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  • Writer's pictureCandy Gunawan

Is Rice a Staple Food in Indonesia?

Surabaya, Indonesia

There is a famous saying among Indonesians: “We’re not full without rice” (tidak kenyang kalau tidak makan nasi). It is very common or I should say that it is expected to find a bowl of warm rice served on the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whilst pasta is well known as Italian’s staple food, there is no doubt that rice is a staple food in Indonesia. In fact, Indonesia is among the largest rice consumers across the globe. However, it is believed that rice crop is not native to Indonesia. Then, when did people in Indonesia start consuming rice and getting dependent on it?

According to Prof. Nadirman Haska, a sago researcher, rice is not the original staple food of the ancestors of the Indonesian people. He claimed that sago had long been the staple food of the people inhabit Indonesian archipelago. Borobudur Temple which is built in the 7th century during the reign of the Sailendra Dynasty showed that the evidence was carved on the walls of the temple: coconuts, palm sugar and sago. It was not until Indians visited Indonesia to establish Hindu kingdoms that rice was introduced to Indonesians. Nowadays, although carbohydrate content of sago is equivalent to the carbohydrates found in rice, its popularity as a staple food is not comparable. However, sago is still widely and commonly used in Eastern Indonesia as both staple food and snacks.

Agriculture became one of the key sectors within the Indonesia economy. During colonialism, farmers were ordered to replace sago and palm forest into rice paddies. Not only rice, but corn, cassava, coffee, tea, tobacco and sugar cane were also planted. However, during 1942-1945 when Japanese occupied Indonesia, rice became the main crop to be produced. Before 1970s, there were 7000 varieties of rice planted in diverse environments such as: rice paddies, beaches, lakes forests and streams. However, during New Order Era (1969-1998), the government published a new agriculture policy which aims to reach rice self-sufficiency. In result, farmers were only allowed to plant selected types of rice that are easier to grow and require less time to harvest. In addition, government encouraged farmers to increase the production by stimulating technological innovation by providing subsidized fertilizers.

Not only steamed, but rice is also cooked diversely in Indonesia archipelago. For example, nasi goreng (fried rice), nasi uduk (steamed rice cooked with coconut milk), nasi kuning (turmeric rice), nasi jagung (steamed rice with corn) and nasi bakar (steamed rice seasoned with spices wrapped in banana leaf and grilled on charcoal). In addition, the usage of rice in the form of rice flour is commonly found in Indonesian traditional snacks recipes such as : bubur sumsum, kue talam, kue lapis, kue mangkok, kue nagasari and kue apem to name a few.

Nowadays, the dependency of rice consumption in Indonesia still continues. Although Indonesia is one of the largest rice exporters, Indonesia still imports rice in order to have adequate stock levels and supply the demand. Therefore, the government launched ‘Gerakan Tanpa Beras’ which suggests limiting the consumption of rice. This movement aims to replace rice with diverse sources of carbohydrates that are locally and abundantly available such as: sago, cassava, taro, banana, sorghum, corn and banana. The government encourages farmers to produce other local sources of carbohydrates by supporting the production, processing, marketing and educating consumers how to process the produces.

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