By: Diana Darling
This article was originally published in Latitudes magazine, a renowned bi-monthly magazine focusing on Indonesian culture. The magazine hailing from the island of Bali previously existed in paper form and was especially known for its in-depth critical articles and beautiful photography. As a tribute to all contributors of this magazine Latitudes.nu presents a selection of articles published in the years 2001-2004.
The point of wrapping food is so that it doesn’t dribble through your fingers. But the different ways that people wrap food is interesting for the code it holds about the people who wrap it and also about the people who observe them. Diana Darling explores the mysteries of bungkusan.
Food wrapping and the stages of Baliphilia
Foreigners in Bali seem to have an evolutionary relationship with local food packaging (bungkusan).
Cooking and serving
Obviously there’s a big difference between plastic and leaves, especially in cooking, where the plant lends subtle flavouring to the food it envelopes. The ketupat in Java (called tipat in Bali) is rice steamed in little packets of ingeniously woven young coconut palm leaves. Topot is like tipat, except that the raw rice is mixed with salt and oil, and the wrapping is much simpler, made with leaves from the bamboo plant. Bantal (meaning ‘pillow’) are Balinese steamed cakes made of rice, sugar, coconut and a pinch of salt, stuffed into a little tube, which is made by winding a young coconut frond around your first three fingers and then pinning it shut, like a pillow, with a sliver of bamboo.
Wrapped food in retail
Field research at two supermarkets in Ubud, and among my neighbours, suggests that there are two competing trends in what Balinese today consider to be cool in food wrapping.
One of the cutest things about pre-industrial Indonesia was the way people used to carry fluids—drinking water, holy water, palm-flower beer, and so forth—in bamboo tubes called bumbung. These are lengths of bamboo cut just below, and high above, one of the nodes in a bamboo stalk. If you scrubbed the inner fuzz from this bumbung, and carved the upper end to form a thin rim, it would provide a kind of beaker that would last possibly months, before (depending on whether it reached its prime in the rainy season or the dry season) either splitting or rotting. The advent of glass bottles and plastic jerry cans soon replaced the bumbung in almost all its roles, except as the keys in the bamboo xylophone of the same name, and as vehicles for holy water of the highest octane, or for any holy water that is likely to appear in a documentary film.