For modern society, food is not just to satisfy our hunger. There are many meanings behind every dish—different experiences and memories for each person will create different impressions.
Indonesia offers a rich heritage of cuisines throughout the archipelago with its abundance of spices. Recipes, hands down from generation to generation, become a cultural value that people still hold on to.
UK-based Indonesian food champion Petty Elliott has been in the culinary field for almost 20 years and is famously known as a chef, writer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Her passion for Indonesian cuisine has led her from cooking in her family at home to being a guest chef in several prestigious hotels and resorts worldwide.
Is there anyone in your family that inspired you to cook?
My grandmother from my mother’s side, so my maternal grandmother, my Oma. I called her Oma.
Did you often cook with your Oma when you were a child?
Yes! I started to learn to cook from my Oma; from all her grandchildren, I was the one that always helped her in the kitchen; it’s like I was her sous chef. When I was little, after school, while my parents were working, we would go to Oma’s house, and while my siblings went to play, I would go to the kitchen to help my Oma cook; she was a great cook. I always enjoy cooking with her very much. She would take me to the traditional market, and back then is, where I learned about the abundance of ingredients we use. The different kinds of spices – which one is ginger, galangal, or turmeric, their differences in flavor, texture, and looks.
What is your favorite dish that she made?
There is a lot; she was a great cook. But I think my favorite would be Sup Ikan Kuah Asam – a clear seafood soup. The broth is clear with a refreshing taste and very comforting. The seafood is infused with lemongrass, chili, Kemangi, chopped garlic, and shallot. It is very easy to make yet so delicious and comforting – it’s also her favorite dish. I always remember my Oma every time I make that.
Do you have any memorable food memories with your family?
The food memories with my family are a lot, especially when we live in Manado. Christmas and Easter celebrations usually are the most significant celebration. We would do a buffet – from my Oma, my mom, my aunties we will fill the table with lots of food all dong long, especially at Christmas.
For us, food is essential, and the table is the center of the family. We love to eat food at home, but we also love to go out in the city to try different dishes. I’ve tried Soto Makassar, Lao Lao noodles, and Sarikaya. And all these different cuisines helped me understand better when I started to get involved in the culinary world.
I think Manado culture has quite a strong European influence, but I see all this connection with Manado food and other cuisines in different regions in Indonesia. For instance, Nasi Kuning. Nasi Kuning in Manado has a different flavor from Nasi Kuning in Java. It is fascinating to see that every region has its taste profile, but the spices connect us.
Can you share one of the recipes passed down from your family? And why is that recipe meaningful to you?
There is quite a lot, from Woku Belanga, Sup Ikan Kuah Asam, Klapertart, and many more. But if it’s a simple one, a fusion that showcases my family’s heritage would be Roast Chicken with Sambal Dabu-Dabu. My children are half British, so I always try to combine British cuisine with Indonesian food, especially Manado, and I know Roast Chicken is very British – when it’s usually served with gravy, but I made it with Dabu Dabu instead, and it is super delicious.
It is pretty easy to make; the roast chicken is seasoned with salt, black pepper, and a squeeze of lime and rub it with coconut oil. Then, serves it with Sambal Dabu Dabu. It’s a bit more modern, but the addition of Dabu Dabu will give more flavor to the chicken.