July 12, 2020

William Wongso on Betawi Cuisine

Prominent Indonesian culinary expert, chef and TV host who has been actively promoting the country’s foodways including the latest collaboration with Gordon Ramsay for “Uncharted”

 

Image by National Geographic

As the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta has been a melting pot since the days of ancient kingdoms thanks to its strategiclocation as a port on the Java Sea. All of the tastes and textures that merchants brought from around the world had influenced many Indonesian menus, including that of the Betawi people. For these indigenous inhabitants of Jakarta, food plays a big role in their daily life and important moments.

However, this gastronomic tradition is not given the platform that it deserves unlike other regional Indonesian cuisines, such as Padang food from West Sumatra. William Wongso told Tatler Indonesia that it is indeed hard to find a variety of Betawi cuisine even in its hometown. “ Jakarta had grown out, and is still growing, at a fast pace, and its blended population is very spread out and sporadic,” he said. It might not be hard to find some pretty well-known recipes like Soto Betawi, Asinan or Nasi Uduk, but there is more to its culinary tradition. “There are a lot of Betawi dishes that you could only find during special occasions like at a wedding, for example,” William said. “Even then, nowadays it’s not that easy to find mains like Ketupat Babanci, or desserts like Selendang Mayang.”

This underrepresentation is quite a loss for the whole Indonesian culinary map since Betawi foodways tells a rich and vibrant story of how Jakarta plays an important role in the country and region’s growth. Many of its food are directly influenced by Chinese, Indian, and Arabic cuisines. Soto Betawi is the perfect example of how an originally Chinese type of soup was influenced by Arabian and Indian food with the use of ghee and turmeric.

Despite its potential, Betawi’s culinary story is not explored enough beyond a handful of restaurants and the annual Jakarta Fair held on the city’s anniversary. “There can be many reasons why Betawi foods are very underrated. I know that many experts in making these dishes are not selling them for a living and thus the tradition is passed only in limited circles,” he said. “We need a ‘monument’ to Betawi foodways as a place where people can find all varieties of Betawi food and cultures there.”

 

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