in the family kitchen
It’s dry season in Java, which means it’s super-dry in Gunung Kidul. A week ago, Odino and I returned to Kepek, a hamlet in this mountainous, most arid regency in Yogyakarta. We wanted to see how the planting bed, the seedling rack, and the keyhole garden we had helped our friends there make were doing (read: How to Be a Celebrity in Kepek Part 1 and Part 2).
One of our friends, Mas Marsan, told us about two months ago that the organic, GMO-free vegetables we had cultivated were looking really good, especially the cherry tomatoes. Sadly, no one in the neighborhood has Facebook, or even a camera, to prove it. When Odino and I arrived, we saw to our disappointment that the soil in the vegetable bed and the keyhole garden had caved in, showing slithering cracks due to heat, lack of water, and very little maintenance. We couldn’t blame Marsan and his family for the last thing. Life has been rougher to them lately. Prices of daily necessities have gone up, while the selling prices of crops remain the same, forcing Marsan to take an extra job tending a nearby government-owned gum-tree plantation. He and his wife still go to their fields, but a parcel of land where they used to plant cassavas have been reacquired by its owner, cutting back on their income.
“We used to be able to get our cassava harvest onto four trucks, but this time we had to be content with only two,” said Marsan as he smoked a kretek, or clove cigarette, in his living room. Moments later, he ushered Odino and I to the kitchen for lunch. Then we got to see how the family, like many other families in Gunung Kidul, survive on a simple but delicious and carbohydrate-laden diet during the dry season. Here is a photo essay (kind of) on Gunung Kidul’s dry season food, especially those harvested from the fields.
Harvesting cassava (ketela, telo), a staple food during dry season in Gunung Kidul. According to Marsan, the cassavas seen in this picture would have been the smallest around twenty years ago, and people would have thrown them away. Declining soil condition has decreased the size of cassavas in the area. “Cassavas used to be the size of my thighs!” Marsan said.
Peeling the day’s harvest. Photo: Odino da Costa.
Using pelah to peel the cassavas. The tool gets its name from the Javanese term for the metal edge of a wheel on which a tire is placed: pelek (Dutch: velg), which is what it is made from. I guess decades of dealing with cassavas has resulted in creativity here in Gunung Kidul.
A pile of peeled cassavas and the pelah. How’s that for alliteration?
Odino after a day’s work
In Gunung Kidul, peeled cassavas are usually sun-dried to come up with gaplek, which is what one type of tapioca flour is made from. Another way to process gaplek is to grate it and then leave it for a few days to become tiwul, also very popular in Gunung Kidul.
Or you can steam some peeled cassavas and then slice them up into thin, rectangular pieces. Dry them out in the sun, fry them, and you have krecek telo.
Devi and I and a bowl of boiled lembong, also known as ganyong, ganyal, laos jambe, laos mekah, buah tasbeh, ubi pikul, nyindro, senitra… and in English: arrowroot.
Conversing with Marsan’s family and some neighbors over tea and boiled lembong. Photo: Odino da Costa.
Keluwih, or breadnut, a creamy yet slightly bitter nut best enjoyed with coffee. A common way to process keluwih is by leaving them by the fire until they are burnt on the outside.
Keluwih or breadnut is obtained from seeded-breadfruit, not to be confused with breadfruit, or sukun. This is a breadfruit tree.
And that, behind the banana trees, is a seeded-breadfruit tree. Can you tell the difference?
Lunch. Clockwise from top center: krecek telo, boiled lembong, keluwih, and a papaya.
Black tiwul. The one on the right is tiwul mixed with some bird’s eye peppers, shallots, and salt. Most tiwul you can buy in Yogyakarta is brownish and sweet. To get the black color, leave cassavas that have been turned into gaplek inside a tied up sack for a few days.
The black tiwul goes well with rice, especially if you have some spicy vegetable soup and slices of fried tempeh.