Published in Batavia in the mid- 19th century, it is a collection of short Indonesian, Chinese and even Dutch recipes, written in hybrid Malay mixed with Dutch words – as can be seen from recipe names like Kwe Tulband, Pastij Oedang, or Stoof Ayam.
The cookbook was very popular and was reprinted at least nineteen times, well into the 1940s. The title Kokki Bitja, ‘Beloved Cook’, refers to the author, a certain ‘Nonna’ (miss) Cornelia, living at the ‘Tiada-Katahoewan‘ estate. We know very little about her, only that she suddenly passes away in 1859 only days before publication of the reprint, after a nervous fit in the kitchen while failing her ‘Kwee Broeder‘ cake, as the publishers tell us in their ‘Heartbreaking Words by the Publishers’ of the 5th edition.
When learning about the fact of the author’s untimely death it is hard to take seriously at first, since the story about her fit in the kitchen is told almost jokingly. Another quite suspicious piece of information is that Cornelia is said to have left behind a sealed package containing new recipes, of which her will stated they “weren’t to be used before the sixth printing”. However, her passing, on October 4, 1859, was published in the death notices of several newspapers in the Dutch Indies and the Netherlands, so it can’t be brushed off as fiction or a publisher’s stunt?
This certainly needs further study, but forewords and authorship put aside, we have a collection of about 120 short recipes of dishes that came to be the standard recipes in the Dutch Indies, and in the course of almost 100 years, Kokki Bitja became a household name. Most of the recipes are Indonesian – Javanese, but the book also features Chinese recipes and a collection of Dutch cakes and other baking recipes. As in other 19th century cookbooks, no specific amounts are given: it is written for knowledgable cooks. The recipes are basically a summing up of ingredients and the most basic steps of their preparation.
Back to recipe pictured above. It is very interesting because it is the earliest printed recipe of babi ketjap we know of, a dish well known even today by a large part of the Dutch population. It is one of the quintessential dishes that first springs to mind when thinking of Indonesian food.
Now, let’s give the Malay a try and decode the recipe, with the help of the Dutch translation by Wies van Maarseveen :
Pork in sweet soy sauce.
Boemboenja bawang poeti biar banjak,
The (bumbu) spice mixture is: garlic, quite a lot,
sapottong djae giling haloes toemis,
a piece of ginger, grated (mashed in an oelekan) and then fried,
abis taroh itoe babi di pottong ketjil-ketjil,
add pork, which has been cut into small pieces,
goreng same itoe boemboe,
fry it together with the spice mixture,
pepper, kecap (sweet Indonesian soy sauce),
miso atau taotjo,
miso or else taotjo,
aijer djeroek tipis,
water, lime/lemon juice,
masokin daon koetjai,
add some ‘daun kuchai’ (Chinese chives)
taroh aijer masak sampe kentel.
add water and cook until thickened.
The beginning is easy to follow. Indonesian spice mixtures are still called ‘boemboe’ (now spelled bumbu) in the Netherlands and sold as such in Dutch supermarkets. Djae or djahé is Malay for ginger-root. Cutting up pieces of pork and frying them with garlic and ginger, then adding pepper and drizzling in thick sweet soy sauce – we can start tasting it already, just by reading the description.
Then suddenly we are struck with the unexpected: at this point, the recipe tells us to add “miso or alternatively taotjo”.
Miso? Really? The miso we now know today, the Japanese ingredient? Miso is a fermented soy bean paste which comes in different varieties (white, light brown, nutty brown) and is used in Japanese cooking, especially in soups. Would Nonna Cornelia want us to add Japanese miso? As a substitute for miso she recommends using ‘taotjo’.
Taotjo or 豆酱 is a Chinese chunky fermented soy bean paste, sold as ‘Taotjo’ in the exact same spelling in Asian supermarkets in the Netherlands today. Since for Cornelia’s babi ketjap we need a fermented soybean paste – either miso or taotjo – this leads us to the conclusion the recipe’s origin is definitely Chinese.
The combination of garlic and ginger is a very common one in Chinese cooking, and using pork is another giveaway of this recipe having Chinese roots. Adding taotjo or miso at a later stage in the recipe reveals the ingredients aren’t part of the original Indonesian bumbu. In Chinese cooking, a fermented soybean paste is added to stews without being fried beforehand, ans is often used in combination with soy sauce and rock sugar. In this recipe, the sweet Indonesian kecap replaces soy and rock sugar, while lemon or lime juice adds an Indonesian twist – we don’t find lemon in traditional Chinese recipes, only vinegar.
Another interesting addition is ‘daon koetjai’, now spelled ‘daun kuchai’ – the Hokkien pronounciation of the herb jiucai 韭菜, also known as Chinese chives. Spring onions would seem to be the more obvious choice for a Chinese pork stew, but those are called ‘daun bawang’ in Malay – so daon koetjai is referring to Chinese chives.
We are curious how many later recipes for babi ketjap are featuring Chinese chives – in the more recent recipes in the Netherlands they have not survived, nor is miso or taotjo known as a babi ketjap ingredient today.
NOTES AND FURTHER READING:
- The photograph of the babi ketjap recipe is taken from the 9th edition of Kokki Bitja (1895), Leiden University Libraries, Special Collections Reading Room M dd 83
- Kokki Bitja: online version from Hathi Trust, 6th edition 1864. Full title reads: Kokki Bitja, atau, Kitab masak-masakan India, jang baharoe dan samporna […]. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100176382 , accessed 27 March 2015
- “Voorrede van Kokki Bitja”. Foreword to Kokki Bitja. Bataviaasch Nieuwsblad, 3 December 1859. http://resolver.kb.nl/resolve?urn=ddd:110531810:mpeg21:a0034
- Wies van Maarseveen wrote a series on Kokki Bitja’s cookbook in the journal Orion, 1984-1985.
- Miso: William Shurtleff: History of Miso, p. 7. Soyinfocenter, 2009.
http://www.soyinfocenter.com/pdf/130/Miso.pdf , accessed 21 March 2015.
- Taotjo: http://tokowijzer.nl/taotjo , accessed 27 March 2015.