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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid