Statement | Is the rice table itself actually Indonesian?

Indonesian cooking and the rice table tradition have been added to the Inventory of Cultural Heritage of the Netherlands. Not the rice table itself, but the Indonesian cooking and tradition. Yet this led to angry reactions from ‘Indonesian Dutch’ who call this cultural appropriation and colonial legacy. They claim that these are Indonesian dishes invented by native women who lived with a Dutch man (new) to achieve social status in relation to the original population. Do you understand? For what is Indonesian Dutch, what is Indonesian Dutch or what is Indian? What exactly is the rice table, what is cultural appropriation, and why is Indonesian cooking colonial?

After Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed the Republic of Indonesia in 1945, the colonial upper class left the former colony. Around 350,000 people, ‘Indisch Nederlanders’, were ‘repatriated’ in stages to a country many had never seen.

You should actually be talking about ‘Dutch East Indian community’. After all, you are an Indonesian with mixed Indonesian and European blood. Which often did not apply to, among others, the Moluccas, the Papuans and the Chinese, and not at all for them totox, the unmixed Dutch from the Dutch East Indies. In the Netherlands, Indisch mainly refers to the culture that was created by the fusion of Asian and European cultures. ‘Indonesian Dutch’ probably refers to Indonesians living in the Netherlands.

Fifty times as big

Present-day Indonesia is more than fifty times the size of the Netherlands. Indonesia is a young country with borders determined by the Dutch colonizer and many different cultures, influenced for centuries by, among others, India, China, Malaysia, Thailand, the Arab world and the colonizers Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. Each island or region has its own dishes and recipes. There are countless recipes for it in Java alone Soto ayam (Chicken soup).

A rice table consists of many dishes. In addition to white rice, there are often meat, fish and vegetable dishes with names such as rendang, Sate Babi, ikan pepesan, Sambal Goreng Tempeh, sayur lodeh or gado gado and of course crap. I use the Indonesian spelling on purpose because all these dishes are based on native food.

In 1981, during my first trip to Indonesia, I understood that such a rice table was not common there. The only thing resembling the rice table was the nasi padang banquet of white rice with dishes of meat, offal and vegetables.

Culinary historian Lizet Kruyff recently wrote that ‘rijsttafel’ was first described in 1863. It is not clear where the term or tradition comes from. It is likely that existing native dishes were adopted and modified by the ruling Western and Indo-European classes eager to display their wealth. Kruyff finds it unlikely that the Dutch housewives who now also live in the Dutch East Indies with their homeland chefs has something to do with the origin of the phenomenon.

A more likely origin could be congratulations is, a Javanese traditional ceremonial rice meal as a blessing for a new home, a job, a birth or at the passing of a deceased. Only comes standard there Fried rice bi, yellow saffron rice. This yellow rice is now served with the rice table in some restaurants, but it does not belong in the rice table as standard. According to Kruyff, the rice table is a cultural appropriation, not from the Dutch-Indian subculture, but from the Javanese, i.e. Indonesian, culture.

Which cuisine are we talking about: Betawi, Javanese, Sundanese, Minangkabau, Balinese, Moluccan, Papua or peranakan Chinese?

After all, the dishes would only be adapted to the Dutch taste: less spicy. But what the culinary historian and the Indonesian Dutchman lose sight of is that it is not about the origin, but about the tradition.

Acculturation and assimilation

In addition, many ingredients in this rice table do not come from Indonesia. Pepper likes rawit and pocket book originally comes from South America. The same applies to peanuts, potatoes, beans and tomatoes. Cucumber originally came from India, cabbage from Europe, carrot from Afghanistan, leek from the Middle East, noodles and bami from China. And Indonesia has only been around for eighty years, so how Indonesian is the rice table?

And which cuisine are we talking about: Betawi, Javanese, Sundanese, Minangkabau, Balinese, Moluccan, Papua or peranakan Chinese? Kitchens where every grandmother has her own recipes.

Also read Rinkje Koelewijn’s lunch interview: ‘My mother approved of everything I did’

Acculturation or assimilation is the mutual adoption of sociocultural characteristics by groups living together. The (Dutch) Indian culture is an example of this. A mix of cultures that did not disappear after independence because the country of the Dutch East Indies ceased to exist.

Of course, the rice table was created under a colonial regime, but food knows no boundaries or oppression, and integration is simply called fusion or tjampur. Learning from each other what is tasty and making it your own style happened everywhere: from pasta, stew, rissoles, meatball to babi pangang.

Almost all Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands serve a rice table. And in Indonesia, where the Dutch simply bulge (white people), you can easily order the rice table there, especially in touristic places.

It is already difficult for me to understand that Indonesian Dutch are against the recognition of the rice table tradition as Dutch heritage. But let everyone in the Dutch East Indian community rejoice – if only to honor the survival skills and adaptability of their parents and grandparents.

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