(Image source: Platterform)
Banana leaves are multipurpose tools that play an integral role in Indonesian culture. A native plant, banana trees make up a large portion of Indonesia’s agricultural sector and have an important influence in both Indonesian culinary traditions, and their ability to live sustainably.
Indonesian cuisine adopts the banana leaf in multiple methods of cooking (Forshee 2006). Meat and fish are often wrapped in a leaf before they are steamed, grilled or boiled. The waxy outer layer provides protection from the flame and adds a smoky flavour to the meat encased within it.
The leaves also serve as a tool for wrapping and serving food. Sweets like barongko and getuk pisang are often served in banana leaves and it isn’t common for the leaves to replace (or reclaim) the role of a plate, allow people to eat from it, providing a culinary experience that places the eater closer to the food they are eating (Forshee 2006).
But more than food, the use of banana leaves reveals an interesting perspective on Indonesia’s approach to consumption. Where in Australia, the culture is to only value ripe and aesthetic bananas, Indonesia places more of an importance on using the whole banana plant (Kosuke et al 2013).
This ideology stems from the fact that bananas are interwoven with Indonesian history and culture. Bananas are native to the equatorial areas of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and records dating as far back as the 8th century show Indonesians farming banana plants (Dove 2011). Before colonial trade structures, with less variety of plants and crops, the Indonesian people met their needs with the resources they had available (Dove 2011). Banana leaves, with their naturally waxy coat, could be easily cleaned and used to wrap food for transport and preservation (Kosuke et al 2013).
When it comes to sustainable living, the banana leaf provided a clever way for Indonesia to live within their means when it came to packaging. The banana leaf was sourced as a by-product from an abundant crop, a lesson in how to use all of something to reduce waste (Kima Surf 2017). In doing this, there was no need to consume other materials to complete the tasks that the banana leaf could do.
This is a stark contrast to the post-plastic Indonesia of today that’s infrastructure and environment struggle under the strain of the increasing plastic burden. While banana leaves only takes a few weeks to compose, plastic takes generations, transforming the simple task of transporting your lunch in a safe way into an intergenerational waste problem (Kima Surf 2017). “And for what?” is the question the future generations will ask their Indonesian predecessors. “It seems like we had it pretty well covered with banana leaves”.
Dove, M., 2001, Banana Tree at the Gate, Yale University Press.
Forshee, J., 2006, Culture and customs of Indonesia, Greenwood Publishing Group.
Kima Surf, 2017, From banana leaves to plastic bags, Seminyak, viewed 6 December 2017, < https://kimasurf.com/sustainability/>
Kosuke, M., Mugniesyah, S.S., Herianto, A.S., Hiroshi, T., 2013, ‘Talun-Huma, Swidden Agriculture, and Rural Economy in West Java, Indonesia’, Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 2, pp. 351-381.
Platterform, 2017, Archive, London, viewed 6 December 2017, < http://www.platterform.com/toko-indonesian-kitchen-bar-deli/>.
Paramapoonya, O., 2015, Cooking with Banana Leaves, viewed 6 December 2017, <https://hubpages.com/food/Cooking-with-Banana-Leaves>.