The Delicious Natural Flavours from Bakar Batu Technique in Papua Cuisine
SEAToday.com, Jakarta-The traditional cooking and eating culture of the Papuan people is suitable to be considered as naturalist way. Ingredients are taken directly from the forests and fields, cooked with minimal seasoning, and without the use of oil. The technique of bakar batu (literally means burning stones) or barapen is a cooking technique that supports this naturalist cooking way.
Barapen or bakar batu is a communal cooking ritual that aims to express gratitude, stay in touch with family and relatives, welcome happy news, or gather soldiers for war.
"In some places, especially in the Baliem valley, they use this (bakar batu technique) on certain occasions during the inauguration of tribal chiefs or parties when women enter puberty," explained Chef Charles Toto at the "Merayakan Gastronomi Indonesia" event at Taman Ismail Marzuki, Sunday (4/2).
In general, the bakar batu technique is to heat or burn the stone with fire then the hot stone is used for cooking. The fire is usually made using firewood in an open area. The stone used is a type of hard stone that is usually found in the river. It is a slow cooking technique that usually takes 3-4 hours.
"The ancestors had their way by trial and error to choose stones that could be used for cooking. Hard stones are chosen so that they do not break when heated. But some areas use coral," explained Chato, Chef Charles Toto's nickname.
According to Chef Ragil Imam Wibowo, who also cooked with Chef Chato in the "Merayakan Gastronomi Indonesia" event, the process of heating the stone must use direct flame because the stone can only receive about 80 percent of the heat transmitted.
"If you want to try this technique at home, it's better to use a barbeque stove to heat the stone," explained Chef Ragil.
Chef Chato explained that there are 5 variations of bakar batu (burning stone) cooking techniques that he found in Papua. In the Southern Plains of Papua, the barapen process is done on the ground. First, banana leaves are arranged on the ground in a large circle as a base. Then yams and vegetables are placed on top of the banana leaves. Next, hot stones are arranged flat on top of the ingredients. Finally, the fronds of eucalyptus tree bark are used as a lid and will give the food a distinctive aroma.
"This is a cooking technique that we find very interesting because not all dishes in Indonesia are cooked with fire. But there is something called heat transfer," explained Mei Batubara, who travelled with Chef Ragil and Chef Chato to document recipes from Papua.
The principle of heat transfer is to use stones as a medium to transfer heat from the fire to the dish. Not only for barapen, the making of sagu lempeng also uses the same concept. First, the mold called forno is burnt on direct flame, then forno is dipped in the sago until sago is cooked. Similar techniques can be found in Northern China and Italy. In Sicily, Italy, Etna lava stone is commercially used for cooking.
In another case in the Papuan Highlands, barapen is done in the ground. Food ingredients will be cooked in a large pit. A pile of tubers and yams is placed at the bottom, then hot stones are placed on top. After that, vegetables, and pieces of meat are placed on the second layer, then covered with leaves. The pieces of meat are deliberately placed at the top, so that the water content in the meat drips down, thus the vegetables and tubers at the bottom taste more savory.
"We are often taught that the meat should always be at the bottom. But in Papua, we do it the opposite way, the meat is on top. Because we don't make and use oil for cooking. So we use the fat from the meat because it is at the top, the fat will go down to the vegetables and then down to the tubers at the bottom. So we don't cook separately, because it takes a lot of labor," explained Chef Chato, who received the Indonesian Cultural Award from the Ministry of Education and Culture in October 2023.
Chef Chato continued that the bakar batu (stone-burning) cooking technique is also applied in many Pacific islands, such as Fiji Island, Solomon Island, including the Maori tribe in New Zealand.
Similar to the Southern Plains of Papua, people in the Lowlands of Papua also cook over stones on the ground. Foodstuffs will be placed and covered in a pile of hot stones arranged in a row.
Unlike other regions that use river stones as a heat medium, the people of the North Coast of Papua use coral or limestone. To avoid dirty foodstuffs due to the scattering of limestone ash that falls out due to heat, tubers, vegetables, and meat are wrapped in betel nut fronds. The foodstuffs and the hot stones are alternately piled up. The betel nut fronds add a distinctive aroma to the dish.
Chef Chato adds that the bakar batu (stone-burning) technique is also used to cook papeda. Generally, papeda is cooked by pouring hot water on sago starch. But with the bakar batu technique, the sago starch is first mixed with extract from red fruit (pandanus conoideus) seeds, and then hot stones are put into the mixture until it thickens.
In the stone-burning technique, the ingredients are not seasoned while cooking. Salt is only sprinkled on the food when it is about to be eaten.
"We use black salt made from saltwater in the mountains at 700-1000m above sea level, then aged. It is now 15 years old," explains Chef Chato.
From this stone-grilled cooking method, the ingredients bring out their original flavors. Without much intervention from seasonings.