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

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

Al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs