Turning Javanese

Tiny local Indonesian community stays connected with festivals and food


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There's more to "Java" than just coffee and jive. Javanese culture is rich and multi-layered. There is a small but vibrant community here in Winnipeg, and its members keep in close touch by celebrating and sharing their food. One of the people who keeps it going is Shelly Yunarto.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/03/2009 (4893 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There’s more to "Java" than just coffee and jive. Javanese culture is rich and multi-layered. There is a small but vibrant community here in Winnipeg, and its members keep in close touch by celebrating and sharing their food. One of the people who keeps it going is Shelly Yunarto.

Yunarto, 24, is originally from Cirebon, Indonesia, a port city in between West and Central Java. The oldest of three sisters, she came to Canada to study at the University of Manitoba at the age of 17. She majored in economics and anthropology and is working for TD Bank Financial Group. Yunarto had lots to share about Indonesian culture and food, and about the Indonesian community here in Winnipeg.

"I don’t have a formal role in the community, but since my hobby is cooking, I am always involved in food events," she says, "In general, we all take part in every event held like the Indonesian Food Festival, Asian Movie Festival and so on."

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Shelly Yunarto helps keep Javanese culture alive and well in Winnipeg.

Yunarto says the students who come here generally know each other from school back home or because a relative may have recommended they come here. Although there has been an active community here since the ’80s, it wasn’t until 2003 that the students registered under the University of Manitoba Students’ Union and became "official." Since then they have started the Indonesian Movie Night (which has since become the Asian Movie Festival), as well as their annual food festival.

"These two big events in 2004 were the start," says Yunarto. "We were able to raise funds to keep our organization existing and be more active in community, introducing our unique and beautiful cultures to Winnipeggers." And the students are grateful to all those who help to make their events a success.

The Indonesian community in Winnipeg, about 60 people, is small compared to the rest of Canada with five to six thousand. For the most part, Winnipeg sees between two and five new students per year. Once they are done with schooling, most tend to head back home, although Yunarto is an exception.

A Sense of Real Java, being produced by approximately 20 students, is the theme for the third Indonesian Food Festival. It gives the community an opportunity to showcase and celebrate the culture, through food and performance, which includes song and dance.

"We chose that because people hear a lot about Java, whether it’s the coffee, the computer program or just in geography," says Yunarto, "But we are also trying to explain what Java is all about."

With people from a string of five main islands (and many, many smaller ones in the equatorial archipelago) — Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Irian Jaya, 27 different provinces that boast 583 spoken languages and dialects — Indonesian food and culture varies from region to region.

"Java is the most populated island in the world, a land one-fifth the size of Manitoba with population of 130 million people; it’s a true definition of a melting pot. Therefore we are showcasing not just Javanese culture but everything that Java is made of."

Yunarto says that finding some ingredients here in Winnipeg can be a little tricky, but back home, grocery shopping is not a problem.

"Besides the street vendors, from morning to night, there are always people passing your house selling different kinds of food," she says.

"Our recipes varied from spicy to mild, from hot to cold dishes. Our foods are fresh, rich and savoury."

Yunarto says some of the key ingredients for Indonesian recipes include: coconut milk, coriander, galangal, shallots, garlic, shrimp paste, Indonesian bay leaves, Kaffir lime leaves, tamarind, and palm sugar. She says that most items could be found in Dong Thai Asian Grocery (on Notre Dame) and at Young’s Market (on McPhillips).

Read through these authentic recipes before you try them. You’ll find some tips with the recipes and a glossary that explains the names of some of the foods at the end. The featured recipes and beautiful food photographs were provided by Evimeinar Nasution, a friend of Yunarto’s.

Nasution, another active member of the community, dedicates much of her time writing and blogging about Indonesian food on her gorgeous website


You can contact her with questions about Indonesian food or these recipes at: indonesianinwinnipeg@gmail.com


Barbecued chicken with chili coconut sauce (Ayam Bakar Bumbu Rujak)


10 pieces chicken thighs

400 ml (12/3 cups) coconut milk

4 Indonesian bay leaves

30 ml (2 tbsp) canola oil


Grind into a paste:

3 red chilis

15 cloves shallots

8 cloves garlic

4 candlenuts (grated)

1 tomato

5 ml (1 tsp) galangal

5 ml (1 tsp) coriander powder

45 ml (3 tbsp) palm sugar

10 ml (2 tsp) tamarind powder

25 ml (5 tsp) salt

20 ml (4 tsp) sugar


Grill chicken in the oven for 190C (375 F) until half done.

Heat oil in a big pan on a medium high heat, add in and stir the paste ingredients with the bay leaves until fragrant.

Put the chicken in, mix it well with the ingredients.

Pour in the coconut milk, stir evenly, cook until it’s thickened.

Take out the chicken pieces and grill again in the oven until they are done (brush the leftover sauce on the top of the chicken once in a while). Serve immediately.


Vegetable salad with peanut sauce served with Indonesian crackers (Gado-gado with kerupuk)


Blanched/steamed vegetables:

Long green beans, cut into 4-5 cm long pieces

Chinese cabbage, shredded

Bean sprouts


Fresh vegetables:


Tomato, wedged

Cucumber, sliced


Other complements:

Boiled/steamed potatoes, sliced

Boiled eggs, wedged

Fried/baked tempe (fermented soy bean cake)

Fried/baked tofu

Lontong (rice cake with log shape), cut into 1 cm thick

Ready-to-use fried shallot

Melinjo nuts crackers

Shrimp crackers


Gado-gado sauce


10 cloves garlic, stir fried/fried/roasted

300 g (21 oz) roasted/fried peanuts (can be substituted with 250 ml / 1 cup of organic crunchy peanut butter)

1000 ml (4 cups) coconut milk

10 red chilies, discard the seeds and membranes, then stir fry

5 ml (1 tsp) terasi (dried shrimp paste), toasted

1 block of coconut sugar (about 62.5 grams)

30-45 ml (2-3 tbsp) rice flour dissolved in a small amount of water


Chili paste (Sambal)


20 red bird eyes chilies, boiled/steamed

2 ml (1/2 tsp) sugar

Sea salt as desired


Gado-gado sauce

1. Process garlic, peanuts/peanut butter, a half part of coconut milk, red chilies, terasi, coconut sugar in a food processor or blender.

2. In a sauce pot, combine processed mixture with the rest of coconut milk, stir and turn on the stove at low-medium heat. Stir occasionally.

3. Cook sauce until boiled, the volume reduced and the sauce surface looks a bit oily. Add rice flour mixture. Keep stirring until bubbling about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.



Combine all ingredients and process in a food processor/blender or you can grind them with mortar and pestle.


To Serve

Place lettuce, slices of lontong and boiled potatoes, blanched vegetables, wedges of boiled egg, slices of fried tempe and tofu, and wedges of tomato, slices of cucumber. Pour the warm sauce over, garnish with fried shallot, crushed shrimp crackers and emping nuts crackers. Put sambal on the side as people have different tastebuds to handle the spiciness. You can omit the sambal if you don’t like the spicy sauce.



"ö If the sauce is too thick, add a small amount of water.

"ö Always try the sauce before removing from the heat, so you can add salt or coconut sugar to match your tastebuds.

"ö Serve gado-gado sauce while it is still warm. Warm up the sauce if it turns cold.

"ö If you still have leftover sauce, keep it in a jar and refrigerate/freeze. You may use it for other dipping purposes.


Lemon-scented coconut rice (Nasi Uduk)


500 g (16 oz) rice, wash and strain off the water

850 ml (31/2 cups) coconut milk

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

1 stalk lemon grass


Steam rice until half-cooked.

Put coconut milk, salt, and lemon grass into a saucepan on a medium heat, bring to a boil.

Add steamed rice, cook until the coconut milk evaporates.

Put the rice back into the steamer and steam until well-cooked or you can use a rice cooker. Serve immediately.




Emping Melinjo or padi: oats crackers

Lontong: rice cake in a log shape

Kerupuk/ krupuk udang: shrimp crackers

Tempe/Tempeh: Indonesian fermented soy bean cake

Terasi/Trassi: dried shrimp paste

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