Forays in tempeh making, an epic story that spans oceans and the ages

Ah, tempeh — hailing from neighboring Indonesia,  the vegetarian protein darling in North America, and never to be found in the Philippines. Tempeh is a cake made from culturing beans — traditionally soy — with the spores of Rhizopus oligosporus. High in protein, fiber, and vitamin B-12, it is a boon to vegetarians and vegans everywhere. The fermentation process breaks down the phytic acid normally occurring in soy, making nutrients more bioavailable.

Enough with the health lesson and on to its deliciousness. I am a huge fan of tempeh and have had it in traditional Indonesian cuisine and western vegetarian cuisine. North Americans love making tempeh into veggie burgers, bacon, bolognese sauce, sandwiches, savory pies — the culinary applications are limitless.

Blast from cooking school past: pan seared tempeh with pineapple salsa

My unrequited love affair with tempeh began 2 years ago when I had the most delectable dish at Satay Junction, a hole-in-the-wall Indonesian restaurant in the West Village, New York City. Terong tempe belado, or tempeh with a concasse of eggplant, tomatoes, and chili — oh how I dream of it to this day! Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, it had a spicy profile with the power to clear sinuses  up  and kill a grown man’s tastebuds. The eggplant was cooked to a creamy perfection, the onions were caramelized to high heavens… It was love at first bite and I was determined to recreate that dish in my kitchen, oh if only I could find a local tempeh supplier!

I never did find a local supplier 😦

To add fuel to the fire, Satay Junction is now closed 😦 😦

Fast forward to 2012. I recently traveled to Indonesia to visit my brother and sister-in-law and with an agenda in mind:

  1. Inhale as many tempeh dishes as I could while I’m there
  2. Find the yeast needed to transform beans into magical tempeh so I can make tempeh back home on demand

And inhale tempeh I did.

Spicy tempeh with tomatoes and eggplant, Tempeh steak with mushroom gravy
from Milas Vegetarian Restaurant, Yogyakarta

Tempeh and tofu curry, Tempeh with vegetables in coconut milk
from The Sawah, Yogyakarta

Satay tempeh for brunch in Yogyakarta after scaling the Borobudur Temple

Kering tempe (sweet and spicy fried tempeh with peanuts) from a vegetarian cooking class at Bumbu Bali in Ubud, Bali

Grilled tempeh curry at Sari's Organic in Ubud, Bali.
Come for the organic food, stay for the view.

Finding the yeast turned into some sort of treasure hunt meets the amazing race in a traditional market in Yogyakarta…


With my brother’s and sister-in-law’s limited Bahasa, my determination to find this confounded yeast (I had visions of homemade tempeh grandeur and that tempe terong belado was still haunting my dreams), crazy traffic that can give Divisoria a run for its money, and time constraints to have a late lunch at The Sawah before catching an early afternoon flight to Jakarta, we set out on a journey. An innocent inquiry with Milas about the yeast lead to the market escapade in Jalan Malioboro, incessant pestering of the different vendors for “ragi untuk tempe” (yeast for tempeh)… We almost gave up, thinking it was too impossible to find this yeast and that I would have to live a sad, tempeh-less life in Manila.

BUT! One vendor — bless her heart — said to look for a “jamu jamu” (traditional medicine shop) and from one end of the market, up 3 flights of stairs and down 3 flights of stairs, making our way through street food vendors, batik sarong vendors, and dry food vendors, we found said jamu jamu in the other end. And whaddayaknow…

Needless to say, I bought 2.5 kg of this stuff (a little goes a long way — I think I bought a lifetime supply) because I knew very well that I wouldn’t be visiting a traditional Indonesian market any time soon.

And my visions of tempeh grandeur?

Yes, this doesn’t look like much, but that photo on the right is my key to homemade tempe terong belado glory.

I actually bought locally sourced organic soybeans in Mercato Centrale a year ago knowing that someday, one day, I will find my tempeh spore (prince), make beautiful tempeh (babies), and live happily ever after.

The end.

Moral of the story:

  1. I think too much about food and making food.
  2. I shall share my never-ending love for tempeh to the world, if it’s the last thing I do. Watch out for tempeh cooking classes.


Filed under Ladidah, The inner workings of Marie's mind

5 responses to “Forays in tempeh making, an epic story that spans oceans and the ages

  1. Leanne Mahoney

    Great tempeh adventure! Were you ever successful at making tempeh and are you going to have a tempeh making class?

    • kitchenrevolution

      Oh man it was quite a tedious chore to make tempeh from scratch. I don’t think anyone would be as crazy as me to make it regularly! So, no 😦

  2. Thanks for finally talking about >Forays in tempeh making, an
    epic story that spans oceans and the ages | Kitchen Revolution <Loved it!

  3. Aine

    hello maám! can you teach me how to make tempeh? coz in my recipe search in the website for healthy recipes, tempeh is one of the ingredients and no particular place in manila selling tempeh…I accidentally found your blog…

    • kitchenrevolution

      Sorry I do not teach tempeh-making. There is an Indonesian food stall in the Legaspi Market in Makati that does sell tempeh.

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