“Unity in diversity”. This phrase probably the best phrase to describe Indonesia. Indonesian share one language and one identity but have thousands of ethnicity. There are approximately 1,340 ethnic group live in Indonesia which each of them has their language and culture, and of course: culinary.

picture 1. the spread of ethnic groups in Indonesia


Although Indonesian food has not been as internationally famous as other Asian cuisines like Japan, India, Thailand and Malaysia; Indonesian food is actually has been recognized by the culinary lover. A pool organized by CNN has announced that the readers have voted rendang (a dish made from beef, spices and coconut milk) as the most delicious food in the world. Nasi goreng and satay also followed in number 2 and 14.

picture 2. beef rendang


picture 3. nasi goreng
picture 4. satay (or ‘sate’ in Indonesia language)

In this occasion, I will focus on Minangkabau cuisine as one of the most famous food in Indonesia. We can find Minangkabau restaurant in almost every part of Indonesia. Minangkabau is the 7th largest tribes in Indonesia which originated from West Sumatera. There are four key features in describing Minangkabau which is Islam, wanderlust, materiality, (Kato, 1982) and food. The food can be easily recognised by the use of coconut milk, herbs and spices, colourful (mainly red, orange, and green from the chilli), and taste savoury. Rendang, gulai and kalio are some examples of authentic Minangkabau food.

Parekraf - Sumbar
Picture 5. Pencak silat, Minangkabau martial arts
Rumah Gadang, Padang Panjang, West Sumatra, Indonesia
Picture 6. ‘Rumah Gadang’, Minangkabau traditional house
Picture 7. Minangkabau women who sells various of spicy minangkabau cuisine in traditional market

The process of cooking the rendang may take three until seven hours from the preparation until it finally cooked. Wet rendang can be stored for a month without refrigerator, and dry rendang can be even edible for 3-4 months. However, despite the delicious taste, the use of coconut oil has been ‘questioned’ because the coconut oil is claimed to be the source of saturated fat that become the primary cause of heart disease (Keys, 1985). This research makes lots of Indonesian, especially Minangkabau-ese feel worried. Coconut oil in Minangkabau dishes has become the food culture. It cannot be separated and has long become a part of Minangkabau identity.

However, a recent research conducted by Lipoeto et al., (2001) and dr. Nur Indrawaty Liputo, M.Sc, Ph.D show interesting fact. It is true that coconut oil contains 90% of saturated fatty acids, but the fat in coconut has a different physical and chemical property with animal fat which means has a different clinical effect to the body. From the research that has been conducted, coconut has lots of antimicrobial, antivirus, and has a potential to prevent obesity.

cholesterol and coconut.PNG
Picture 8. Comparison of fat serum in coconut and non-coconut food

dr. Nur also found that the more Minangkabau-ese consume fish, the more coconut they use in the dish and the more coconut being used means more herbs and spices are added. Turmeric, ginger, galangal, chilli, onions, turmeric leaves, lemon grass, small green chilli, and lime are some of the common ingredients. It turns out that these herbs and spices are good for the food and health. It contains lots of antioxidants which can prevent cancer, arthritis, cataract, and also slows ageing. Herbs and spices also help the food being preserved and can be saved for a long time.

Picture 8. common herbs and spices used in Minangkabau cuisine
spices and the use of coconut
Picture 9. comparison of spices being used with and without using coconut

The recent trends in Indonesia, especially the young generation, is to follow the trend of ‘globalisation’, including the food culture. Moreover, because of the dogma that using coconut oil on the dishes can be the source of heart disease; many people are becoming concern and trying to find a better diet for them. The Internet is helping the globalisation in spreading the global ideas. There are two types of people. First, people start to eat popular food that basically does not use many spices in their cuisine. Japanese food like sushi and sashimi; American food like burger and fries; and Italian food like spaghetti

Picture 10.
Picture 11. The emerging of food market offering international cuisine

Second, people who are trying to do a more serious diet which cutting the food making process because they believe it will be a better habit for their health. For example, Mayo diet (where the using of salt in the food is being strictly limited) and food combining diet (the diet which suggests the followers to consume more unprocessed food like fruits, raw vegetables, and protein). I am not saying that these diets are not good for Indonesian, but these diet come from the western food culture. Diet has a strong relationship with food culture and using coconut oil, herbs and spices have been a long history in Indonesian culture. Trying to find a better food habit does not mean that Indonesian have to follow western food culture. The research conducted by dr. Nur should be the starting point in realizing that cuisine which is a heritage from the great ancestor can have a local wisdom.

By discussing the changing of the trend nowadays does not mean that it is entirely wrong. Although Indonesian food is still the primary star in Indonesia, the highlight point of this article is that the unfortunate stigma of traditional food using coconut oil and herbs and spices should not be a legitimation in changing the eating habit. Moreover, the perception of ‘international/global’ food is better than the local food needs to be reconsidered. More traditional food research oriented is necessary to reveal the good side of it so people will not hesitate to consume their ancestor recipes. If the young people all over the world have the same reasons in changing their diet, then traditional food that has not been famous in global would disappear.


Picture 1 – Map ethnicity Indonesia: By <a href=”//commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Gunkarta” title=”User:Gunkarta”> Gunawan Kartapranata</a> – <span class=”int-own-work” lang=”en”>Own work</span> based on the map in Ethnography Room, National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta, <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&#8243; title=”Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0″>CC BY-SA 3.0</a>, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11485259