Tempoyak: Exploring Kalimantan's Gastronomic Gems through Durian Fermentation and Preservation
For centuries, food preservation techniques have been utilized due to limited technology for storing livestock and food. Traditionally, fermented foods are a distinctive delicacy found in various regions of Indonesia. These traditional fermented foods are closely tied to their customs and environment, reflecting the regional and ethnic characteristics. Passed down through generations, they embody ancient food technology and traditional practices. One such example is tempoyak, a unique product resulting from the fermentation and preservation of the pungently aromatic durian fruit.
In the 1900s, Abdullah Abdul Kadir, a Malaccan-born writer, chronicled his journey to Terengganu, a coastal province adjacent to West Borneo. In his autobiography, "Hikayat Abdullah," Abdullah provides a personal perspective on Singapore and Malacca society, including the history of the first arrival of ethnic Malays in Borneo and the east coast of Sumatra, bringing along their cuisine that has since become part of our heritage and traditional food. Tempoyak is akin to other unintentionally discovered fermented food products in the region, such as belacan, cincalok, and tapai. Its creation likely originated from the abundance of durian in the area, with the fruit being left to ferment.
Durian is widely used in various dishes in Kalimantan, ranging from condiments to main courses. The flavor of tempoyak can be an acquired taste for those unaccustomed to the scent and peculiar flavor of durian. During fermentation, the yellow color of the durian flesh is preserved, resulting in a creamy texture accompanied by the pronounced and pungent durian smell. Tempoyak is rarely consumed on its own, as it is typically used as a condiment or accompaniment to a meal.
The fermentation process for tempoyak is relatively simple. The durian is stored in a tightly closed jar for several days, mixed with a small amount of salt. This salting process acts as a preservative, similar to the curing technique used for ikan asin (salted fish). Furthermore, durian's high sugar content leads to alcohol production during fermentation, fostering the growth of beneficial microflora and bacteria, making tempoyak a rich source of probiotics.
While Pontianak in West Borneo prepares tempoyak with chili, garlic, shrimp, coconut milk, and petai, serving it as an entrée, central Kalimantan follows a different preparation method. For those interested in trying tempoyak, it is advisable to start with small amounts and gradually develop a taste for it. The strong aroma and taste may be overwhelming at first, but it can grow on you over time.
Tempoyak has gained recognition beyond its origins, capturing the attention of culinary enthusiasts and researchers. Its powerful flavor and distinctive features have made it a popular condiment among those who appreciate the complexity of fermented foods. In summary, traditional cuisine holds a significant place in Indonesia's history. It offers more than just a gastronomic experience—it represents our heritage and traditions. The history of tempoyak is as rich and captivating as the flavor of the condiment itself.