A Food called Maize: Indonesia

by Barrie on July 4, 2006

by Barrie | July 4th, 2006  

One of the greatest delights is to get a corn cob or jagung that is toasted over hot coals, put on some salt and coarse pepper, and then make a pig out of yourself devouring it.

Originating in Cuba it has found its way across the world to become a staple diet for so many cultures. In Indonesia you will find it in soups and just about any dish you care to think about. It's cheap to grow and harvested easily.

But what of its history and just in what ways is the delicious commodity eaten. Gastronome extraordinaire Suryatini N. Ganie explains all about it in a recent article:

Maize: Columbus' Cuban discovery

Never did Christopher Columbus expect that one of the grains brought back by two of his Spanish sailors from Cuba where they weighed anchor in 1492 would become a popular foodstuff in Southeast Asia, the region he actually wanted to discover.
The grain that the sailors brought him was called maize by the local people and which is today better known as corn. Tasting the grain which could be baked, fried or ground into flour, Columbus took it back to Europe where the plant was cultivated by many.

Over the course of time corn was included in the food supply of those Spanish and Portuguese looking for adventure and lucrative trade. So the plant among others went a long way to the east settled down in Indonesia, where it was named jagung and became a popular ingredient in daily fare.

Corn even became part of the main staple in many regions of the archipelago and also developed into different varieties some of which are considered very good - such as the Zea mays indurate Sturt, also called pearl maize, with red, white or yellow kernels. Another variety, Zea may everta Surt, is loved by those who like snacking because it is made into a popcorn like dish or berondong jagung.

On the island of Madura in East Java nasi jaghung or rice and corn is a daily staple. Southern East Nusa Tenggara and many regions in Sulawesi have other corn-based staple preparations. And as it developed to become a staple food the preparation of corn became more diverse as sweet or savoury snacks. In other regions corn became a much used ingredient in many dishes.

A very popular dish in the southern still rural suburbs of Jakarta is the goreng asam which is typically served on hot and humid days. Meanwhile the puding jagung saus cokelat (corn pudding with chocolate sauce) is a pudding for sweet tooths waiting for a real treat on special occasions.

Corn is also a choice ingredient in Amurang, Sulawesi, where people prepare nanre pule mantega, a dish fit for discerning palates. Accompanying it will be a specially seasoned chicken dish called nassu liku which is spiced with coriander and other seasonings that enhance taste and flavour. Sweet and sour acar (pickles) would make the meal complete.

Corn, Columbus' Cuban discovery, is also popular in Indonesia because it is an ingredient which does not require very expensive methods of cooking particularly when one needs a filler between meals. In nearly any town or city in Indonesia jagung rebus or boiled corn is sold still hot and steaming and neatly arranged into a heap by the vendor.

A more global method is used to lure passer-bys: corn grilled over hot charcoal. In Bandung the grilled corn can be enhanced with some butter or margarine or other taste enhancers like chocolate creme or marmalades.

Unfortunately, jagung is considered taboo to those people who are believe in superstition. Poor jagung. Many of my compatriots say that one has to avoid jagung when making traditional food for happy occasions like weddings, birthdays or when passing exams.

"Why?" I asked my late grandmother who was an expert on all taboo foods in Javanese society.

"Look dear" she said, "I think I have to send you to a jagung farmer. Didn't you know that corn grows quickly and after three months of planting it can be harvested? The remains of the formerly green plant are not nice to look at, it's dry and is soon discarded from the fields."

So? I still didn't understand.

"Well we have a saying. As long as a corn's life, or seumur jagung - that is 3 months only, very short. That is why never include jagung as an ingredient in food for happy occasions because that is like wishing them a short time of happiness" said Grandma seriously.

Believe it or not, but better have a taste of a delicious puding jagung cokelat while you decide.

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