Timor-Leste’s ai-han

Tetum, Timor-Leste’s national language is a beautiful poetic language based on botanical idioms. It shapes Timorese world views.

The Tetum word for food is ‘ai-han’ -ai means tree and han means to eat.

The word ai-han tells you something of where their food was originally sourced, and still is; trees or root crops such as cassava, sweet potato, corn, peanuts.

The Portuguese brought with them bread, and the tradition has remained in the form of little bread rolls, called ‘poun’.


The Indonesians brought rice and fundamentally changed the way people view food, their land and themselves.

This dish of sweet and sour curry with grilled fish and ketupat has been around, in one form or another, for a long time.

Sweet and Sour Curry with Grilled Fish and Ketupat (yellow coconut rice)


4 baby mackerel or tuna fish

1 thumb sized piece of fresh tumeric, ginger, galangal

1 cup of tamarind, soak in hot water, strain to make 1 cup of liquid

1 tin of coconut milk

3 birds eye chilli

3 dutch cream potatoes, diced

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 t coriander seeds

3 kaffir lime leaves


Using either a blender or a mortar and pestle, blend together the tumeric, garlic, ginger, galangal, chilli, coriander seeds until it forms a smooth paste

Marinate the fish using 1 T of paste


In a medium pot, saute the onion and garlic until golden, add the rest of the paste

Add the coconut milk, tamarind water, kaffir lime leaves, then potatoes

Cook until potato softens

Season with salt and pepper to taste


Chargrill the fish for about 5 mins on each side


1 cup of white rice to 1 cup of water and 1/2 coconut milk

1/2 thumb size of fresh tumeric    2 cloves of garlic (crushed)

1 t coriander seeds (crushed)

Make a paste using either food processor or mortar and pestle with the coriander seeds, garlic, turmeric.

Put the rice, water, coconut milk, and paste in a pot. Bring to the boil then let simmer, take off the heat and let sit for 5 mins. Serve hot or cold.

In lieu of banana-leaf wrapped ketupat, Asian stores actually sell pre-cooked ketupat that come in little plastic bags. You drop them in to the coconut/tumeric water, bring to the boil, scoop them out and they make these perfectly shaped triangles.








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