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One of the most anticipated programs at Food Revolution Day Java on May 19 was Tumpeng Decorating Contest for communities at the venue in Kayu Manis Area, Jakarta, Indonesia.
Tumpeng is a cone-shape rice with side dishes surrounding it. Historically part of ritual celebrations reflecting Javanese culture and way of life, it has now become a regular feature in many parts of Indonesia.
As Food Revolution Java aims at preserving the traditional food of Indonesia in general and Java Island culinary in particular, Omar Niode Foundation and Honocoro community as the organizers decided to have tumpeng decorating contest on May 19.
Depending on the purpose of an event, the cone-shape rice in a tumpeng can either be steamed white rice, turmeric colored rice, or rice cooked in coconut milk. Culinary expert Bondan Winarno wrote that side dishes usually consist of vegetable garnishes, grilled chicken, shredded beef, potato fritters, dried tempeh, fried shrimp, spicy gizzard & liver sauce, and salted fish. These side dishes symbolize animals and plants in the universe.
Traditionally, there are different types of tumpeng for different occasions. A research paper on Nasi Tumpeng its meaning and function explained Tumpeng Robyong for a wedding ceremony where the tumpeng is surrounded by a garden of vegetables, i.e. cucumbers, long beans, shallots, cabbages and carrots symbolizing the blossom of a relationship. Tumpeng Nujuh Bulan to celebrate 7 months of pregnancy has 7 small tumpengs representing the first seven critical stages of pregnancy.
Preparation for the tumpeng decorating contest at Food Revolution Day Java took a few days. Organizers provided all food ingredients and tools for the contest to have a level playing field where all participants have an equal chance to win where they all compete by the same set of rules.
It took Dyah Dhyani, a culinary specialist, 12 hours to prepare all the food ingredients. She cooked rice using coconut milk for the savory taste, turmeric for the yellow color, and pandan leaves (Pandanus amaryllifolius) and lime leaves for the aroma
Tools for the decorating contest varied from several molds to shape the rice, steamers to keep the rice warm prior to the contest, baskets for the side dishes, spoons scissors, sticks, and bamboo round trays.
Dyah cooked a variety of side dishes for tumpeng on Food Revolution Day Java. Choices were dried chili tempeh, beef minced satay on lemongrass stalk, spicy cubed beef and potato, sweet marinated tofu and tempeh, potato fritters, and eggs braised with shallot’s peels and guava leaves.
A variety of vegetables to decorate the cone included long beans, carrots, cucumbers, red chilies and tomatoes. Banana leaves were an important part of tumpeng for decoration and place mats.
There were 7 groups competing from Kayu Manis Communities, organized by Fanama, a talented musician. Each group had 2 contestants along with a number of supporters. The contest judges consisted of culinary connoisseur Sri Murwati, award winning singer Cynthia Lamusu who has a small catering business, and Miss Indonesia Tourism 2010, Alessandra Khadijah Usman.
When the get set and go were announced, contestants rushed to get vegetables and began cutting and arranging banana leaves. Their partners carved vegetables and set up side dishes around the rice cone.
Some participants were a bit tense as their supporters told them how to arrange garnishes and side dishes on the bamboo tray while judges strictly said that contestants should work independently and assistance from supporters may disqualify a team.
Most contenders looked skilled in carving vegetables and matching which side dishes to put next to each other, and others perfectly combined colorful garnishes. There were, however, small details that they sometimes missed. One had an excellent design but some points were taken out as there were eggshells soiling the beautifully decorated tumpeng.
After 30 minutes of working to set up the best tumpeng, judges asked the participants to stop and wait for the winner announcement. While participants eagerly waited for the results, Cynthia, the judge and her husband, award-winning actor Surya Saputra, entertained the audience with beautiful and upbeat songs.
The judges had set the criteria of the best tumpengs as those tidily decorated, clean and unique. After some deliberations, they finally announced the winners:
Third place winners, Nyai and Joko, worked with layered tumpeng, and beautifully braided string beans. A harmony of colors was shown by sliced cucumbers next to sliced tomatoes and dried spicy tempeh flagged by carved carrots.
Second place winners, Rusmiati and Hikmah, made tree-shaped chili pepper and flower-shaped carrots and tomatoes. The rice cone was decorated with a necklace of flowery carrots.
First place winners, Erna Raditya and her sister, had the most decorated tumpeng.Stuffed eggs with red eye chili on top, intricate braided string beans, minced beef satay arranged like soldiers, chili pepper, and tomato shaped into blossomed flower. Their winning factor was Indonesia’s red and white flag on top of the rice cone.
All participants shared their decorated tumpengs with loved ones. Photo sessions with celebrities attending Food Revolution Java were a new experience for the winners who happily showed gifts and trophies awarded by Omar Niode Foundation and Honocoro Community.
Tumpeng is real food prepared from scratch. The tumpeng decorating contest perfectly supported Food Revolution as the activity was also an opportunity where communities gathered to share information, skills and resources, and to communicate knowledge about traditional healthy food in beautiful shapes and forms.
Photo by Fanama & Ivan Natadjaja. Click here for more photos of Tumpeng Decorating Contest during Food Revolution Day Java.