Tumpeng: Indonesian Birthday Party Celebration

*ahem* it’s November. It’s my birthday month. Yay. Let’s talk about birthday.

When I was a kid, celebrating a birthday would be really important and lot of fun. Especially when you can invite your friends, singing birthday songs with 90’s VCD player, blowing up the candles, playing games etc. As my mom was a working woman who needs to manage her time and money, we never did something like that. Instead, we made nasi kuning and shared it in our neighboorhood.

Symbol in Nasi Tumpeng

Honestly, looking back what my mom did for my birthday, I feel grateful. Especially when I know that Nasi Kuning is more than yellow rice (nasi=rice, yellow=kuning) with seven toppings (?). It has plenty of symbols behind everything in between.

Nasi Kuning originally comes from Java. When javanese tried to move into another island, they started to influence the new land with nasi kuning. Now, we have various nasi kuning like Nasi kuning Banjar, Nasi kuning Manado, and Nasi Kuning Ternate. It usually serves in a special event like birthday, wedding celebration, or as opening the new store.

Nasi kuning comes in many forms now. Traditionally for special occasions, it will come in cone shaped called Tumpeng. The yellow cone shape itself means golden mountain as a symbol of fortune. It means it will bring more fortune and good properity. In Bali, yellow means one the sacred color beside black, white, and red. So that’s why they serve nasi kuning during Kuningan ritual.

Nasi Kuning usually surrounded with seven other food. Seven means pitu in javanese it also as acronym of pitulungan aka help. It means that human asking for help from the God while in this world. We believe that God is the only one who help us during hard time in life.

Some people still use the rooster to serve in their tumpeng. It as reminder that we need to avoid rooster’s behaviour such as arrogant, always right, and like to interrupt.

We also have hard boiled eggs with its shells means that we need to do work before we get what need. Lately, I find it when it already peeled and fried and cooked as balado telur. Sometimes it also already cut in half when it serve or look like tamago and thinly sliced.

As the garnish, Nasi kuning also use the red pepper. It is usually put it on the top of the nasi kuning but trend is changing and people rarely put it on the somewhere else. The red pepper will cut and ‘curled’ if we put it on the cold water for several hours. It is symbolized of flames that will enlighten you and people around you.

Society is always fluid and so nasi kuning. It is not all those formal anymore. People can serven in any modification based on their preference. ou can also easily get it in the street as breakfast or lunch. The trend is people start to use Telang Flower aka Clitorea Ternatea as colorant for rice. With blue-ish to red color, they rarely make it in cone shaped.

Nasi Kuning Recipe


  • 500g white rice
  • 50g sticky rice, soaked for 30minutes, drained
  • 6cm turmeric, grated and get the extract
  • 200ml thick Coconut milk
  • 600ml water
  • 1 lemongrass
  • 2 bayleaf
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • salt
  • 2tsp lime juice

How To Make Nasi Kuning

  1. Mix the rice and sticky rice. Steamed until it halfcooked. Set aside.
  2. In the big pot, xix the coconut milk, turmeric extract, and water. Add the lemongrass, bayleaf, kaffir limes leaves, and salt. Bring it to boil but keep stirring gently to avoid the coconut milk getting cracked.
  3. Add the rice mix to the big pot. With the low heat setting, stir it gently until the rice absorb the coconut milk mixture. Turn off the heat. Add the lime juice.
  4. In the steamer pot, steam the rice for 20 minutes with low heat. The low heat will bring the rice more tender and better lifespand. If you want to make the tumpeng, it is easier to shaped them while its hot.