The Indonesian Cuisine Walking Dictionary
Meet the hidden legend with vast knowledge about Indonesian cuisine, Ibu Hayatinufus Tobing. The unsung heroine shares with us what she had gone through for decades to promote the best from Indonesia through her education and her experiences.
We are in an age where young, aspiring foodies and chefs work hand-in-hand with the culinary legends on a noble mission to promote Indonesian cuisine and culture to the world. Take for instance, the work the William Wongso does with Aku Cinta Masakan Indonesia (ACMI), a team of young minds on a route to discover and preserve the rich legacy of Indonesian cuisine.
Our search for the legend brought us to meet Ibu Hayatinufus Tobing, a 78-year-old spirited lady with an immense experience about Indonesian traditional cuisine.
We had to fight the notorious traffic of Ciledug just to get myself inside this homey neighborhood. Arriving at her home, I was more than happy to be welcomed by Ibu Tobing and her journalist daughter.
Ibu Tobing joined us on the living room, clad in formal cloth and head scarf, ready for the interview. “My silver hair is all messy and hard to comb as I no longer go out as frequently as I used to, that’s also why I’m using the head scarf to make me comfortable when meeting people. Please pardon my old age,” she said cheerfully.
Ibu Tobing gave us an unhurried and unabridged version of her story, from her studies in the all-women school back in 1950s Surabaya. “Indonesia used to have the all-women schools with a curriculum that taught us so many skills from homemaking, cooking, and even teaching,” she said.
For the degree completion, the students were required to be posted in rural provinces outside of Java and teach in local schools. “I was posted deep in Kalimantan and it was a really challenging experience. We washed ourselves daily in the stream nearby the village and we lived on a rumah panggung where at night giant turtles would pass us by and occasional hit the house. At first I was frightened because it felt as if the house would crumble down!” she reminisced.
The destined moment happened when she married her now late husband and they moved to Jakarta to start a family. “In Jakarta, I continued to become a teacher at several schools at once. However as time went by, I grew weary because kids were not as well-mannered as their previous generation had been,” she told us. Her husband nevertheless supported her, but knowing her skills, he decided to create an application letter for Femina magazine for her and she was soon called for a job interview.
“At first I was reluctant but I decided to accept the job offer. Well, who would have guessed that I would ultimately enjoy my work there,” said Ibu Tobing who became the magazine’s recipe tester for 17 years.
After her retirement, Ibu Tobing later joined a band of home cooks to create a publishing group called Yasa Boga. Together with her group and also by herself alongside with William Wongso, she has published around 60 recipe books locally and many can also be found in Singapore and Malaysia. Specifically with Yasa Boga, the group has sold more than 1,000,000 copies since 1986.
What’s interesting as well was the fact that a home cook of extensive knowledge like Ibu Tobing can produce a book about different cuisines, with a glossary of ingredients, and also a guide for professional chefs. Her enthusiasm is a fiery one even at this age, and it would be a waste for us young professionals or aficionados to not follow the footsteps of this fine lady.