An exclusive interview with His Excellency the Ambassador of Indonesia to India Sidharto Reza Suryodipuro

A Potpourri of Vestiges Exclusive

By Murtaza Ali Khan
Sidharto Reza Suryodipuro, Ambassador of Indonesia to India
Source: Twitter
I consider myself fortunate to have interviewed His Excellency the Ambassador of Indonesia to India, Sidharto Reza Suryodipuro, during a recent launch event "The Pride and Glory of Bali-Yatra" as part of the cultural exchange between India and Indonesia at the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, New Delhi

We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to H.E. Mr. Suryodipuro for making himself available, despite having a very busy schedule, for an exclusive interview, and, for sharing his vision and strategy to further boost the cultural exchange between India and Indonesia across various sectors including travel and food, in a most elaborate manner.

Edited Excerpts

Q1. Could you please share with us the vision behind “The Pride and Glory of Bali-Yatra”?

A. The Pride and Glory of Bali Yatra is a project undertaken by Mr. Sudip Sen of Resource Indica based in Kolkata to promote the linkages between Odisha and Bali in particular, but also Java, Sumatra and other islands in Southeast Asia. It seeks to promote the linkages of the past to highlight the cultural similarities between India and Southeast Asia and turn it into a photographic and video journey for the Indian audience. This is a project that we welcome and would like to highlight in our own work to promote Indonesia in India. We promoted Mr. Sudip Sen’s work by having a launch of the coffee table book of The Pride and Glory of Bali Yatra at the Embassy of Indonesia recently in the form of a Gala Dinner combined with cultural events and networking with various stakeholders in India, in particular in New Delhi area, covering stakeholders such as tour operators, media, the intelligentsia, officials and others.

Q2. India and Indonesia share a lot in common in terms of culture. How do you see this cultural bond?

A. India-Indonesia cultural bonds are deep rooted in history. Both countries want to not only develop and strengthen the existing cultural bonds, more importantly we want to build on those bonds that will prepare us better to seize the opportunities and address the challenges of today and the future, such as economic development, human development, climate change, and the challenges that come with globalization. A stronger cultural bond will also help us deal with issues such as extremism, radicalism, and identity politics. My job as Indonesia's Ambassador in India has been made easier by the fact that many of my Indian counterparts and friends share the same view.

Q3. Since your appointment, the cultural exchange between India and Indonesia has witnessed a boost. What would be your strategy going forth?

A. Our response or our strategy will be two parts. First, we shall continue to build upon the work that all of us have been doing, such as in the form of exchanges of cultural troupes and artists. This has been long-standing, and the Embassy of Indonesia and our counterparts in India, such as the Indian Centre on Cultural Relations, are endeavoring to develop and strengthen the work that has already been done in the past. 

Secondly, we seek to enhance people-to-people contact. To do so, we will work with our Indian counterparts and intensify connectivity between our two countries. At the moment the majority of air connectivity between India and Indonesia are undertaken through third countries. But we do have direct flights between India and Indonesia, 28 times per week, that are served by Indonesian carriers. Batik Air, Garuda Indonesia, Air Asia Indonesia are all flying to India directly from Medan, Jakarta, and Denpasar Bali, and they fly to Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata. We are happy to see that the number of Indian visitors to Indonesia has been increasing in a very healthy way. Last year in 2017, the number of Indian visitors to Indonesia reached 485,000 people. We hope that this year that number will increase to 700,000 visitors or more. By having more people-to-people interaction, our bonds and our shared heritage will grow further, and this will be good for both our countries, for our region, and for the world. 

Q4. Indonesian cuisine in India has seen a rise in popularity in recent times but it is not yet as popular as other Oriental cuisine. How committed are you in taking the Indonesia delicacies to the common Indian household? 

A. It is not as though Indonesian dishes are not known to the Indian consumers or Indian foodies or connoisseurs. If you go to restaurants, cafés, even airlines, you will see a number of Indonesian cuisines being displayed on the menu, such as Nasi goreng and Satay. The fact that there are currently no Indonesian restaurants in New Delhi is a shortcoming in terms of promoting Indonesia to the public at large. 

A recent CNN survey indicated that Rendang is the most popular food among the CNN survey respondents. Nasi goreng was also one of the most popular cuisines. Thus, it is for us and above all for entrepreneurs and business community to build on this success story and reputation of Indonesian cuisine into a viable and working business model. I am very optimistic that this is doable. We at the Embassy can help in terms of mobilizing support for those businesses that wish to open Indonesian restaurant in New Delhi.

On our part, the Embassy of Indonesia has been active in promoting its Indonesian food by holding gala dinners, dinners, cocktail receptions, and other events for our Indian friends and colleagues, and other connections. We are cognizant that this is only for a very limited number of people and we have to do more and better, including by eliciting the help of the media. 

Q5. What would be your recommended delicacies/preparations to someone uninitiated to Indonesian Cuisine? 

A. Indonesian cuisine is very rich and covers the whole gamut of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. In fact, our problem might be because of our diversity. Diversity is good and strengthens our heritage, but we would like to see efforts be focused on certain dishes or on certain region of Indonesia. For example, Indians might be interested as a start to go to restaurants of certain Indonesian regions that is familiar with Indian food. Food from Sumatra such as West Sumatera, North Sumatera, and Aceh, come to mind because of the similarity they share with food from Bengal and Tamil Nadu. This is only one example. We can also promote other foods that are unfamiliar in India, therefore making it an adventure for Indians.

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your valuable thoughts are highly appreciated!  

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