Introducing the richness of Indonesian flavors
Petty Elliott, the well-known Indonesian food writer and chef, talked with excitement when describing her presentation at Oxford University in the UK about the diversity of flavors reflected in Indonesian cuisine. “By presenting the story behind Indonesian food, I wanted to let the international public know that within our abundance of different flavors, there is a common thread that binds Indonesian cuisine,” Petty told J+ in a recent interview. Prior to the event, Petty said she trained local chefs in the UK to present Indonesian dishes with flavor layers that were modified to make them suitable for the palates of international guests, and which had some modern touches introduced to the original recipes. “For instance, I told them to reduce the spiciness of the woku [spicy curry] chicken. As we all know, the original woku chicken from Manado has an insane level of spiciness.” Petty, who traces her routes to Manado, wrote Papaya Flower: Manadonese Cuisine, Provincial Indonesian Food, highlighting foods from the area. Aside from altering recipes, Petty said she strove to make the dishes memorable through visual presentation. “I instructed them to present the foods in a modest way–to surprise guests with a rich layer of flavors embodied by these foods, despite their simple visual presentation.” According to Petty, who has intensive and extensive experience as a chef, food consultant and writer, promoting Indonesian foods to an international market, particularly the UK, is important. “We have some serious homework to do. In England, Indonesian cuisine does not enjoy the popularity that it has in the Netherlands. In London itself, for example, there are around five restaurants offering Indonesian food– which is quite small when you compare the number to the 2,000 Thai restaurants that are flourishing in the city,” she said. Even if Indonesian food products can be found in British supermarkets, what’s on offer is frequently misattributed to other nations, due to what Petty describes as a lack of “food diplomacy”. “For instance, instead of being recognized as an Indonesian dish, (beef simmered in coconut milk) has been labeled as a Malaysian food in British supermarkets,” Petty said. rendang British supermarkets also do not sell ingredients for Indonesian foods, while the raw materials needed to make Thai food are relatively more common. “To promote Indonesian foods to the British market, we need longitudinal and intense diplomacy that is conducted continuously over a period of two to three years,” Petty said. “We can also learn from Malaysia, which appointed a famous British chef named Rick Stein as its food ambassador, to further mainstream the country’s cuisine to the British public”.