Pasta Indonesiana

When a tourist first thinks about the foods of Indonesia, the likes of nasi goreng and bakso no doubt come to mind. However, all thoughts of Pasta foods somehow just don’t seem to fit. Pasta is more associated with Italy or even at its roots, China. Surprisingly enough Pasta was a big hit at the beginning of the 20th century and now, it is used constantly in a variety of Indonesian dishes. Here is an excellent explanation about this often used food by Indonesia’s leading gastronome, Suryatini N. Ganie.

Pasta, an Italian staple, became well known in Indonesia some 18 years ago when a renown flourmill began to produce pasta. But even at the beginning of the 20th century, pasta was present in the archipelago in the form of Dutch overtoned dish named macaroni schotel, which was cooked macaroni with minced meat, thickened with wheat flour and milk and spiced with salt, pepper, ground nutmeg and covered with beaten eggs, poured evenly on top.

The whole was then baked in the oven. A rather heavy pasta dish and surely not real Italian cookery, but believe it or not the dish is still present at many buffet tables and many guests take white steamed rice first and then add a spoonful of macaroni schotel before proceeding to the rest of the side dishes. And vermicelli, a kind of pasta, was long been used in clear soups.

We can’t deny that pasta has become a fixture on local menus. Even in some smaller remote cities I’ve often been served a plateful of “pasta Indonesiana” — overcooked spaghetti with a rather pungent straight-from-the-bottle tomato sauce.

Even at home, we tried to make pasta Indonesiana in a different way and it was very handy because many of the snacks, dishes and drinks can be prepared in a short time. Stuffing a variety of a pasta tubes with finely chopped meat and putting them in a soto ayam broth was exiting. The pasta went very well with the specific flavor of lemongrass, limau lime leaves and turmeric colored broth!

But back to the pasta itself, the Italian varieties are many. Take ravioli for example, which resembles the pangsit in our Chinese overtoned noodle dish bami pangsit. But as pangsit is mostly fried, the ravioli is served in a rather thick tomato sauce. Canneloni are tubes of pasta stuffed with meat or various other savory fillings.

The names of the pasta are also very distinctive, there are farfalle, which shaped like a bow, and concicilie which is shell-shaped and available in various sizes.

Different pastas require different cooking times, but should as a general rule be cooked al dente. Dente means tooth in Italian and al dente is not mushy, but rather firm to the bite. That is why pasta is put into already briskly boiling water. But according to an expert in pasta cooking, the al dente procedure is also not very precise because the sea level has to be taken into account an will vary cooking times. And it is recommended that you not break spaghetti or fettucini, in pieces. Just ease the long noodles carefully in boiling water. Serving broken spaghetti is not nice. Do the Italians share the Chinese aversion to breaking noodles?

Perhaps. I did not go into the history, but didn’t Marco Polo spend a long time in the palace of the Emperors of China?