Rice is a staple food in Indonesia, just like in the rest of the Asia. But more than others, in Indonesia nasi (cooked rice) is THE obligatory food, especially since Indonesians don’t fond too much on noodles like Japanese, Thai, or Vietnamese do. Hey, we even eat fried noodles with rice!
Here, the food universe revolves around this main ingredients, hence beside of nasi , everything else is merely a companion or condiment! Meat dishes, veggie dishes, soups, no matter how fancy or luxurious they are, all are considered incomplete or even weird without nasi presents. This de-facto standard influences the changes and adjustment made by the international franchise such as Mc D and KFC; Here they serves nasi as standard, not french fries or mashed potato.
Beside of cooked into nasi, rice is also cooked to form another almost staple food of lontong, and ketupat. Lontong is cooked rice compressed inside a banana leaf wrap, and ketupat is a diamond shaped compressed rice inside young coconut leaf wrap. Both are often in favor to nasi upon eating kare (curry), or in certain dishes as lontong sayur and kupat tahu, Both are also good in accompanying varieties of soup and soto. Ketupat usually enters the lime light two times in a year around the two moslem holiday of Idul Fitri and Idul Adha, while lontong almost never.
If you’re familiar with the characteristics of rice, such as long vs short grain, or where it was planted, in Indonesia we characterize rice by following qualities: cleanness, flavor, whiteness, scent, grain, hardness, price (surely), origin, popular names, and last but uttermost; how “pulen” they are.
What is “pulen”? It’s the national lingo of addressing the stick-together quality among the nasi’s grains; the stickyness of cooked rice. Since original Indonesian way of eating is with bare hand, hence why the pulen-ness has becoming a very serious issue when choosing a rice variant; a nasi pulen will stick together upon gripped to make kepal nasi, or coned with the tips of your fingers, thus making bare hand eating easier. The opposite end of “pulen”, is “pera”; the grains wont stick together with nasi pera, thus making bare-hand eating looks more sloppier. There are some region though, where people favor nasi pera over nasi pulen, but it’s considerably rare. Nasi pera is best suited to make Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Indian Biryani, or Arabian Kebuli.
Scientifically addressed, what made the rice considered pulen or pera is their amylose containment, or more precisely, lack of. 0-2% amilosa containment exist only in ketan (sticky rice), while 7-20% is what considered as pulen, 20-25% is medium, and 25-40% is considered pera . Although less favored, nasi pera with its high-amylose content naturally has a much lower glycemic load, which could be beneficial for diabetics.
In the modern market, most common rice variants are known as: Pandan Wangi, Setra Ramos, and Rojo Lele. In different regions, there is also local varieties of Cianjur, Menthik, and the famous among Western Sumatranese; “Bareh Solok”, or rice van Solok, a city in Padang Province.
Setra Ramos is the market name for IR-64 rice; a long grain rice variety which is the most economical and quite pulen for general purpose, but considered less flavourful. IR-64 is the rice variety resulted from cross breed and enhancement from IR-8 whom was born in 1967 at International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Banos, Filipina, with other local varieties. For its high harvest gain, IR-8 answers the famine issue in India; unfortunately, IR-8 is very prone to vermin, and did not taste as good as Indonesia’s original variety “Padi Bulu” hence upon its introduction to Indonesia, this variety did not get a good welcome. IR-64 is Indonesia’s answer to create rice that harvest in abundant, often, vermin resistant, and still tasted good. It answered the Indonesia’s concern in providing enough food for the post-war country growth, quite deliciously.
Pandan Wangi related to its name is a naturally fragrant rice. Originally, Pandan Wangi refer to a species of “padi bulu” from Cianjur that is highly fragrant but very pera so it was less known. On the other hand, most species from Cianjur instead is the opposite from this Pandan Wangi: pulen but not fragrant. Only after vendors mixed these two different varieties, Pandan Wangi then becoming a generic name for rice of mixed content. “Padi Bulu” itself is an original short grained pre-war rice variety of Indonesia, which is superb in flavour, pulen, but did not produce large harvest and can only be reaped twice a year. This Padi Bulu today is better known by the origin of the plantation region, which is “Beras Cianjur”. Some alternative name of this Pandan Wangi rice are: Cianjur Padi Bulu, Cianjur Kepala, and Slijp.
Rojo Lele, refering to the accent of replacing “a” with “o” in words (”Raja” means King in Bahasa Indonesia), originated from central Java, especially around Klaten and Delanggu. It is a short almost round grained rice of very good flavour and fragrant, and highly pulen, even higher than the Pandan Wangi. Trouble is, pure Rojo Lele is very expensive, almost twice the Setra Ramos price, hence why, current Rojo Lele in the market is usually a mix between pure Rojo Lele, with lesser variety to establish a market friendlier price .
Beside of the common varieties, there is also varieties of “beras merah” (red rice), similar to internationally known brown rice. Though contains higher vitamin and fibers, nasi merah is less consumed for it’s unusual sweetish flavor, pera character, and surely, the high price. (bay)
Originally created for Epicurina; image from http://www.fotobank.ru