Indonesian local cooks Tumpeng

Widi Farrow said it was working at a resort in Indonesia that started her love of traditional cooking.
Widi Farrow said it was working at a resort in Indonesia that started her love of traditional cooking.

Whilst it is common to celebrate a birthday by blowing out candles, Widi Farrow says it is an Indonesian tradition to eat the top of a tumpeng.

For this weeks In My Kitchen, Ms Farrow had offered to make tumpeng, a popular dish made to celebrate special occasions.

Traditional to the cuisine of Indonesia, tumpeng is a cone-shaped rice dish surrounded with both meat and vegetable side dishes.

Ms Farrow told the Mail that the dish is saved for occasions such as birthdays, births and job promotions as it usually takes around three days to prepare.

"Tumpeng is what I grew up eating. My mum had a calendar on the wall which had mine and my siblings birthdays in it and that's when she would make tumpeng," Ms Farrow said.

She recalls enjoying the dish with her immediate family, but said her mum would wrap fried chicken, boiled egg and salad in a banana leaf to give to their neighbours.

"You can decorate tumpeng any way you want. It's just like having a basic, birthday cake that you can decorate."

Born in Sumatra, Ms Farrow is one of seven children.

"In Indonesia, wherever there is people gathering, there is food. We will talk all day and eat everything there is. Even if you have guests come over and you don't have any food, you can borrow money to get some. The guests are the kings."

Ms Farrow told me it was considered rude to not try the food someone had prepared and that even if she was in a hurry she would at least acknowledge that food was made by touching it before leaving.

"It's a common question in Indonesia to ask what someone is cooking. When I call my mum, before I even say how are you I ask her if she has eaten," Ms Farrow laughs.

Ms Farrow moved to Bunbury in 2013 with her late husband to join over 200 Indonesian families.

To create the tumpeng, she had assistance from her friends Ella Pursell from Yogyakarta, Indonesia and Kadek Eni from Bali.

The group spoke in Bahasa as they usually do when making tumpeng.

"First we lay banana leaves into our tampah which is a traditional basket made from woven bamboo," Ms Farrow said.

Traditionally, a tampah is used to shake dirt from rice that is placed inside.

Everyone fell silent as Ms Farrow slowly removed a metal cone full of yellow rice, to leave a perfect pyramid in the centre of the tampah.

"Turmeric gives the rice the yellow colour. For spice I've used Indonesian bay leaves, lemon grass, cloves, garlic, shallots, kaffir lime leaf and more. Sometimes we use more than 16 spices in our dishes."

Ms Farrow said it was difficult to purchase Indonesian spices when she first moved to Bunbury so she is grateful to have access to a range of ingredients at Hernandez Asian Delights on Charles Street.

On top of the tumpeng, the chilli symbolises a ray of light, the shallot is a symbol of wisdom and the boiled egg is pureness.

Widi Farrow

She reiterated that all products she uses are free from MSG and that she never purchases food from overseas, instead aiming at supporting our local farmers.

"Food to me is like my identity, wherever I go it comes with me. I like to promote authentic, Indonesian food and use local ingredients. If we don't support the local farmers then who will?" Ms Farrow said.

Ms Eni supplied Ms Farrow with chicken satay from Bali which is chicken mince fried on a lemongrass stick.

Next up, Dutch inspired potato frikandel (pronounced perkadel by Indonesians) and hard boiled eggs with chilli were displayed around the rice.

"I have also made tempeh which is fermented soy beans. Soy beans, eggs and tofu are common proteins in Indonesia as meat used to be very expensive. It's more common now as the Western influence comes through," Ms Farrow said.

Ms Farrow said she is on the committee with the Bunbury Multicultural Group, a not-for-profit group comprised of volunteers from different countries.

She also cooks every Sunday in her friends' Indonesian food truck in Busselton, Grendy's Kitchen.

"I always cook traditional Indonesian food so I enjoy working in the food truck. We're at Signal Park in Busselton every Sunday," Ms Farrow said.

Ms Farrow gently spooned beef rendang, an Indonesian slow cooked beef stew, around the tumpeng.

Fried chicken and a coconut salad completed a total of eight elements around the yellow rice on the tempeh.

For decoration, tomatoes and chillies intricately cut into flowers were placed around the meat and vegetable elements.

Ms Farrow also sliced cucumbers, cutting the edges into spiked patterns for an aesthetic touch.

Using a skewer, she pierced a hard boiled egg, shallot and red chilli, placing it in the centre of the yellow rice.

She said it is tradition for the person celebrating to cut the top of the tumpeng like a cake and eat the egg, shallot and chilli.

"The chilli symbolises a ray of light, the shallot is a symbol of wisdom and the boiled egg is pureness," Ms Farrow said.

Once the skewer was secure, guests were invited to enjoy the tumpeng.

Ms Farrow stood back to gladly witness her creation being enjoyed.

"I love cooking so much that I'm almost addicted. If I don't cook every day then I feel like something is missing."

Do you know a local that loves to cook? If so, get in touch by emailing

This story Symbolic celebration first appeared on Bunbury Mail.