Stuff of Legends: Hayatinufus Tobing – The Indonesian Cuisine Walking Dictionary (The Foodie Magazine, July 2014)

Meet the hidden legend with vast knowledge about Indonesian cuisine, Mrs Hayatinufus Tobing. The unsung heroine told us a lot about what she had gone through for decades to promote the best from Indonesia through her education and her experience.

We should all feel lucky for living in an age where young, aspiring foodies and chefs are working hand-in-hand with the culinary legends on a noble mission to promote Indonesian cuisine and culture to the world. So many inspiring acts that we can draw from this relationship and thus we are exposed to so many things we haven’t heard before in a short amount of time.

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Let’s take it for instance with our benevolent “Om” William Wongso as he guides ACMI (Aku Cinta Makanan Indonesia), a team of young minds on a route to discover and preserve the rich legacy of Indonesian cuisine. Without the inspiration and hard work from the old guards such as William Wongso for example, probably the younger generation would only revere foreign personas and may be straying off from the original route to promote our tradition, or at least slowed down in the progress.

Our search for the legend for this issue brought us to meet Mrs Hayatinufus Tobing, a 78-year-old spirited lady with an immense experience about Indonesian traditional cuisine. She was more than happy to meet us and enthusiastic to share her two cents about what she had gone through for the past five decades.

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The journey to meet Ibu Tobing was something that I enjoyed although hardships always color my experience in meeting up these legends, including her. After transiting twice using the train all the way to the west, I had to fight the notorious traffic of Ciledug just to get myself inside this homey neighborhood. Arriving at her house, I was more than happy to be welcomed by Ibu Tobing and her journalist daughter.

After we waited for awhile, Ibu Tobing joined us on the living room, already clad in formal cloth and head scarf, ready for the interview. “My silver hair is all messy and hard to comb as I no longer go out as frequently as I used to, that’s also why I’m using the head scarf to make me comfortable when meeting people. Please pardon my old age”, she said cheerfully.

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When asked about how it all started, Ibu Tobing unhurriedly told me a story about her studies in the all-woman school back in 1950s Surabaya. “Indonesia used to have the all-woman schools with a curriculum that taught us so many skills from homemaking, cooking, and even teaching”, she said. “I personally benefitted a lot from this type of schooling because I became skilled in many aspect and we were taught to be active and reliable. Not only that, we became disciplined individuals with good mannerism as well”, she further added but lamenting the fact that this kind of school is no longer there now.

For the degree completion, the students were required to be posted on rural provinces outside of Java and teach in local schools. “I was posted deep in Kalimantan and it was a really challenging experience. We clean ourselves daily on the stream nearby the village and we live on a rumah panggung where at night giant turtles would pass us by and occasional hit the house. At first I was frightened because it felt as if the house would crumble down!” she reminisced.

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The destined moment happened when she’s married to her late husband and they moved to Jakarta to start a family. “In Jakarta, I continued to become a teacher in several schools at once. However as time went by, I grew weary because kids were not as well-mannered as their previous generation had been”, she told us. Her husband nevertheless supported her, but knowing her skills, he decided to create an application letter for Femina magazine for her and she’s soon called for a job interview.

“At first I was reluctant but I decided to accept the job offer. Well, who would have guessed that I ultimately enjoy my work there”, said Ibu Tobing who became the magazine’s recipe tester for 17 years.

With her husband as a health inspector, she often joined his trips to other provinces and abroad. “While my husband goes out for work, I visited local places of interest especially if related to food. I will jot down any knowledge the locals shared me and once back to Jakarta, I tried out the recipe again”, said Ibu Tobing. “My husband had always been so supportive and that’s why I became so adventurous when I was young”, Ibu Tobing continued with smile.

After her retirement, Ibu Tobing later joined a band of home cooks to create a publishing group called Yasa Boga. Together with her group and also by herself alongside with William Wongso, she has published around 60 recipe books locally and many can also be found in Singapore and Malaysia. Specifically with Yasa Boga, the group has sold more than 1,000,000 exemplars since 1986.

What’s interesting as well was the fact that a home cook of extensive knowledge like Ibu Tobing can produce a book about different cuisines, dictionary about ingredients, and also a guide for professional chef. Her enthusiasm is a fiery one even at this age, and it would be waste for us young professionals or aficionados to not follow the footsteps of this fine lady.



Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE July 2014 edition

Download it for free here via SCOOP!

Photography by Dennie Benedict


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