by Hendy Stevan Matehelemual, Indonesian Light Church
Food is an important element in Indonesian culture. There are more than 300 ethnic groups in Indonesia and each ethnic group has its own unique food. When we talk about Indonesian food, the variations will be plentiful.
The relationship between food and the community in Indonesia is also very close. It would not be over-the-top to say that the culture of the community in Indonesia is very concerned about the food served. In the Christian Batak tribe, for example, if you want to respect someone who has a higher status, you would serve pork at your meeting with them. To serve anything else would be considered an insult.
It’s not just the type of food that matters, however, but also the variety of ways that it can be presented. In Javanese and Sundanese culture, food is very closely related to togetherness, so a tradition called liwetan arises. In liwetan, everyone sits around dishes placed on banana leaves and eats directly from them. The sense of togetherness that arises while eating this delicious food creates a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Food is also an essential way to reach out to people and establish relationships. Franconia Conference’s Indonesian congregations in South Philadelphia—Nations Worship Center, Philadelphia Praise Center, and Indonesian Light Church—hold Indonesian food festivals each year. This is done, not only as a fundraiser, but also to open the door of heartfelt hospitality and to share a sense of pride with others, especially those outside the church community.
The menu offered is diverse, ranging from the typical Batak Saksang, the Palembang Pempek, the ethnic Chinese noodles, the Javanese Ketoprak, the Padang Rendang, and the Madura Sate, and many other foods and dessert.
There is a saying in Javanese culture: “mangan or mangan sing penting kumpul,” meaning, “Even though there’s no food, it’s important to gather.” This saying came from a tradition that believes that whenever there’s food, there must be a gathering of people. Therefore, it’s not an overstatement to say that food is always central in the Indonesian culture.
I believe that food is the entrance to the heart and soul; when we share food, we bring a portion of our lives to share with others. Indonesian food is famous for its spices, spiciness, and flavor. Although we are a minority in this country, we Indonesians can contribute greatly to being salt and light in whatever part of the world God places us. We are here to become living bread, as a witness of Jesus to the nations and generations.
When we are sharing food together with other people, we are breaking down each other’s walls (ethnicity, religion, culture) and building bridges where the Holy Spirit can perform His miracles through us.