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Indonesian yellow coconut rice (Nasi kuning)

Rice is the staple starch of Java and Indonesia. While we walked around temples and volcanoes, our guides told me that the average household eats about 5-7 kg of rice per person per month. As a result, the cuisine has become very creative, with a diverse range of recipes for rice, from plain to flavoured rice dishes and conjee. This is a lovely variation.

There is also the tradition of Tumpeng, a specific yellow rice dish served in the shape of a cone and surrounded by vegetables. This has a deep religious and cultural meaning, especially on the island of Java. It is derived from Hindu culture, which states that the host should give all they can to guests.

The significance comes from rice being essential to the cuisine, and the cone shape represents the relationship between man and God. The cone shape represents Mount Semeru in East Java. Murdjati Gardjito, a researcher at the food and nutrition centre at Gadjah Mada University (UGM), Yogyakarta, has explained that tumpeng's shape symbolises the relationship between humans and God. She explained that only a single grain was on top of the tumpeng, representing God. Meanwhile, the bottom part of the dish, which consists of larger portions and various dishes, illustrates the character of humankind and the complexity of life. One should start eating tumpeng from the bottom. Since tumpeng represents the relationship between humans and God, slicing the top of tumpeng means cutting the relationship with God (The Straits Times). For me, travelling is about these stories, the deep culture and understanding the local traditions.

This is a lovely rice dish. The yellow is startling on the tables, and I wish I had served it as a cone. The rice is rich and creamy from the coconut milk, and the mild spices make it a treat. I like to serve it as part of a larger meal surrounded by other Indonesian or other dishes.

Sri Owen is a master of Indonesian cooking. Her deep knowledge of the ingredients and cultures of Java, Sumatra, and the other islands in the archipelago is unsurpassed. I have several of her cookbooks, each one a deep dive into the cuisine, culture, and history of the land. These and her other cookbooks are highly recommended for any cook who wants to enjoy and master Indonesian cooking.

For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.


2 tablespoons oil

3-4 shallots, sliced

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds

2 cups long-grain rice

2 cups coconut milk

1-inch stick of cinnamon

2-3 cloves

2-3 kaffir lime leaves

1 bay leaf

Salt, to taste

Water, as needed

Heat the oil and fry the shallots for 1 minute on low heat until soft and translucent. Do not brown the shallots.

Add the turmeric, coriander, and cumin and stir the mix. Add the rice and fry for 3-4 minutes, coating the rice with the yellow oil. The rice will turn a white shade.

Add the mix to a rice cooker. Add the coconut milk, cinnamon, cloves, kaffir leaves and bay leaves, salt and water to the mark. Cook till done.

Serve hot as part of a larger meal.

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