News / Asia

    Indonesia Strives to Spin Its Culture Into Economic Gold

    Women prepare several different types of rendang, a traditional spicy curry, for a rendang tasting on August 4. (VOA - S. Schonhardt)
    Women prepare several different types of rendang, a traditional spicy curry, for a rendang tasting on August 4. (VOA - S. Schonhardt)
    Sara Schonhardt
    JAKARTA — Indonesia’s economy has become a bright light amid global economic gloom, with strong growth drawing new attention from international investors. Officials say the country's economic potential, however, is not the only thing worth promoting. An effort is underway to export the country's cultural traditions to new audiences abroad.
     
    Two women wielding giant spatulas continuously stir a brimming wok of shredded beef simmering in curry sauce. They have been at it for nearly eight hours - the typical amount of time required to prepare this famed dish from West Sumatra known as rendang.
     
    On this day they will serve nearly a hundred guests who have come to learn about rendang; how it’s made, its culinary roots and its historical importance.
     
    Indonesia’s economy recently made global news for growth that beat most economists’ expectations. Strong domestic spending in the world’s fourth most populous country has sparked investor interest.

    Bountiful cultural treasures

    But with all the attention pointed toward the economy, artists, culinary experts and some officials now say not enough attention is being paid to promoting the country’s cultural riches.
     
    Mari Pangestu, the head of the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, said that needs to change.
     
    “We need to develop creative industries because it has a lot of economic potential, but it’s also important because it has a lot of potential for raising the image of a country,” said Pangestu.
     
    Her ministry has 15 subsectors that focus on building support for creative industries, including films, fashion and culinary traditions. She said food, in particular, can have a powerful impact on showcasing a culture, and can help to generate increased tourism.

    To better tout Indonesian cuisine, the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy plans to identify a few iconic Indonesian dishes that are already known internationally and then focus on promoting their history and roots for foreign consumers.

    Diners pass around plates of spicy curry during a rendang tasting, an event held to educate people overseas about the popular dish and Indonesian culture, in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 4, 2012. (VOA - S. Schonhardt)Diners pass around plates of spicy curry during a rendang tasting, an event held to educate people overseas about the popular dish and Indonesian culture, in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 4, 2012. (VOA - S. Schonhardt)
    x
    Diners pass around plates of spicy curry during a rendang tasting, an event held to educate people overseas about the popular dish and Indonesian culture, in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 4, 2012. (VOA - S. Schonhardt)
    Diners pass around plates of spicy curry during a rendang tasting, an event held to educate people overseas about the popular dish and Indonesian culture, in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 4, 2012. (VOA - S. Schonhardt)
    Iconic dish

    Rendang curry, a spicy meat dish cooked for hours in coconut milk with ginger, lemongrass, chilies and other spices, is at the heart of those discussions.
     
    William Wongso, a culinary expert who travels around the world extolling the taste sensations of rendang, said the dish is the gateway to popularizing Indonesian cuisine abroad.
     
    “It works in Japan, it works in China, it works in Europe, especially Europe. Because now the world focus is the flavor of Asia… this is in fact likely to draw the rest, just to get attention,” said Wongso.
     
    In addition to food, fashion labels are also working to promote Indonesian heritage by mixing traditional patterns and images with contemporary trends. One of the most notable is “Damn, I love Indonesia,” a line that started in 2008 by screen printing tee-shirts with cultural symbols or pop-art images of political icons like Indonesia’s first president Sukarno.
     
    Spotlighting traditions

    Pangestu said those initiatives help deepen people’s pride in Indonesia and can raise the country’s international profile. So can efforts aimed at reclaiming pieces of the country’s heritage that are in danger of fading into obscurity.
     
    In recent years, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization has recognized a handful of cultural traditions in need of safeguarding, including the Saman Dance from Aceh, a bamboo instrument called angklung, and batik, a hand-dyed fabric.
     
    Now the government needs to work harder to craft a message that appeals to a global audience, said Pangestu.
     
    “We have to identify which stories we want to tell and we have to tell it repeatedly, and in a way which can resonate with a lot of people," said Pangestu.
     
    Indonesians often talk about their country’s wealth of natural resources - abundant sea life, majestic mountains and stunning landscapes that have inspired some of Southeast Asia’s richest cultural traditions.
     
    Investing in a nation's unique brand

    Investments have gone mostly toward extractive industries, though - like mining - which bring in big money, but drain the country’s resources and harm its environment.
     
    Many efforts to popularize Indonesian culture have been constrained by a lack of political support. And many say the country will need to work much harder before people start associating Indonesia with images of spicy curry, white-sand beaches and brightly colored batik.

    Ariana Alisjahbana, who attended the rendang seminar, said Brazil could serve as a model. The South American country immediately evokes images of caipirinha cocktails, samba and fashion vixen Gisele Bundchen, she explained.
     
    “But if you say Indonesia… you don’t have the same connection because I guess there’s not a lot of connections, for cultural things, and I believe it starts from the economy," said Alisjahbana. "But then it will go more, so in the future you will have those references, we just need to work harder in getting those there.”
     
    Alisjahbana, who currently lives in Washington, recently attended a three-day conference in Los Angeles for thousands of Indonesians living overseas. Hosted by the Indonesian Embassy, topics ranged from business development to politics, as well as advice on how to start up Indonesia restaurants abroad.
     
    Now, said Pangestu, Indonesia needs to start telling its story.

    You May Like

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games, Despite Woes

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: riano baggy from: ina
    August 15, 2012 3:54 AM
    yes i agree my country rich with many delicious foods,form east to west north to south, i think to make attractive display and hygienic
    and joint with international supermarket to sell it, and participated international bazaar in foreign country. to make our foods well known.

    by: Tia from: USA
    August 14, 2012 7:06 PM
    I wish there was a rendang food truck near me so that I could have some, sigh.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora