Going Banana (Leaf)

As an assignment, I told my students in groups to present an example of our surviving traditional artifact and/or indigenous knowledge in a daily activity, which is actually a practice of a sustainable lifestyle. Banana leaf as a food wrapper was among the presented cases.

The group took Sundanese people (dominant inhabitants of West Java) and their meal tradition as an example. The people are used to eat by gathering and sitting on the floor, using their own hands to eat and a piece of banana leaf as a ‘plate’.

Meal tradition of Sundanese people

Banana leaf as a 'plate'

The discussion include the effects of the wrapper to the food (i.e. its taste and durability), and whether the people still possess the skill to wrap in different styles and to cook those different snacks/food.

Variations of banana leaf wraps

Snacks wrapped in banana leaves

More snacks wrapped in banana leaves

'Full' meal wrapped in banana leaves

Why banana leaf?

“Why Banana Leaf?” question yields, among others, the following answers:

– The banana trees are indigenous to Indonesia and are available in abundance

– Banana production has spread to 16 provinces and 17 regents

– Banana leaf wrapper infuses a certain fragrant to the wrapped food

In the end, it comes back to the matter of practicality. On one hand, banana wrappers have their benefits as an organic, biodegradable, food-grade material that enhance the taste and fragrant of the wrapped food. Moreover, considering the varieties of styles and forms, preserving this wrapping and cooking method also means preserving our food cultures and traditions. But on the other hand, this method requires particular ways of food treatments and preparations, a skill that should be mastered through an intensive exercise (and a huge amount of patience), and therefore can be achieved only by certain people. Food wrapped in banana leaves cannot stay too long, so it cannot stay in supermarket shelves along with i.e. other precooked food (keeping it in freezer would ruin the taste and textures); a fact that reduces its point in practicality. It is now therefore available mostly in particular restaurants and/or food stalls with ‘traditional’ theme.

The discussion went on about the relevant issues of sustainability, and how (Indonesian) designers could derive the essence of this food culture, in order to create a product or service that considers the use of organic materials as containers or perhaps even to adjust our diet and eating habit into the availability of food ingredients and their processing into our meals.

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