Welcome back to
The Lazy Susan Show!
A show that serves storied about food, culture, and communities in Indonesia. On this episode we are celebrating Chinese New Year with our friends from Suara Peranakan, a Chinese-Indonesian collective for a just, fair, and human society. We asked a few questions to learn more about the food culture.
The History of Chinese-Indonesian Food Culture
Chinese-Indonesian food culture is simply put, a marriage of Chinese and Indonesian traditional cuisine, it all started with the first wave of Chinese immigrants in the first century. Overtime, the dishes and culinary know-how that they brought from home are infused with Indonesian herbs and spices, some modifications were also made, for example some traditional Chinese foods were not halal but now the Chinese-Indonesian version of it are. We replace the pork with chicken or beef, and lard with coconut oil.
There are several Chinese-Indonesian food styles, mainland Chinese, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or traditional like Teocheow, Hokkien and Hakka. Some are also Western influenced due to Dutch colonialism, this is why Chinese-Indonesian food are so varied and integrated in the culinary scene as a whole. Food like bakmi, bakso and wonton, can be found anywhere now – on the streets or in restaurants.
Chinese New Year Special Dishes
Traditional CNY dishes are often made from ingredients that symbolise health, good luck and happiness such as fish, rice cake, orange. Festive cakes such as naastart or pineapple tarts symbolise prosperity, its Hokkien name, ong lai, shares the same name of an old saying, welcome prosperity! Another dish you might be familiar with is lapis legit or spekkoek, while it was originally brought to Indonesia by the Dutch, we did, on our own, a remake of this dessert, we added local spices, we also make it layer by layer to symbolise the layers of wealth one hopes for in the coming year.
Another special dish that we eat to celebrate the new year is lontong cap go meh, we eat this on the 15th day of the celebrations, so on the 16th of February this year – we love our holidays! Lontong cap go meh is rice cake served with chicken steamed in coconut milk, vegetable soup, spicy liver, hard boiled eggs, pickles and prawn cracker. Lontong itself was actually created as a substitute for a type of rice cake the Chinese immigrants love called yuen xiao. Lontong’s round shape symbolise the full moon and its white colour represents the pureness of the heart.
Other Dishes in Indonesia Influenced by The Culture
As we’ve mentioned before, tons of dishes here are influenced by the Chinese-Indonesian culture from the obvious like noodles or lumpia to maybe the more surprising ones like pempek. According to a folklore, pempek was created by Chinese immigrants in the late 16th century. The name itself refers to apek apek which what we Chinese-Indonesian call our middle-aged uncles, some them, back then or maybe now still, are hawkers selling fish cakes, which are now known as pempek. Pempek’s signature sauce is a mixture of fish paste and tapioca that are thought to have been originally brought from mainland china to maintain the freshness of the fishes on board, as they travel by boat.
Another dish that might be of interest to you is martabak. Martabak started as manjianguo, a pancake filled with sugar cane and peanuts, and eaten by Chinese warriors. Now, the dish is influenced by Indonesian and Dutch cultures, they are prepared bigger and fluffier, it can be savoury or sweet, with many filling choices at your disposal, from plain margarine to nutella to fancy meat, whatever you want, it is what martabak is nowadays.
What do you usually do when celebrating Chinese New Year with your family?
Drop a comment or two below!