Tempe: common favorite among presidents and masses

Tempe: common favorite among presidents and masses

Fried tempe and tofu. (ANTARA/HO)

We never ate at restaurants. (We) stayed at the villagers’ houses. For the logistics, apart from bringing rice from Jakarta, Ibu Tien also provided sambal teri and kering tempe (to us)
Tempe, or fermented soybean, was known as President Soeharto's favorite side dish.

Even while preparing for a secret trip in connection with the 25-year national development program or Repelita, Soeharto's wife had packed tempe for them to eat during the trip, as unveiled in the book “Soeharto: The Untold Story”. It was Try Sutrisno, one of Soeharto's aides, who had received the order of the secret and very limited trip in 1974.

“We never ate at restaurants. (We) stayed at the villagers’ houses. For the logistics, apart from bringing rice from Jakarta, Ibu Tien also provided sambal teri and kering tempe (to us),” Sutrisno remarked while referring to the First Lady Tien Soeharto.

Sambal teri, a spicy condiment made from chilly and dried anchovies, and kering tempe, thin sliced tempe, fried and smothered with sweet and spicy sauce, were the typical humble dishes of Indonesia ---which, in fact, also became President Soeharto’s favorite food.

Soeharto’s fondness for tempe was also conveyed by his cook, Suyatinah, affectionately referred to as Yati. As quoted from a national media report in 2008, Yati revealed that simple side dishes, such as tempe and tofu, were an intrinsic part of Pak Harto’s daily menu all throughout his life.

Yati recalled that even when he had to travel abroad, “The Smiling General” would wait to be served fried tempe, seasoned with salt, coriander, and garlic, at mealtime.

Typically, tempe and tofu would be served with lodeh, or vegetable and coconut soup, or sayur bening, or vegetable in clear soup, at the dinner table of the number one person in the New Order era.

Tempe, as a side dish, was also the favorite of Indonesia’s First President, Soekarno. Based on several existing literatures, Soekarno’s meals at the Presidential Palace were mostly traditional Indonesian culinary delicacies, including tempe.

During one of his speeches, as reported by Historia, Soekarno spoke of being served tempe during a chartered flight from the US airline, Pan Am.

“It was unbelievable how I was served tempe on the flight over Latin America. I even asked the stewardess ‘where did you get this from?’ Then she went back to the pantry to show me that it was made by ENTI, Eerste Nederlandse Tempe Industrie. ‘Try it!’ she said to me.”

Referring to such a shocking experience on tempe, Soekarno then encouraged Indonesians to build socialism and be proud of Indonesian products.

“Let us not beg or expect from outside (the country),” he emphasized.

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Soekarno's liking for tempe was also conveyed by former First Lady Fatmawati.

In Fatmawati's book titled “Catatan Kecil Bersama Bung Karno” (A Little Note with Bung Karno), published in 1983, she spoke of how the proclaimer often asked her to cook her favorite dishes, such as bamboo shoot lodeh; rending, or meat slow-cooked in coconut milk and spices; fish balado, or a hot spice mixture in chili paste; pecel, or traditional vegetable dish with peanut sauce; fried anchovies; as well as fried tempe.

Tempe and other traditional Indonesian foods indeed tantalized the taste buds of Indonesian presidents from time to time and also the cooks at the Presidential Palace.

Fried tempe also became part of the favorite menu of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. In a post on the @IstanaRakyat social media account in 2013, a photo showed Yudhoyono examining several documents at the State Palace with a dish of fried tempe and pepper that complemented it.

During several activities, such as cabinet meetings and also during visits to several regions, fried tempe was also seen accompanied by several other traditional foods to complement the dishes served to Yudhoyono.

Tempe is indeed a prima donna for all societal strata, right from the general public to the presidents. Those familiar with eating at rice stalls speckled across Indonesia, tempe on the menu is guaranteed to always be served with various types of cooking variations.

People can easily process tempe into various types of dishes, from simple ones that are merely fried to those that require advanced cooking techniques, such as in fusion foods, which include the combination of two or more different elements.

For several households, tempe and tofu, both made from soybeans, are simple foods that can be served in a jiffy at breakfast or lunch and are mostly enjoyed by all family members.

By and large, tempe is one of the staple foods of most Indonesian people and is consumed on a daily basis, but the availability of soybeans as a raw material for tempe has not received full attention as has the availability of rice.

Consequently, soybean prices have often fluctuated, thereby impacting the community.
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