On Taro, Tempe and Belonging

In the same week we left Australia, among packing boxes and backpacks,we were interviewed by local ABC radio about the culturekitchen foodlab. Jon prepared some sweet-potato palm-sugar filled balls based on an experiment he conducted a few days earlier with taro. The radio presenter eyed them curiously before taking a bite and when she did, she was confused about where to place them in her western-experience of food. ‘It’s a vegetable, and yet.. it’s sweet’ came her bewilderment.

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And so we begin our project of translating and emplacing the myriad of Indonesian tastes in their histories and futures.

We are so EXCITED!

Since arriving, we have gone completely back to basics. Street food. It comes in banana leaf or brown paper parcels to be unwrapped like a present.

Tempe Penyet is Javanese for ‘pressed tempe’. (Tempe being the unrefined version of tofu). It is served with rice and little sides of raw grated cabbage, cucumber and sometimes green beans and fresh sambal chilli sauce. I just cannot express the enormity of my love for Tempe Penyet.

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Jon prefers the Pecel Lele (catfish)

In a recent article in Lucky Peach about street food, it was claimed that street food is basically all the same and you just need to get out there and try it.

I beg to differ.

Knowledge about street food is local knowledge. It is also highly contested. Where to get the best tempe penyet, for example, is the single most important operating principle of local knowledge. It also dominates local conversations about food. To know where to get the best tempe penyet, is to belong.

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