What’s papeda?

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Papeda, a porridge made from sago flour, is a staple food in eastern Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Sago palms are used to make the flour, which is mixed with water and served with a variety of side dishes. Papeda is low in nutrients but is typically eaten with nutritious vegetables, fish, and meats.

Papeda is one of the staple foods of Indonesian cuisine and is usually eaten for breakfast; papeda porridges, also known as sago congee and bubur sagu, take the place of rice in daily meals in eastern Indonesia’s Maluku Islands and Papua New Guinea, regions where rice is not readily grown or available. Instead of growing rice, people around here grow sago palms; the trees are cut down when they are about five years old and the trunks of the trees are cut in half lengthwise to obtain the pulp present inside the trunks. This portion of the pulpy trunk is scraped off and beaten with a conical tool, the sago beater, to obtain sago flour. Until it is needed to make papeda, sago flour is traditionally stored in containers called tumang; the tumang containers are made of woven palm leaf.

Sago flour can be purchased in many supermarkets; in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, it is often sold by door-to-door food vendors. The process of making papeda is pretty straightforward and just involves mixing sago flour with water and heating the mixture until it boils; you need to keep stirring the mixture as it cooks. A little salt, sugar or pepper can be added to the mixture to give it a taste. After a while, as it begins to boil, the mixture begins to coagulate and become viscous. When the mixture has become thick and sticky, the papeda is ready.

Papeda is generally not eaten on its own, but, like rice, together with a variety of side dishes. It is commonly eaten with a soup or sauce made from tuna or any other locally available fish. It can also be eaten with a baked fish dish called Kohu-Kohu. The soup, gravy, and baked fish are usually cooked with salt, turmeric, spices, soybeans, onions, lime, and coconut. Chili soy sauce can also be served with papeda.

Eating papeda alone would not make for a particularly nutritious meal as sago, while high in carbohydrates, is known to be quite low in protein, vitamins and minerals; in comparison, rice, wheat and corn have a much higher level of protein, vitamin and mineral content. Porridges are almost always eaten with a variety of nutritious vegetables, fish and meats, and therefore consuming it on a regular basis is not a problem and does not cause any kind of health problems.

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