Aug 262015


The loudest explosion in history occurred on this date in 1883 when Krakatoa, in present-day Indonesia between Java and Sumatra, erupted. The volcano blew up and the following day collapsed in four gigantic explosions that were heard 3,000 miles away, with shock waves registering on barometers around the world. The energy of those eruptions has been estimated to have been 10,000 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Thousands of people were killed in the surrounding area from the eruptions, but the biggest death toll was from vast tsunamis unleashed by the volcano’s collapse. All told, an estimated 36,000 people were killed, although recent figures put the number at over 100,000 dead.


As sulphur dioxide and dust shot 50 miles high into the stratosphere, they cast a blanket around the world that cooled the Earth and plunged weather patterns into chaos. The dust also turned skies into fantastic colors, with scarlet sunsets and vivid afterglows. In London, the evening sky in November 1883 turned such an intense red that people thought there was a huge fire and called out fire engines.


In Norway, blood red sunsets are thought to have inspired Edvard Munch’s surreal sky in The Scream, as he wrote at the time: ‘clouds like blood and tongues of fire hung above the blue-black fjord and the city.’


The dusty atmosphere also made the sun and moon turn blue or green, and in 1884 another phenomenon, the Bishop’s ring, appeared, as bluish-white, bronze and brown, circles enveloped the sun.


I’d like to focus on the recipe of the day because it is so apposite: tumpeng. Tumpeng is a cone-shaped rice dish made to resemble a volcano and served with various side dishes (vegetables and meat). The cone shape of rice is made by using a cone-shaped woven bamboo container. The rice itself could be plain steamed rice, uduk rice (cooked with coconut milk), or yellow rice (uduk rice colored with kunyit (turmeric)). The cone shaped rice is erected on a tampah (a rounded woven bamboo container) topped with banana leaf, and surrounded by assorted Indonesian dishes. In 2013, the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy promoted tumpeng as one among 30 Indonesian culinary icons, and finally elevated its status to the official national dish of Indonesia in 2014, describing it as “the dish that binds the diversity of Indonesian various culinary traditions.”


People in Java, Bali and Madura usually make Tumpeng to celebrate an important event, but it is universal throughout Indonesia. Tumpeng dates back to ancient Indonesian tradition revering mountains and volcanoes as the abode of hyangs, the spirit of ancestors and gods, celebrated at the rice harvest. Generally now, Tumpeng is a symbol of gratitude, served at gratitude ceremonies (syukuran or slametan). After the people pray, the top of Tumpeng is cut off and delivered to the most important person. He or she may be the group leader, the oldest person, or an honored guest. Then, all people at the ceremony enjoy the tumpeng together. Tumpeng, expresses gratitude to God as well as appreciation of togetherness and harmony.

The cone shaped rice is surrounded by assorted Indonesian dishes, such as urap vegetables, ayam goreng (fried chicken), ayam bakar (grilled chicken), empal gepuk (sweet and spicy fried beef), abon sapi (beef floss), semur (beef stew in sweet soy sauce), teri kacang (anchovy with peanuts), fried prawn, telur pindang (boiled marble egg), shredded omelette, tempe orek (sweet and dry fried tempeh), perkedel kentang (mashed potato fritters), perkedel jagung (corn fritters), sambal goreng ati (liver in chilli sauce), or anything you wish.

Traditionally there should be a balance between vegetables, egg, meat and seafood. The composition of a traditional Javanese tumpeng is complex because the elements must balance one another according to Javanese belief. Traditional Javanese tumpeng will usually involve urap vegetables, tempeh, ayam goreng, teri kacang, fried shrimp, telur pindang, empal gepuk and sambal. In reality you can serve whatever you want these days from vegan to fish, but a balance is important.


There is a philosophical meaning to every part of a traditional tumpeng plate. According to folklore in Java and Bali, the cone-shaped tumpeng is a mystic symbol of life and ecosystems, and also symbolizes the glory of God as the Creator of nature. The various side dishes and vegetables represent the life and harmony of  nature. A traditional and complete tumpeng platter should contains at least one meat to represent land animals, fish to represent sea creatures, an egg dish to represent winged animals, and vegetables for the plant kingdom. Usually tumpeng is served with spinach as spinach is a traditional symbol of prosperity in Javanese agricultural society.


There are several variants of tumpeng, served at different ceremonies.

Tumpeng Robyong – This kind of tumpeng is usually served at the traditional Javanese siraman (bridal shower). Tumpeng is placed on a bakul bamboo rice container and on top of the tumpeng is placed egg, shrimp paste, shallots and red chilli.

Tumpeng Nujuh Bulan – This kind of tumpeng is served in the seventh month of pregnancy prenatal ceremony. The tumpeng is made of plain white rice. The main tumpeng is surrounded by six smaller tumpeng, to create a total of seven tumpengs all erected on tampah covered with banana leaf.

Tumpeng Pungkur – Used in the ceremony for the death of a virgin or unmarried male or female. It is made from white rice surrounded only with vegetables dishes. The tumpeng later must be cut vertical in to two parts evenly and placed one against another.

Tumpeng Putih – White tumpeng, uses white rice since white color symbolize holiness in Javanese culture. This kind of tumpeng is employed in sacred ceremonies.

Tumpeng Nasi Kuning – Yellow tumpeng, the color yellow represents a heap of gold, wealth, abundance and high moral character. This kind of tumpeng is eaten at cheerful, happy festivities such as the celebration of birth, engagement, marriage, Eid, Christmas etc.

Tumpeng Nasi Uduk – Also called tumpeng tasyakuran. Uduk rice (rice cooked in coconut milk) is used in theMaulud Nabi ceremony, a ceremony celebrating the birthday of prophet Muhammad.



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