Sunday, May 29, 2011

Foodbuzz 24 x 24: A Taste of Java--Nasi Tumpeng

Sri Owens has written a number of cookbooks on Indonesian food.  In her first, Indonesian Food and Cookery, she notes how animated Indonesians get when they get together to share a meal, and suggests "that in a Moslem country food has to do alone what food plus alcohol perform in Europe or America." When I happened to meet the Bishop of Surabaya a couple of years ago, he put it another way.  The Javanese, he said, love to get together to share whatever food they have, whether it be an extravagant meal or  a bowl of rice.  The important thing is to be together with others; the food is simply an excuse.

In my family, food is certainly important, but it doesn't have to do double duty.  No one has gone thirsty at a family gathering.  While we enjoy our food and drinks, we also enjoy getting together.  Ours is not a family that dreads communal meals.  Indeed, it sometimes seems we look for excuses to have a meal together.  When Foodbuzz agreed to my proposal for 24 x 24 to create nasi tumpeng to celebrate my nephew's graduation from CSU, Sacramento, we all looked forward to a warm evening on my mother's deck enjoying a variety of Indonesian dishes. 

Of course, that didn't happen.  While the normal high for May 28 is 85º F, yesterday was twenty degrees below that.  Rain is rare in Sacramento from May to October, but it rained steadily yesterday afternoon and evening.  All plans for the outdoor meal for 15 people had to be shifted indoors.  A few dishes that had been planned were scratched from the menu, but we managed.

The picture at the top of this post is of a painting my mother did of Sam, my nephew, from a photo of him at our rehearsal dinner in 1993.  His parents, Tju and Han, were invaluable in making the arrangements for our wedding.  Although we got married in Surabaya, both Tjing and I were living in Jakarta.  We also had a large contingent of my family come to the wedding from the United States.  Tju and Han took care of all the arrangements, booking hotels, arranging transportation, renting a villa for my relatives to stay in in Tretes for a few days before the wedding, and so much more for which we are eternally grateful.  All three of their children have now graduated from college in California, which is an especially remarkable accomplishment considering they came here with limited English skills.  

Nasi tumpeng is a ceremonial version of nasi rames.  Tumpeng is a a cone of rice said to symbolize a sacred mountain.  For this celebration, Tjing made nasi kuning (yellow rice) flavored with pandan leaf and coconut milk.  Besides cooking the rice, Tjing also made all the decorations and arranged the food around the tumpeng.  Forced to buy a different brand of turmeric than she normally uses, Tjing complained the rice was not as yellow as it should be.  


Besides krupuk udang and emping, the meal included tempe goreng, kering tempe, sate ayam (chicken satay) and sate babi (pork satay,  while not served in most Javanese households, is popular with Chinese Indonesians), ayam panggang Jawa (Javanese grilled chicken), empal (beef that is first boiled several hours, then cooked in a spicy coconut milk sauce, and then fried), perkedel jagung (corn and shrimp fritters), perkedel kentang (mashed potato and ground beef fritters), oseng-oseng tauge dan wortel (fried bean sprouts with carrots), and telur puyuh bumbu Bali (hard boiled quail eggs in a spicy sauce).  There were also brambang goreng (fried shallots), serundeng (roasted grated coconut), and kacang goreng (fried peanuts).  

Anticipating a warm evening eating outside, we planned a refreshing dessert.  Tjing made es campur which was favored by the Indonesian side of the family.  


My sister made two luscious ice cream pies, a vanilla one with a macadamia nut crust, and a chocolate one with a cookie-like crust.  I had also found some fresh litchees which were much sweeter than the ones we are usually able to get here.

The weather could have been better.  A cold rain in late May is not what I anticipated when suggesting this meal.  In the end though, it wasn't the food that brought us together.  We got together to celebrate Sam's completion of his undergraduate studies with a double major BA and to wish him continued success in the future.  We only wish his family in Surabaya could have been here to celebrate with us. 

Two sites I highly recommend for anyone interested in Indonesian food are Indonesia Eats and Indochine Kitchen.  Pepy, who writes Indonesia Eats, seems to have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Indonesian food.  It was from Pepy's blog that I recently stumbled across Indochine Kitchen, which has beautiful photography and very clear recipes.  Both blogs are very well written.

Telur Puyuh Bumbu Bali

Although telur bumbu Bali is usually made with regular eggs, quail eggs work well when you are serving many dishes.  They taste just like regular chicken eggs.  

20 hard boiled quail eggs, shelled (fresh quail eggs are sold in most Asian supermarkets)

6 shallots, peeled
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
3--5 red chilies, seeded
1 tsp terasi (shrimp paste), grilled in a piece of foil
2/3 cup water

2± tsp kecap manis, taste
1 TBS tamarind water
1 tsp gula merah or brown sugar
2 slices of ginger, minced
salt, to taste
3 large plum tomatoes, large dice

Combine the shallots, garlic, chilies, terasi and water in a food processor or blender and process to a fairly smooth paste.  Fry this in the oil for several minutes. Then add the kecap manis, tamarind water, sugar, ginger, and salt.  Cook for about a minute before adding the eggs and tomatoes.  Continue to cook until the sauce thickens, stirring the eggs to ensure they are well coated with the sauce.


  1. Congrats to you and your extended family for Sam's graduation and planning a bountiful feast!

  2. Wow, I am so amazed when I caught sight of your nasi tumpeng platter with all the delicious Indonesian food on it! That little graduation hat is the cutest thing ever. Looking at the first picture of Sam when he was younger, I thought it was actually a photograph until you mentioned that your mother painted it. She is one incredible artist! Love your 24x24 entry.

  3. I even didn't know you put my (old) blog link until I saw the traffic from my (old) blog. Thank you! Lovely story here!

    I miss nasi tumpeg. Recently, I just made rempah daging a company for nasi kuning :)

    Sorry for the late comment here! Anyway, congratulation for Sam. I guess I could speak Javanese (in Surabayan accent) with Sam as he grew up in Surabaya :D

  4. Pepy,
    Glad to hear you got some traffic from the link. I've updated it, so anyone who stumbles across this may now go to your updated site. I've been too busy too do much with my own posts, let alone look at others. Those rempah daging do look good though.


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