Bondowoso `tape', sweeter than its business

It's 6.30 a.m. when Iwan Susanto (alias Liong Kuy Tjen), 44, opens the "Sukses" store his family owns on Jl. Teuku Umar 66, Bondowoso, a small town located 200 kilometers East of Surabaya, East Java.

In the light green shop facing Bondowoso market, about 30 piles of bamboo boxes containing sweet tape - a snack made from fermented steamed cassava - produced two days earlier, are neatly arranged and ready for sale.

Iwan is the fifth child of Liong Khiam Shin and Giam Giok Ing. The man from China and his wife from Bondowoso were the first family to popularize this traditional snack as the town's favorite food and signature delicacy.

However, apart from the East Javanese or those visiting the town, people are more familiar with peuyeum, the same snack from Bandung, West Java, than Bondowoso tape. So business is still quite slow for the "Sukses" family.

According to Iwan, the family tape business dates back to the 1960s. At the time, young Liong Khiam Shin arrived from China and married Bondowoso-born Giam Giok Ing, later raising eight children.

They initially resided in Beringin district, an area famous for its yellow cassava, better known as singkong mentega (butter cassava), one of the varieties only grown in Bondowoso.

"Yellow cassava later became the main ingredient for Bondowoso tape production. White cassava doesn't make such a good tape," Iwan told The Jakarta Post at the end of December.

The Liongs used to run a general goods store in Beringin at the time. They noticed people in the neighborhood making tape for their own consumption, and selling it at the market when their stomachs couldn't fathom another one of those snacks.

When the family relocated to the center of town in 1965, the prevailing domestic political upheaval put pressure on members of the ethnic Chinese community, forcing Liong Khiam Shin to abandon his store and try his hand at producing tape.

"Iced syrup vendors were initially my parents main customers, who said the cassava snack we made was delicious if mixed with iced coconut milk," recalled Iwan, who used to help peel cassava while still in primary school.

Gradually, the family's tape became increasingly popular with townspeople because Giam Giok Ing painstakingly maintained the quality of the product, using special yeast from Solo, Central Java.

The fermentation produces a yellow and attractive cassava tape, with a soft texture and sweet taste as well as a tingly feeling from its moderate alcohol content.

Unlike other fermented cassava snacks, Liong's tape is moist. Buyers who have tasted his tape, which comes in one-kilogram, 1.25-kilogram and two-kilogram boxes, almost always come back for more. At Rp 6,000 a kilogram, who wouldn't?

And so Liong called the shop "Sukses", after his popular tape product. Liong painted the name himself on a wooden board.

"But residents of Bondowoso call our product tape 66, because our house is on Jl. Teuku Umar 66," said Iwan.

Bondowoso tape is different from peuyeum, says Iwan. The Bandung product undergoes an aerobic process, where the fermentation is exposed to air, whereas Bondowoso tape applies the anaerobic method, without the help of air.

"The steamed cassava is tightly wrapped in banana leaves in boxes to ensure full fermentation," Iwan explains, adding he uses up 1.2 tons of cassava for two days' worth of tape production.

This popular snack has nutritious value too. Professor Fleet, a microbiologist from New South Wales University, said in a lecture at the International Workshop on Food Fermentation in 1990 that compared with yoghurt and cheese, tape was nutritionally quite satisfactory.

It contains carbohydrates, vitamin A - which is good for the eyes, and vitamin B1 for nerves and the brain. The high vitamin A content is noticeable when the fermentation process produces yellowish tape.

Vitamin B1 deficiency causes lethargy, indigestion, nervous dysfunction and fatigue due to a lack of energy.

In Bondowoso, the other brands of tape besides "Sukses" or 66 are tape 31 from Wringin village, tape 82 on Jl. PB Sudirman, and tape Manalagi on Jl. RE Martadinata.

In addition to the usual tape, the snack is also modified into various other forms such as tape-based dodol (fudge), suwar-suwir (sweets), cakes and brownies.

Bondowoso regency has 6,552 hectares of cassava plantations in 21 of its 23 districts, producing more than 120,000 tons of cassava a year, or 3 percent of East Java's annual production.

In all the years Iwan's tape business has been operating, he says his family has never received any business management assistance from the regency administration.

"We need help with developing our business, but such assistance has never come. We've been working on our own, without the help of the Bondowoso regency administration. The fate of this business isn't as sweet as Bondowoso tape itself," said Iwan with a sour smile.

2 Comment:

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