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How Papeda Shapes West Papua Traditional Food for Centuries

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Indonesia houses thousands of heritage food with various backgrounds and stories. One of them is papeda, the chewy food commonly found in Papua, Maluku, and several Sulawesi regions. As part of Papua, West Papua is a place where you can discover papeda—although some may call it dao in Inanwatan or Papuan language. Nonetheless, this West Papua traditional food is unique and deserves more recognition for its story. If you’re also interested in more information about the best way to enjoy this food, this article will also cover it for you.

History of Papeda

The exact date or period of the birth of papeda is not precisely known. To understand where it originated, though, it’s essential to know that this dish is made from sago starch (or tepung sagu among Indonesian people). Sago starch comes from squeezed sago tree trunks. The acquired water sediment is then getting dried out and processed into powdered flour. 

Instead of rice like other Indonesian regions, sago has always been the primary staple food for the indigenous West Papua people. Among the people of Raja Ampat especially, sago is indeed considered something exceptional. When they’re harvesting sago, they also hold special ceremonies to symbolise gratitude and respect for the abundant harvest that’ll fulfill their entire family’s needs. Fun fact: farmers can produce up to 150 to 300 kilograms of sago starch only from one sago tree! 

Papeda, inadvertently, is also an important culinary legacy to these people, who already practice great respect for sago not because it’s just delicious food. Its significance can be seen at traditional Papuan ceremonies, such as Watani Kame (a ceremony marking the end of a person’s death cycle) or at Abar Village. People eat papeda together while sitting down in a circle. Papeda is also common among the indigenous peoples of Sentanu, Abrab in Lake Sentani and Arso, and Manokwari. 

About Papeda

It’s also interesting to know that sago also functions as a thickening agent in cooking. Therefore, you can expect papeda to have a texture like clear white gel or glue. It tastes bland, hence requiring other food or condiments for a more delicious eating experience. 

The process of processing sago into papeda is quite simple. West Papua people use a pot to boil water before pouring sago gradually while stirring. The stirring process must be done in one direction until the texture is evenly blended into a glue paste. Once the consistency has thickened with a change of color from white to translucent grayish, you now have your papeda ready to be served.

This West Papua traditional food is classified as a healthy diet option due to its low fat and cholesterol level. Sago itself is believed to be beneficial for the body thanks to its ability to treat heartburn and flatulence and reduce the risk of obesity. Its rich fiber amount also helps improve our digestion. 

However, papeda’s sticky texture can come off a bit difficult to chew for those not used to it. Therefore, it’s advisable to use a pair of sturdy chopsticks or two wooden forks rather than your regular spoon. To pick up papeda, roll the food until the papeda pulp circles the chopsticks or a fork before placing it on a plate and consume it with other food. There’s no need to chew because you can sip and swallow papeda immediately.

Unfortunately, this typical food from West Papua and Maluku is getting more difficult to find, even in its home regions, as it’s rarely served as daily food. However, papeda is an easy dish to make at home, and the delicacy is not only famous in Eastern Indonesia. Big cities like Jakarta, for example, have several eating places and street vendors selling papeda. It’s not entirely gone yet, so no need to worry that you won’t find it! It’s a part of Indonesia’s beautiful heritage, after all.

Common Ways in Enjoying Papeda

In general, papeda is often consumed with mackerel, commonly known as Ikan Kuah Kuning (yellow fish broth/soup). The mackerel can be substituted with cork fish, tuna, and red snapper. The broth itself is made from turmeric, basil, lemongrass, and salam leaves. Pairing papeda with yellow fish broth may be due to papeda’s distinctive chewy texture and bland taste that’ll be more delicious to eat with liquid-y and savory fish soup. 

Another variation is combining papeda with Sayur Ganemo (ganemo stir-fry), a dish made from sauteed young melinjo leaves, papaya flowers, short bean sprouts, sliced pumpkin. 

If desired, papeda’s pairings can be added with chilis to imbue much-needed spiciness. Are you now more interested in trying out this particular West Papua traditional food? Therefore, we highly encourage you to visit West Papua directly for a more authentic experience!

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