown sugar and coconut milk)
7. Es dawet ayu Banjarnegara (drink with palm sugar and coconut milk)
8. Urap sayuran Yogyakarta (vegetable salad with grated coconut)
9. Sayur nangka Kapau (young jackfruit in coconut milk)
10. Lumpia Semarang (spring roll filled with shrimp and bamboo shoots)
11. Nagasari Yogyakarta (rice cake filled with steamed banana)
12. Kue lumpur Jakarta (coconut pancake)
13. Soto ayam Lamongan (aromatic chicken soup)
14. Rawon Surabaya (beef stew)
15. Asinan Jakarta (vegetables in sweet and sour sauce)
16. Sate ayam Madura (chicken satay)
17. Sate maranggi Purwakarta (veal satay)
18. Klappertaart Manado (coconut pudding)
19. Tahu telur Surabaya (tofu with eggs)
20. Sate lilit Bali (minced fish satay)
21. Rendang Padang (beef cooked in spices and coconut milk)
22 . Orak-arik buncis Solo (sauteed string beans with scrambled eggs)
23. Pindang patin Palembang (fish soup)
24. Nasi liwet solo (rice cooked in coconut milk and served with side dishes)
25. Bir pletok Jakarta (ginger and cinnamon drink)
26. Kolak pisang ubi Bandung (banana and sweet potato in sweet coconut sauce)
27. Ayam goreng lengkuas Bandung (galangal fried chicken)
28. Laksa Bogor (curry soup with rice cakes)
29. Kunyit asam Solo (tamarind turmeric drink)
30. Asam padeh tongkol Padang (tuna in spicy sour sauce)