Tempe: popular favorite with presidents and the masses


We never ate in restaurants. (We) stayed in the villagers’ homes. In addition to rice from Jakarta, Ibu Tien also supplied Sambal Teri and Kering Tempe (for us) for the logistics

Tempe, or fermented soybean, was known as President Soeharto’s favorite side dish.

While preparing for a secret trip related to the 25-year national development program or Repelita, Soeharto’s wife packed Tempe for dinner during the trip, as revealed in the book “Soeharto: The Untold Story”. It was Try Sutrisno, one of Soeharto’s adjutants, who in 1974 had been commissioned to undertake the secret and very limited trip.

“We never ate in restaurants. (We) stayed in the villagers’ homes. In addition to transporting rice from Jakarta, Ibu Tien also took care of the logistics sambal teri and Kering-Tempe (to us) ”, Sutrisno remarked, referring to the First Lady Tien Soeharto.

Sambal teri, a spicy spice made from cool and dried anchovies, and, Kering-TempeTempe, thinly sliced, fried and poured with sweet and spicy sauce, were the typical humble dishes of Indonesia – which actually became President Soeharto’s favorite food.

Soeharto’s fondness for Tempe was also conveyed by his cook Suyatinah, who is affectionately known as Yati. As quoted from a 2008 national media report, Yati revealed that simple side dishes like tempe and tofu have been a staple of Pak Harto’s daily menu throughout his life.

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

Usually tempe and tofu are served with it lodeh, or Vegetable and coconut soup, or Sayur Bening, or vegetables in clear soup, at the number one dining table 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 delights, including tempe.

During one of his speeches, as reported by Historia, Soekarno talked about being served Pan Am Tempe on a charter flight with the US airline.

“It was amazing how tempe was served to me on the flight over Latin America. I even asked the stewardess: ‘Where did you get that 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 at tempe, Soekarno then encouraged Indonesians to build socialism and be proud of Indonesian products.

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

Related News: Indonesian Diaspora Builds Tempe Factory in Indiana, USA

Soekarno’s fondness for Tempe was also conveyed by former first lady Fatmawati.

In Fatmawati’s book, Catatan Kecil Bersama Bung Karno (A Little Note with Bung Karno), published in 1983, she talked about the publisher often asking her to cook her favorite dishes, such as bamboo shoots lodeh; tear, or meat slowly cooked in coconut milk and spices; fish Balado, or a hot mix of spices in chili paste; pecel, or traditional vegetable dish with peanut sauce; fried anchovies; as well as fried tempe.

Tempe and other traditional Indonesian foods actually irritated the taste buds of Indonesian presidents from time to time, as well as the chefs in the presidential palace.

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

At various activities, such as cabinet meetings and also visits to several regions, fried tempe was also accompanied by several other traditional foods to complement the dishes served to yudhoyono.

Tempe is indeed a prima donna for all walks of life, from the public to presidents. Those familiar with eating at rice stalls across Indonesia are guaranteed to always find tempe on the menu with several kinds of cooking variations.

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

For multiple households, tempe and tofu, both made from soybeans, are simple foods that can be served in no time for breakfast or lunch and are mostly enjoyed by all family members.

By and large, Tempe is one of the staple foods of most Indonesians and 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.

As a result, soybean prices often fluctuated, which had an impact on the community.

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