Going out to eat local cuisines such as Nasi Goreng or Gado-Gado, it’s not uncommon to request to the vendor to double the amount of kerupuk (or cracker) added to it.
We don’t eat it for snacks like the Mexicans do with their tortilla chip but mostly to “accompany” our food. Its taste and how they make it wouldn’t exactly fit into the definition of “modern cuisine”, but it is always there since our childhood, ready at the dinner table of most households. We never question how it tasted (except if it’s stale due to it being exposed for too long out in the open air) but we know that it’s tasty and we must have it at every meal.
So let’s define what makes this kerupuk “tasty”: in general it is made out of a combination of tapioca or wheat flour, herbs, and elements of meat such as fish, prawn or even skin of a water buffalo, which makes it savory, sometimes a bit salty. They are grated, sun-dried, and are mostly deep fried, though some may be roasted. But for most Indonesians the most important thing about kerupuk that it has to be crunchy. Yup, just like those potato chips made constantly available in your nearby minimarket in a snazzy pack- age, these crackers MUST be crunchy—which begs the question why it’s not made read- ily available in your nearby minimarket in a snazzy package. So far there is no certain history of where kerupuk originated. It could be an adaptation of the crackers found in European countries that are served with tea in the afternoon, which is why other Asian countries like Chinese, Malaysia, and Viet- nam also has their own version of kerupuk. An old tall tale described its “ascend” in the local food chain when a poor family sustained themselves with a simple dish made out of grated and sun-dried cassava root—the basis for tapioca flour.
But, not to be mistaken, today’s cassava cracker is classified (in Bahasa’s terminology) as keripik, similarly crunchy but bite size, often sweet, and are mostly made from a mix of fruits (such as the keripik pisang or keripik apel Malang), tubers, and vegetables. “And, interestingly, sometimes we never even noticed how that kerupuk tasted as long it’s there,” says Marsellus Adrianus, who with his mother has a home business of selling nasi uduk and bubur ayam, two local dishes that are served with emping, a mini-size kerupuk with a slightly bitter taste, made out of melinjo nut. “That’s why emping is best with nasi uduk or bubur ayam—their savory content goes well with emping’s bitter taste so it makes the overall feeling more full.”