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Home » The Longhouse and the Dayak Way of Life » Exploring the Cuisine of Dayak tribes in West Kalimantan

Exploring the Cuisine of Dayak tribes in West Kalimantan

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Have you ever wondered how a chili sauce made from durian would taste? Or how about crackers made from glutinous rice? Those are just a couple of the unique things to be found among the wide range of typical dishes created by the Dayak communities in West Kalimantan.

For those unfamiliar with South East Asia’s king of fruits, durian is a large hard-skinned and thorny fruit which has soft succulent white custard-like meat inside wrapped around seeds.  This is a fruit that you either hate or love. It is its smell that immediately puts people off, but once you have tasted its soft, smooth meat, people forget its smell and cannot stop eating this.   

Sambal Durian, commonly called Tempoyak is one of the archipelago’s many tasty treats, and is often used to add a splash of spice to other dishes on the islands of Kalimantan and Sumatra – though not all the regions on those two islands make this odd, yet delicious sauce.

Tempoyak is not made from the ripe durian that is usually eaten, but is instead made from fermented durian, fried with an array of herbs and spices. Durian itself is a fruit with a very strong, and some say pungent, smell. After frying, however, the smell disappears, leaving only a unique, sweet and spicy flavor.

To make your own tempoyak, begin by choosing a very ripe durian, and separating the flesh from the seeds. Add salt and pepper to begin the fermentation process, after which, you must store the durian in a closed container at room temperature for 3 to 5 days. Once fermented, tempoyak is prepared in the usual way, similar to other typical fried chili sauces. First, stir fry onions, red peppers and in hot oil until fragrant. Next, add slices of tomato and sugar to add to the moisture and enhance the flavor. The last step is to add an already sour durian, and stir until the mixture becomes smooth and brownish.

Tempoyak is eaten with rice, similar to other chili sauces. It is also used as a condiment along side dishes such as grilled fish, cassava leaves, mackerel fish curry, spiced fish and more.

Pam is another popular dish among the Dayak community, and is a type of chip, or cracker, for lack of a better word. Pam is similar to emping, but it is different from the emping eaten in other parts of the country. The usual emping is made from cooked glutinous rice mixed with ground melinjo nuts, while Dayak emping is made from raw, or uncooked glutinous rice, and undergoes a unique and very different manufacturing process than other types of emping.

The pam making process is a festive activity, one done together by an entire extended family. First, the glutinous rice, being the main raw ingredient, is chosen with great precision and expertise. The chosen rice must not be too young or too old. The next step is called ngikisor ngaus, which is the process of separating the rice from the stalks. Next, the rice is cooked in a large pot without any added ingredients. This step is known as ngerendang. The rice is cooked for about 30 minutes, with careful precautions taken that it is neither undercooked or overcooked. After that, the glutinous rice is cooled, and pounded in a mortar to separate each grain from its shell. The last step is for the shells to be sifted out.

The Pam is soon ready to eat, and is even more delicious when mixed with grated coconut and brown sugar. Pam is tasty and tender, and is usually eaten only once a year at the time of the harvest. Harvest time is an important for the Dayak people, whose primary livelihood comes from farming. A special ceremony, the Gawai Dayak, is held during this time as an expression of gratitude to Jubata, (God,) for a bountiful harvest.

The last dish we shall discuss is kerupuk basah, literally translated as wet crackers. The term sounds a lot like soupy or watery crackers, but it is actualy quite similar to pempek, a sort of large fish dumplings from South Sumatera. The basic ingredients of kerupuk basah are quite similar to those of pempek: fish and cornstarch. Kerupuk basah is often found in Kapuas Hulu in West Kalimantan, and is usually made from fresh water fish, especially belida, which thrive in the Sentarum Lake.

Making kerupuk basah is not too different from making pempek either. First the belida fish is deboned and mixed with pepper, garlic, salt and cornstarch. The mixture is blend until smooth, then shaped into small, cylindrical shapes and boiled. Unlike pempek, which is served together with a sauce, kerupuk basah is served with sambal.

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Exploring the Cuisine of Dayak tribes in West Kalimantan

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