I first discovered papaya flowers in the wet market of Pasar Mayestik in South Jakarta. More famous as a fabric market, the food section at Pasar Mayestik captured my attention as I discovered a myriad of traditional fruits and vegetables as well as spices and herbs – many of which are indigenous to Indonesia. I recall seeing little plastic bags containing what appeared to be flower buds, hanging from many of the stalls. What would you do with these, I wondered…
Feeling a little overwhelmed, and with very little grasp of the Indonesian language, I was unable to inquire as to the contents. Fortunately not long after this, my curiosity was satisfied as served up at a function celebrating the diverse cuisine of the Indonesian archipelago was Tumis Bunga Pepaya (Stir-fried Pepaya flowers). I instantly recognised the flower buds and promptly learned that the dish was typical of Manadonese cuisine of North Sulawesi.
The flavours of Tumis Bunga Pepaya were unlike anything I’d tasted before with hints of bitterness, saltiness and heat.
A simple dish to make, this recipe celebrates the diverse ingredients available in Indonesia and makes for an interesting and original addition to your Indonesian cooking repertoire.
ajb’s Recipe for Tumis Bunga Pepaya
(Serves 5 persons)
200 grams of papaya leaf buds & flowers (washed, trimmed and wilted flowers removed)
6 shallots, thinly sliced
5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
3 Tb coconut cooking oil
4 red and 4 green chilli, thinly sliced (seeds reduced for less heat)
100 grams dried Indonesian anchovy (ikan asin), soaked for 30 mins (minimum), drained then dry fried
3 fresh Indonesian bay leaves, shredded
3 cm galangal, crushed and sliced very finely
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1. Rinse salted fish (ikan asin) in fresh water then place in bowl of fresh water and soak for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside
2. Meanwhile, in a pot of salted water, boil papaya flowers and papaya leaf buds until almost soft, to remove bitterness. Drain and set aside
3. Heat the cooking oil and sauté shallots and garlic until soft and fragrant
4. Add chilli, galangal and bay leaves, frying off until wilted
5. Add the papaya flowers and papaya buds, continuously stirring until cooked through (papaya should be almost soft)
6. Season with a pinch or two of salt and sugar, stirring well
7. Fry the drained salted fish and add to papaya flower blend, mixing well. Cook until the storks of papaya are soft
8. Remove from heat and serve with krupuk (Indonesian crackers) and nasi puti (steamed rice).
- Add less chilli if you prefer a more mild flavour
- Add a dash or two of Indonesia’s favourite sauce, Kecap Manis to add some sweetness to the dish
- A squeeze of two of jeruk nipis (key lime) will add more zing to this dish
- The heart of a banana flower, finely sliced and prepared as above, can be substituted for Papaya flowers in this recipe
About Manadonese Cuisine
Manadonese cuisine or Minahasan cuisine is the name given to the traditional cooking of the Minahasan people of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. It is most commonly known as “Manadonese cuisine” referring to the city of Manado; the capital of the province. Manadonese cuisine often features a variety of seafood cooked with an abundance of spices and can be very hot, (‘pedas’). The most frequently used spices and secondary ingredients in Manadonese cuisine include lemongrass, citrus leaves, lime juice, chilli, spring onions, shallots, garlic and candlenut.
Due to the influence of the Dutch, Manadonese cuisine also features many European-influenced cakes and pastries.
Indonesia’s renowned Chef Ibu Petty Elliott originates from Manado and is well-known for her modern Indonesian cuisine. Petty attributes her childhood in Manado, where she spent much time in her grandmother’s kitchen, as a significant influence on her style of cuisine. Read ajb’s interview with Petty.
About Papaya Flowers
Papaya plants occur in one of three sexual forms: male, female and hermaphrodite. Male flowers do not have an ovary and therefore do not produce fruit. Instead the male papaya flowers contain stamens bearing pollen that can pollinate a papaya flower with an ovary, causing it to produce a fruit. Male flowers are noticeably different from those of other papaya types as they display large numbers of flowers on branched stalks.
As the flowers of the male papaya plant do not mature into fruit, it is these flowers and flower buds that are generally used in cooking, including today’s recipe.
Other edible flowers of Indonesia
Bunga kecombrang – Found in a variety of Indonesian dishes, Bunga kecombrang is used in different ways throughout the Archipelago. In Bali, the flower and stalk of kecombrang are used in sambal matah. In Javanese dishes, the flower is a common part of pecel, mixed with other vegetables. In Karo in North Sumatra, Bunga kecombrang is used in their popular dish, arsik ikan mas.
Bunga pisang – Bunga pisang is the edible heart of the flower of the Banana plant. Bunga pisang is great in salads, soups and stews or cut into fine strips and eaten raw in salads with a hot spicy sambal.
Bunga telang (Butterfly Pea) flower – Indigenous to the Island of Ternate in Eastern Indonesia, Bunga telang contains extremely intense blue pigments which when added to water, produces a deep blue hue. Many health benefits are attributed to Bunga telang including enhancement of memory, reduction of hair loss and as an antidepressant.
Did you find today’s blog post of interest to you? We certainly hope so! For more posts related to today’s recipe, we suggest you check out:
Words: Jo Photography: a journey bespoke