Food Travel Back in Time to 1915 Batavia

Posted by OmarTarakiNiodeFoundation
20 January 2018 | blogpost

Getting Started in Food History by Rachel Laudan is the most comprehensive article for those who would like to learn about food history but doesn’t know where to start.  Rachel, a food historian with award winning books, including Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History,  noted that culinary history focuses on what cooks knew how to prepare. It’s what people could have eaten at a particular time, had they had the resources. She reminds readers not to assume that what tastes good to us would have tasted good to earlier peoples. Tastes are acquired. Also do not assume that food tasted better in the past. Or that it tasted worse.

 Image: KITLV

Century-old recipes

What Rachel said makes more sense to me during the Indische Keuken, an impressive collaborative food event, arranged by ACMI, Komunitas Jalansutra, Museum Pustaka Peranakan Tionghoa, and Al’s Catering. Harnaz Tagore from Komunits Jalansutra, a food travel community, found a century-old recipe book at the Museum Pustaka Peranakan Tionghoa (Peranakan Chinese Literature Museum) titled Boekoe Masakan Betawi (Betawi Food Book) with recipes in Dutch, Javanese, and Malay Style.

Betawi is an Indonesian ethnic group consisting of the descendants of the people living around Batavia from around the 17th century, while Batavia is the name of the City of Jakarta during the Dutch colonial era. 

Boekoe Masakan Betawi, printed by Drukkerij Lie Tek Long at Pintoe Besar, Batavia, was the basis for the Indische Keuken experience, a 1915 buffet lunch preceded by a cooking demonstration and exposure to Indonesian culinary history.Jalansutra Community partnered with Aku Cinta Masakan Indonesia/ACMI, the I love Indonesian Food Movement founded by William Wongso, an Indonesian culinary connoisseur and Santhi Serad, a food scientist. The major actor is the team of Al’s Catering, a sophisticated and popular family-owned catering owned and run by Nita Hanafiah and her family.

Obviously for such a fascinating event, the limited seats sold out so quickly to 30 food enthusiasts.

Soothing All Senses

Harnaz Tagore began by explaining about the old recipe book while Benk Aman Wen introduced the museum with its unique collection. Willam Wongso and some in the audience helped interpreted the dishes to be presented. Boekoe Masakan Betawi has many sambel recipes with unusual names. Sambel to our understanding is a hot and spicy condiment to complement the food that we eat. Apparently, some sambel in the book can be categorized as side dishes or even main courses as they contained quite a big portion of protein and carbohydrate.

 All eyes in a room with round tables were on Santhi Serad and Ade Putri Paramaditha from ACMI who demonstrated several sambel dishes from the book and shared their experience in trying out the recipes beforehand. Ingredients and cooking methods in the book are not similar to current standard recipe books; hence ACMI and Al’s Catering had to interpret some recipes without sacrificing its authenticity.

 Image: ACMI

Avanda Hanafiah who is in charge of Al’s Catering’s Food & Beverage Department showed the audience how to make Ajem Pukang with a slight modification so that the chicken dish will not be too salty. Avanda is an economist who honed her culinary skills at the International Culinary Center in New York.

The venue, Al’s Catering establishment in South Jakarta literally soothed all senses before lunch even started. After the cooking demo guests flowed into the buffet area by the poolside with the bluest water one can imagine. Trees and green houseplants as décor made a pleasant surrounding.

Al’s catering team created a great ambience of olden days of fine dining in a beautiful area with white table cloth, red flowers, gilt frame paintings, white orchids, and piano entertainment.

1915 Buffet Luncheon

The buffet table with an ethnic theme is home to a 1915 luncheon menu prepared by Al’s catering team, consisting of


Sambel Majoor – shrimp, coconut milk, lime juice, red chili, and shrimp paste

Sambel Baboe - fresh gandaria (marian plum), dried shrimp and red chilli

Sambel Gentlement – beef, tamarind juice, galangal and shrimp paste, mixed with candlenut, shallot, garlic, and red chili.

Sambel Boeras Betawi – dried shrimp, shredded coconut, kaffir lime leaves

Sambel Eng Hiong – noni leaves and toasted shredded coconut, mixed with candlenut, red chili, shallot, lime juice, and shrimp paste.

Sambel Nji Enah – bluntas leaves (Indian camphorweed) and shredded coconut, mixed candle nut, shallot, red chili, and shrimp paste


Nasi Putih – steamed rice

Nasi Merah – brown rice

Nasi Pandan – pandan  rice

Nasi Jagung – corn rice


Ajem Poekang - braised chicken in coconut milk with shrimp paste, bilimbi and herbs and spices consisting of candlenut, shallot, galangal, red chili, coriander and lemon grass.

Daging Kaboelie Betawi – braised beef with coconut milk, lime juice, shrimp paste, with herbs & spices (candle nut, turmeric, coriander, galangal, ginger, red chili, salt & pepper.

DOP Biasa – dory fish, potato and egg seasoned with nutmeg, pepper and soy sauce. The terms dop may originate from daube, French stew cooked in a braising pan.

Sajoer Padamarah – spiced mixed vegetables (long beans and bean sprouts) and coconut milk.

Laksa - rice vermicelli with chicken, served in spicy soup based on curry coconut milk with egg and basil leaves.

Bwe Ouw Tok - a vegetable dish with noni leaves, salted snapper and coconut milk.


Cendol  and other cold drinks


Market munchies, such as onde-onde (round rice flour cake filled with sweetened ground mung beans sprinkled with sesame seeds), kelepon (steamed rice cake covered with grated coconut and filled with palm sugar), and tjente manis (sweet sago dessert).


It has been a week since the Indische Keuken transported us back to 1915 Batavia. All the dishes were utterly scrumptious with perfect flavor pairings, served graciously in warm ambience, making it a truly memorable experience.

But are the foods really authentic Betawi cuisines ? In answering this question Rachel Laudan, the food historian mentoned in the beginning of this post, came to the rescue.

In her article for The Los Angeles Times, Desperately Seeking Authenticity  Rachel stated: our definition of "authentic" suits our resources, our kitchens, our prejudices and our tastes. It is our selection (and adaptation). At best, the notion is a harmless delusion. At worst it leads us to condescend to others, believing that we, not they, know the true essence of their culinary tradition. So why keep talking about the authentic? Why not just face the fact that what we have can only truly be "our-thentic"?


Images by Omar Niode Foundation, unless otherwise noted.