Tempeh, Uniquely Indonesia

All countries in the world are unique in their place. But as an Indonesian, I dare to say that Indonesia is a very unique country.

Not only because Indonesia has more than 300 different ethnic groups and culture attractions throughout the archipelago, but also we have so many things that happen only in Indonesia.

As a food blogger, for some times I had been thinking of a truly uniquely Indonesian dish. Then one day it crossed my mind that Tempe or famously known as Tempeh in English, is one of the traditional soy foods that is uniquely Indonesia.


Yeah, Tempe is the most unique among major traditional soy-foods and it is the only one that did not originate in China or Japan……..

It originated in Indonesia, and is especially popular on the island of Java, where it is a staple source of protein. Like tofu, Tempe is made from soybeans, but Tempe is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities.

Tempe’s fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber and vitamins. It has a firm texture and strong flavor. Because of its nutritional value, Tempe is used worldwide in vegetarian cuisine, some consider it to be a meat analogue.

The Taste of Tempe

Tempe is delicious, healthy, and economical. It is a favorite at kitchens because it’s easy to cook and quickly serve. Its nougat-like texture easily absorbs the flavors of food with which it is prepared.

Tempe can be prepared in hundreds of ways. A good Tempe is firm, tender and chewy with a unique mild, nutty flavor.

Tempe is now becoming more popular all around the world even more popular than in its original home, Indonesia.

People all over the world now are looking for ways to live healthier life and Tempe has become a favorite healthy choice the world over.

However, Indonesia is still the biggest Tempe producer in the world and is the biggest soy market in Asia.

Lets Cook Tempe

In the kitchen, Tempe is often prepared by cutting it into pieces, soaking in brine or salty sauce, and then frying.

Cooked Tempe can be eaten alone, or used in chili, stir fries, soups, salads, sandwiches, and stews.

Tempe has a complex flavor that has been described as nutty, meaty, and mushroom-like.

Tempe freezes well, and is now commonly available in many western supermarkets as well as in ethnic markets and health food stores.

For a twist on the traditional sandwich, place broiled Tempe on a slice of whole grain bread, layer with sauerkraut, top with cheese or  soy cheese, then broil in oven for a few minutes until the sandwich is hot and toasty.

Try adding some Tempe to a stir fry dish instead of tofu, or crumble into soups or chili. Because of it’s firm texture, you need to slice Tempe into small dices or cubes, not more than 2 cm thick.

When thin sliced and deep fried in oil, Tempe obtains a crispy golden crust while maintaining a soft interior—its sponge-like consistency make it suitable for marinades. Dried Tempe (whether cooked or raw) provides an excellent stew base for backpackers.

In Indonesia, particularly in Java island Tempe is very popular. There are so many Tempe dishes can be found and here are some interesting ones:

Tempe Mendoan

It’s a thinly sliced Tempe, battered and deep fried quickly resulting in limp texture.  

The origin of the word mendoan is from Banyumas regional dialect, which means “to cook instantly in very hot oil”, that results in semi-raw cooking] and soft texture.

The Tempe is dipped into spiced flour dressing before frying it in hot oil for a short time. Tempe Mendoan may seem like half-cooked soft fried Tempe, unlike common crispy fully deep fried Tempe.

Sate Tempe or Tempeh Satay

The Tempe is marinated with a traditional Indonesian spice paste named Bumbu Rujak or mixed spicy sauce prior to grilling.

Tempe Penyet (Pressed Tempeh)

Indonesians almost eat everything with sambal. Sambal is a condiment   made from a variety of  chilies (red chilies, green chilies, bird’s eye chilies) are the most common.

Sambal is used as a condiment or as a side dish, and is sometimes substituted for fresh chilies; it can be very hot for the uninitiated.

Tempe Penyet is my favorite Tempe dish. It is really a unique dish of Indonesia.

After the Tempe is fried, covered with sambal and pressed using pestle a shallow mortar so that the sambal can penetrate the Tempe. It is usually served with warm rice and raw vegetables.

Sambal Tumpang (Vegetable salad with Tempeh dressing)

Tempe is also used as salad dressing called ‘Sambal Tumpang’ – this is another unique dish of Indonesia!

Back in 24 August 2010, I have posted the recipe of Sambal Tumpang in my older post titled “Cooking to Celebrate Independence Day” – check it out!


  • Foodinfo.net
  • Wikipedia
  • WHFood
  • IndonesiaEats

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