Yogyakarta, in the south of the province of Central Java, is not far from Mount Merapi (2,911 meters above sea level), Indonesia’s most active volcano. Thanks to the rich and fertile volcanic soil and the tropical climate, this area has particularly favorable conditions for growing bananas. In particular, not far from the city, in the village of Sidomulyo, a number of farmers cultivate many different local varieties, with a range of different shapes, flavors and culinary uses, an example of biodiversity with few equals in the world. Their varieties include Raja Bagus, Raja Bulu, Raja Pulut, Uter, Kepok Kuning, Kepok Putih, Ambon Kuning, Ambon Lumut and Susu.
Raja Bagus is known as the banana of kings because it was—and still is—grown on the land of the Sultan’s palace. Eaten raw, it features in all traditional Javanese ceremonies, including weddings and the sekaten. It has an intense aroma and a very sweet flavor. Raja Bulu is eaten both raw and cooked (boiled or fried). This variety is known particularly to older generations, who still practice the ancient Javanese rituals. Raja Pulut has similar uses. Uter, meanwhile, is eaten unripe, traditionally dried, ground and used as an ingredient in many local dishes, or candied. The Kepok Kuning variety, which in Indonesian means yellow, has a subtle aroma and very firm flesh. It can be eaten fried or used in the preparation of desserts. Kepok Putih is eaten fried or steamed while Ambon Kuning—which has an intense aroma and sweet flavor and deteriorates quickly when ripe—is eaten both raw and cooked. Ambon Lumut has a yellow-green skin, similar to the color of moss (lumut in Bahasa Indonesia) and is smaller than the other varieties. It is mostly used in desserts. Lastly, Susu has a sweet flavor and a soft texture, becoming as creamy as milk in the mouth. It is traditionally the first food given to babies when they are being weaned.
Naturally, bananas are at the center of traditional cuisine in Sidomulyo. They can be eaten in many ways: raw or mashed, fried or dried, cut into rounds and fried in coconut oil to make banana chips or cooked in kolak pisang, a dessert based on milk and bananas. They can also be ground into a flour. The skins are made into vinegar, while the leaves are used to wrap food according to Indonesian tradition. Fibers from the plant’s stalk are used to make fabric for clothing and paper. The banana rachis is cut into small pieces along with the leaves and fed to sheep and goats in the dry season, when there is no grass. And traditionally the water collected from within the banana bunch (kepok) is used to treat intestinal problems, while dried banana mixed with hot water makes an energy-rich mash that is useful in case of cystitis or to eliminate toxins.
The Presidium producers have between 300 and 1,500 square meters of land each for growing bananas, with between 75 and 300 banana trees of the nine varieties common to all of them. Thanks to the Presidium’s technical support, the farmers plan to improve the sustainability of their crop and the post-harvest and processing phases. They are also working with the Yogyakarta Banana Germplasm Garden (Kebun Plasma Nutfah Pisang Yogyakarta), on the outskirts of the city. The organization specializes in the harvest, protection, classification and promotion of many local types of banana, and is run by the local city authorities. The garden is planted not just with the local varieties, but all Indonesian varieties, with over 340 different types growing in an area of 19,525 square meters.
Sidomulyo village, Mambanglipuro, Bantul regency, Yogyakarta special region, Java
Pak Eko Proyo