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  • Spencer Low

The Portuguese influence in Indonesia: "kue pastel" anyone?

I had the pleasure of a quick trip to the Indonesian resort island of Bintan this weekend. At the breakfast buffet, I came across this pastry dish called kue pastel...

To any Portuguese speaker, it's obvious that this has something to do with Portugal!

Although I've been to Indonesia many times, I'd never come across or at least paid attention to this snack that would remind some of the curry puffs in Malaysia and Singapore. However, an internet search confirmed that it's indeed very popular throughout Indonesia. There's even a variant in the Manado cuisine of North Sulawesi called panada, another word that betrays its Portuguese link.

The Portuguese influence on Indonesia goes back a long time to the 16th century in the form of traders and sailors who showed up in the port cities of the vast Indonesian archipelago, attracted by the precious products of the Spice Islands.

In addition to food, the Portuguese influence can also be found in the Indonesia language, similar to Malay (see related post: Even more interestingly, a popular style of Indonesian music called keroncong is actually a centuries-old adaptation of a Portuguese musical tradition. A keroncong ensemble typically features the flute, violin, cello, contrabass, and mostly importantly, a pair of small guitars. Called kroncong, these are derived from the Portuguese cavaquinho and actually share the same origins of the Hawaiian ukulele!

Like Portuguese fado, keroncong music is melancholic. Now considered old-fashioned folk music by most Indonesian youth, there have been efforts to modernize the genre by adding electric guitars, keyboards and drums. Here's a playlist if you're curious:

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