As a staple food of most people in both Papua and West Papua Provinces, sago (Metroxylon sagu) plantation has been cultivated for many years in the areas. It is in fact popular as well in other regions across the archipelago such as Maluku, South Sulawesi, Borneo, and Sumatra. Sago starch that many people may have known of is a result of extraction from sago trees. The starch is usually cooked into different kinds of dishes including Papeda.
Sago trees which resemble palm trees can be found in forests, especially in marshy areas. They can grow as high as 15 meters and 10-15 meters in diameter. In order to bring sago to the kitchen, it takes quite a process. Local farmers would start it with cutting down a bark and dividing it into some parts. Next steps are grinding and extracting the sago barks to make starch out of it. Depending on the tree sizes, the process usually takes about 3 to 5 days.
Indigenous farmers do not really consider sago as a commodity. Their main focus is to take it for personal consumption. Only when there is remaining starch, they will sell it at a market. It costs about Rp200,000 for 15 kilograms of sago starch.
The Government’s Efforts to Promote Sago as a Commodity
The Government has been doing their best to improve the economic growth in Papua island. One of the efforts is holding an online seminar of Pekan Sagu Nusantara (Nusantara Sago Week) back in October 2020. Through this event, the Deputy Governor of West Papua Mohammad Lakotani mandated the regional apparatus organization (Organisasi Perangkat Daerah) to make use of sago as a local food resource not only on regular occasions but also on the formal ones.
In the event attended by the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and the Provincial Government officers, 100 variants of sago products other than Papeda were also introduced including sago meatballs, sago noodles, and the replacement of rice made of sago.
The Deputy Governor also highlighted West Papua being the second largest area for sago cultivation in Indonesia after Papua, which is 510,000 hectares yet only 3.93% of the land has been used to grow sago trees. Therefore, the regional government will prioritize the welfare of the local farmers so that they can cultivate sago optimally.
Other Sago Dishes from West Papua that You can Enjoy
You must have known Papeda, the staple food of most Papuans made of either dry or wet sago starch mixed with boiled water and stirred until it thickens. They usually enjoy it with delicious side dishes such as stir-fried papaya flowers or steamed fish in yellow broth. Below are the other sago delicacies you should know.
Bagea (Sago Cakes)
The sweet and salty cake is made with sago flour, walnuts, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and peanuts. The brown cake has a small, round shape with a little rough texture but it will melt in your mouth. The crunchiness of the walnuts and peanuts as well as the spices contained in the cake makes it taste uniquely.
Gani Nu (Grilled Sago)
Gani Nu is a snack made of sago using a clay mold known as aba na. Using a strainer, wet sago starch is filtered and mixed with coconut that has been grated. When a dough is formed, it is usually mixed with some palm sugar. Then, the dough is grilled on special firewood to stabilize the heat. When it is done, you will be spoilt with sweet and crunchy textures!
Sagu Lempeng (Sago Bread)
Just like regular bread, this sago treat is made through a baking process. The shape is rectangular like a plate making it called Sagu Lempeng. The bread is usually enjoyed with coffee or tea to soften its hard textures.
Baha-Baha (Sago Pancakes)
Another sago delicacy popular in West Papua is Baha-Baha. This sweet sago pancake is served with simple preparation. Wet sago is dried and filtered with a sieve before being stirred with grated coconut. This process makes a dough which is then heated on a pan with some cooking oil. After getting brown, the dough which has turned into a pancake is served folded or rolled.
Habo Kon/Sagu Bia Kodok (Sago with Black Cockle Filling)
This traditional sago dish tastes rather sweet and savory as it is cooked with bia kodok or large, black cockles (in Papuan language bia means cockles) that can be found in mangrove plantations. To start it with, the cockle meat is cleaned and boiled while dried sago starch is mixed with shallot, chilies, grated coconut, coriander, as well as some brown sugar and salt. Chopped cockle meat is filled inside the sago dough and then put inside the shells as the mold before being grilled.
There are many more types of sago delicacy in West Papua that you have to know and taste. Visit the region to discover more about delicious Papuan culinary dishes.