Thursday, August 18, 2011

Heny Hikmawati: A tempeh-making woman

All she wanted was to make her family feel at home. But now, she has become the person who makes other people happy — by making fermented soybean patties, better known as tempeh.

Sorry to keep you waiting,” the woman said in a worried tone. She looked a bit tired but that did not stop her from enthusiastically sharing her story with The Jakarta Post.

She is Heny Hikmawati, an Indonesian woman who was born 34 years ago in Wonosobo, Central Java, on Aug. 28. She now lives in Perth and is known as one of very few tempeh makers in Western Australia. She has two daughters, Fathia Zahira Huwaidah and Naura Nadhifa Rufaida, who she said were her main reasons for making tempeh.

“It all started two years ago,” she said.

“My husband got a scholarship from the Australian government so we had to move to Australia. Before my daughters and I departed, my husband said that tempeh is something rare and expensive in Australia. Since both my daughters are tempeh lovers, I had to learn how to make it so my daughters wouldn’t be homesick because of food,” she explained.

Heny tried to learn how to make tempeh from some tempeh sellers in Yogyakarta, her hometown. But she always failed.

“Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to keep practicing. We had to depart soon. So I came with no confidence that I would be able to make tempeh for my daughters,” she said.

Heny arrived in Perth in March 2009. She accompanied her husband, Taufiqur Rahman, who is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Western Australia. Heny had been a lecturer in economics at Purwokerto Muhammadiyah University in Central Java.

Once she arrived in Perth, Heny tried to make tempeh again, but she found it was really difficult for her to get the right yeast to ferment the soybeans. She did not bring any yeast from Indonesia as she was afraid it would break Australian customs laws. So, she tried to make yeast from the frozen tempeh that can be found more easily in Perth.

But it did not work.

“My daughters’ faces were always full of hope every time I tried to make tempeh and I felt really awful when I saw that hope leave,” she said.

But Heny never gave up. After about a year of practice, she can finally make delicious tempeh for her daughters, and now even sells her tempeh around Perth under her own brand, Halibi.

“Halibi is adapted from Arabic which means ‘this is a gift from your God’,” she said.

Actually, Heny did not plan to make tempeh for commercial purposes.

“It was only for my family,” she said.

But one day a friend came to her house and insisted that she try to sell it. Her friend said it was a good prospect for many Indonesians live in Perth, and they definitely like tempeh.

So she took the chance and has been making tempeh ever since.

As Heny’s tempeh has become more popular, the customers have been increasing. Most are Indonesian, but Heny also has some Australian customers. She also supplies tempeh to an Asian market in Canning Vale.

Heny sells her tempeh for A$3 (US$3.14) a block. She said it is a reasonable price for tempeh in Australia.

The price is computed from the time it takes to make tempeh, which usually takes two to five days depending on the weather, and also the effort, for Heny makes it all by herself.

“It is very difficult to make tempeh here, especially because the humidity is different from Indonesia. That is why I have a special shelf for fermentation and make sure that the humidity and tempehrature are under control. Sometimes, in winter, I even use the heater to keep it warm,” she said.

By Diyah Hayu Rahmitasari


Realted: Tempeh fever in Wollongong

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