Indonesians love rice. Even the term “agrarian” cannot be separated from its relationship to rice. However, this phenomenon actually triggers our dependence on rice and this is quite worrying. In 2022, the government implemented an import policy to cover falling Bulog stocks. As a result, rice prices soared. People started to complain, especially when entering the big festive season.
The reason for the paralyzed availability of rice and the government’s import policy can be traced to the New Order era. At that time the government was very proud of the quality of food which was considered to be well established. In fact, in 1984 Indonesia succeeded in achieving rice self-sufficiency until 1986. During that period, the government was very focused on rice policy and campaigned for rice as the only food requirement for the people.
However, entering the 1990s, Indonesia actually reached a point of paralysis. The government was forced to import rice from other countries again, and in 1995 dependence on rice imports increased sharply. Many parties believe that the failure to maintain food self-sufficiency is due to a wrong reading of the problem. Rice, which is predicted to be the only food requirement for the Indonesian people, is actually fragile and quite a few people complain about the high food prices.
Not everyone is affected by a series of crises due to dependence on rice. In fact, far away on the outskirts of Kebumen, precisely in Karanggayam Village, the local residents do not see this gloomy situation. For the people of Karanggayam, rice is not the only mainstay to fulfill their stomach needs. Their savior from the crisis is nasi oyek.
Exploring Kebumen’s Typical Oyek Rice
At one time, I decided to stay in Karanggayam for a few days. From this experience, I read that they have food independence. Even though it is quite far from the city center of Kebumen, this does not mean that people have to depend on food policies and conditions in urban areas.
At that time, when I was about to walk through Karanggayam Market, I saw many market traders selling oyek rice. I decided to buy it because my stomach was too hungry and it was past meal time.
The price of oyek rice is relatively cheap for me. I only spent three thousand to bring it home. In appearance it is quite different from nasi (rice), even though it is shaped like grains of rice in general. The basic ingredient for oyek rice comes from cassava.
The seller takes the rice directly from the basket using a ladle and then wraps it in oil paper. Because I still had quite a lot of money left, I also ordered and wrapped a portion of spinach and a side dish of mendoan to accompany my breakfast.
On the way back to the house where I was staying, while walking through the market, I looked for other snacks that I could try. When I got home, a puff of oyek rice immediately hit my face. It turns out that the rice still stays warm even though I carry it around.
I immediately ate the breakfast menu, complete with mendoan and green spinach on the side. When my mouth ate grains of oyek rice, I found the taste was very soft. In fact, it tends not to be as fibrous as rice. I think, even without side dishes, oyek rice can still be enjoyed.
If we compare it with rice, the nutritional content of oyek rice can still fill my empty stomach. Just by consuming one portion, it feels like the body has received additional energy to continue activities.
Food Alternatives from Kebumen
If we trace it according to the oral history circulating, the presence of nasi oyek stems from the condition of the community which is experiencing difficulty in surviving. One of these refers to the Japanese occupation period. At that time, people were having problems getting rice because of unequal food policies in the area.
This condition continued until the struggle for independence. Not a few of the fighters were so tired that they were starving when facing the colonial army. The reasons include logistical needs that do not support them to survive.
Based on this situation, cassava has become an alternative choice to replace rice. Moreover, cassava in Karanggayam is easy to find. Almost every family head grows cassava in his yard. Even today, when I walk through the village, it is easy to find cassava plants that grow abundantly up to the cliffs.
The high price of rice currently circulating in many areas does not seem to have much of an impact on the residents of Karanggayam. History and times of crisis have provided very meaningful lessons for them to build sustainable food alternatives. There is also the hope of maintaining food diversification other than rice.
This food independence effort seems to be an important lesson for other communities outside Karanggayam. Especially urban areas. Not all of them have the provisions or ability to prepare themselves to face a crisis, in this case in the food sector. Behind the notion of being established and modern, there is actually fragility.
So big questions came to my mind. Should city people return to study in the villages? Or, should we no longer place villages as “underdeveloped” places?
Written by: Mohamad Ichsanudin Adnan
Translated by: Novrisa Briliantina