Indonesian Kitchen Spices

Indonesian Kitchen Spices
(Bumbu Dapur)

MortarIndonesian Mortar
(Coet and Mutu)

The preparation of an Indonesian meal usually begins with the crushing of fresh indonesian kitchen spices (bumbu dapur) and herbs into a spice paste known as Bumbu. This hand grinding is accomplished with a cobek and ulek ulek (mortar and pestle) which pulverizes the ingredients and creates as a gestalt between them that is hard to match using a food processor or blender.

Not to worry how ever if you don't have access to a mortar as most novices won't notice the difference. You can always use a food processor, or simply mince things up into ultra-fine little bits. For a more authentic effect, run the bits over a few times with a dough roller to mash them together a little. If a blender is used it will probably be necessary to add additional liquid to get things going. Depending on the recipe add water, oil or coconut milk, and compesate by using fewer liquids later. You can also run your bumbu ingredients through an electric or hand cranked meat grinder for results similiar to a mortar.

Buying a Mortar

Mortars can be found in a variety of ethnic markets as well as some kitchen shops. Indonesian cobeks come in two varieties. One in hand chiseled from volcanic stone and the other made from a terra cotta clay. You might locate an authentic cobek in a Dutch market or a very similar one sold by Asian grocer. One substitute is the Mexican metate. However because it's intended for grinding corn, it's often too coarse for seeds and the like. White porcelain mortars impirted China are useful here for busting up the fine stuff.



To season a new mortar, scrub and rinse it well with water and allow it to dry. Next drop a couple of cloves of garlic in and start crushing them with the pestle. Work the garlic into the porous surface of the mortar with circular motions. Do this for a few minutes before scrubbing out the residue and allowing to dry.


A good scrubing with a brush and rinsing with hot water is sufficient to clean your mortar as most indonesian kitchen spices are antiseptic by their very nature and tend to discourage bacteria.


It really isn't all that difficult to grind a bumbu. I've seen frail grandmothers do it without breaking a sweat. If it seems like a huge chore you're probably trying too hard. First line up all the ingredients in advance. Garlic and shallots should be peeled first and the larger or more fibrous ingredients such as ginger and lemon grass should be grated or chopped into manageable pieces.

Some seeds such as cumin and coriander are best grilled first in a dry wok. This will make them crisper and easier to crush as well as more aromatic. just heat a wok without oil and throw in a few tablespoons of seeds. Stir them constantly for just a few minutes they darken.

The recipes in this blog list bumbu ingredients in the order in which they should be ground. In general you should start by grinding the smaller seeds and nuts. Use short back and forth motions, pushing down and pivoting the pestle as you go. Next grind the tough fibrous stuff like ginger and lemon grass. Follow these with the most elements such as garlic and shallots. Next add the liquid ingredients like tamarind water and vinegar. Dry indonesian kitchen spices like terasi or powdered turmeric can be added last. If the mortar is small, you may have to split the quantities up and recombine them later.

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