The rijsttafel is yet another example
of an important cultural tradition, which upon exposure to an overbearing outside influence, was at first expanded and glorified, then ultimately reduced to a commercialized and nearly meaningless shell.
Rijsttafel is a Dutch
term, literally translated as "rice table." It is a great feast composed of as many as a few dozen dishes, most of them served over rice. Soup, satay
, meat, fish, poultry, vegetarian dishes - the sheer variety and number of dishes included in a properly done rijsttafel can be staggering.
The dishes themselves are almost entirely drawn from the Indonesian
culture. Food was the central point of traditional celebrations, and the lengthy and involved preparations beforehand resulted in great feasts.
The colonists adopted the spicy and exotic dishes quite readily, and the term rijsttafel probably came about when Dutch chefs began to mimic Indonesian feasts and expand them to the gigantic size of your basic rijsttafel.
Today, the rijsttfael is emblematic
to many of supposedly authentic Indonesian cuisine
. This is an unfortunate mistake, perpetuated by both outsiders and, often, Indonesian cooks. Outsiders expect rijsttafel, and cooks who want to get paid deliver what is expected, no matter how accurate it may be.
A rijsttafel is many things. It is an interesting, tasty, and filling meal for a large number of revellers. It is comprised of a great variety dishes which are Indonesian or at least inspired by Indonesian food.
However, it is often also very different from true Indonesian cuisine. Even when it was first developed, it was Indonesian food filtered through a Dutch mindset, and the differing needs and desires of the colonists
as opposed to the natives
. In the meantime, the nation's culinary tastes have developed in their own direction, and the rijsttafel has developed in a different direction. It has become more of a commerical entity, conforming to the expectations of outside consumers.
So enjoy a rijsttafel if you have the chance to sample one, grab some leftovers if you can, and appreciate the sampling of Indonesian food represented. But if someone tries to push it off as a traditional Indonesian feast, don't listen to them.