tips for the table: javanese style

Growing up in Central Java, I was brought up with many strong customs about what food to eat, and when and how to eat it. Some of it folklore, some of it religious, all of it traditional.

We were taught not to make a sound while chewing be­cause the sound resembles animals eating, especially cows.

When eating on the floor, men are permitted to sit cross-legged, however women must sit with their thighs togeth­er as it’s considered rude to sit with your legs open.

In contemporary Java, many people now eat with cutlery, however traditionally, we eat with our hands.

Some food is considered damaging for our spiritual growth. For example, we don’t eat catfish or pork be­cause we believe that it drains our energy. Sometimes my modern mind questions this, but then my traditional mind thinks that there must be a reason why my ancestors considered it forbidden.

Food is how we Javanese connect to our universe. Since I was a child, my mother taught me that the most important thing was not what we were eating, but the time we spent together.

We must eat with the right hand, even if we are left handed. When taking food from the table, one must use the right hand, serving the father first, then the mother.

Unlike the Balinese, who don’t sit down together for daily meals, the Javanese do.

We were taught that it is very important to stop eating be­fore we are full. It’s a way to learn how not to be greedy.

We were taught to respect rice by honoring Shri Dewi, the Goddess of rice, and we do this by never leaving any rice on our plate.

Young Javanese women are forbidden to eat chicken wings and buttocks as it’s considered bad luck.

Single woman eating from the same serving dish will be unlucky in love.

When I was growing up, every Monday night we did white fasting, “mutih”, where we only ate rice and drank water for 24 hours. We believe this fasting helps to purify our mind, body, and soul. I still practice this fasting because I believe it’s a good way to learn to detach from food.

As a woman, I try to eat intuitively because my body knows which food is healthy for me and what is not. As a mother of an active 17-year-old son, I do my best to serve healthy food and be a good example when it comes to eating habits. These guiding Javanese principles are influential when choosing which food to put in my body and to serve friends and family. 

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