Tumpeng in Javanese Food Culture

Tumpeng is one of the traditional foods in Indonesia that has various meaning, symbols, and represent the believe of people in Indonesia, especially among the Javanese tribe.

Tumpeng is a special Javanese ceremonial dish that has a large “cone” formed of rice surrounded by vegetables, egg, prawn, fish, chicken, or meat. These aditional dishes have specific set  that can vary depending on the occasion.

Tumpeng, food with various symbol and meaning

The “cone” form is a symbol of the mountain, where the “unseen” world exist. It is also the right way to express the high respect for the God. And it could be the symbol of unity, strength and powerfulness.

Tumpeng with white rice

Tumpeng is often served on a round bamboo platter called tampah that is covered and decorated with banana leaf. The color of the rice can be white, as a symbol of holiness. Or yellow rice as the symbol of happiness, wellness, and good hope in the future.

The white rice could be plain steamed rice, or uduk rice (cooked with coconut milk). The yellow rice is uduk rice that colored with turmeric. And many kind of dishes in Tumpeng is symbol of many problem in living which manageable can be solved.

Usually, tumpeng made to celebrate important event, a happy event like birthday or otherwise. Tumpeng could be somekind of thanks giving for the abundance of harvest or any other blessing. In the past, tumpeng also made to avoid disease, or death ceremony. For the death ceremony, they made a very modest tumpeng as a sign of grief.

Whatever the event, after the ceremony and pray together, tumpeng would cut and being enjoyed together, as a sign of togetherness. This is the way Javanese people enjoy tumpeng in the past.

They enjoy tumpeng together while sitting on a pandanese plaited mat. They put the food on a plate from banana leaves and eat with spoon they’ve also made from banana leaves.

Tumpeng should be eaten from the base, and not from the top, because the top side should be taken for the God. With tumpeng, people express the gratitude to God while appreciate togetherness and harmony with others.

Three Kinds of Tumpeng

These are 3 kinds of tumpeng and the ocasions where those tumpengs should be served:

1. Tumpeng Megana

Tumpeng Megana
  • A Javanese concept for complete and healthy food for all.
  • A remembrance to the parents as the beginning of everybody’s live (mergane ana)
  • For birthday event
  • Veggies: many kinds, color, textural properties, with shredded coconut make a unity in good flavor. This is  the symbol of capability to manage the problem in live makes it sweet experience.

Symbol meaning of the veggies:

  • long bean-hope to live longer
  • Mung bean sprout-symbol of development, fertile and prosperous
  • Green leaf-good spirit to do the best
  • Anchovy- symbol of good in cooperation and unity
  • Eggs-the strong power for reaching the goodness and better living in the future
  • Chicken curry-the hope for always meet the happiness and goodness during the life.

2. Tumpeng Rasulan:

Tumpeng Rasulan
  • A special remembrance to the good memory for daily life of Muhammad the prophet for muslim community.
  • A good combination of taste for the all sets of the food
  • Chicken: “ingkung” (specific whole body chicken curry) showing specific pray position.
  • Serving in special commemoration moment.
ingkung: whole body chicken curry showing specific pray position

3. Tumpeng Punar (yellow rice)

Tumpeng Punar
  • To express the happiness, thanks giving or other good events in life.
  • The set of the menu to complete the dish: all fried (and to preserved) cooked seeds (soy bean, peanuts), shredded meat, eggs.
  • Can be served in longer time.

Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Mrs Mary Elka Pangestu, in 2013 promoted tumpeng as one among 30 Indonesian culinary icons, and finally elevate its status as the official national dish of Indonesia in 2014. Mrs Mary Pangestu also describe tumpeng as “the dish that binds the diversity of Indonesian various culinary traditions.”(IN).


  1. Tumpeng in Javanese Food Culture, from a Seminar by Prof. Dr. Ir.  Murdijati Gardjito in Jogyakarta, May 2014.
  3. Serba-serbi Tumpeng, a book by Prof. Dr. Ir. Murdijati Garjito & Lily T. Erwin

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