We took a break from Balinese food on a recent Sunday afternoon and enjoyed a treat from South Sulawesi… all while in a backyard of Bali. A group of Torajan natives were kind enough to invite us to join one of the most unique food traditions we’ve ever seen : pa’piong.
Pa’piong is traditionally served during the enormous funeral ceremonies of the Torajan people. We thought we may have misunderstood when our Torajan friends described funeral practices in their culture - events that included over 5,000 people sometimes and cost the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars. But indeed, the tradition of ushering a loved one into the afterlife is celebrated more extravagantly in Toraja than any other funeral tradition we’re familiar with.
You don’t have to be a chef to imagine how impossible feeding 5,000 people for several days (or weeks) would be, but luckily pa’piong is an elegant solution for sustainably feeding unbelievable crowds.
We start by foraging tools for cooking. Bamboo is chopped down and sectioned off using a machete. Low hanging palm frawns are cut and used to shade the “kitchen.” Banana leaves are harvested.
We then prepare the components of the meal. Pork (or chicken, goldfish, or water buffalo) - herbs (lemon basil chief among them) - and spices (tongue scorchingly spicy chili’s chief among them) - are the ingredients that fill countless bamboo chutes. The chutes are leaned against a carefully tended fire and cooked for several hours. Separate bamboo chutes, lined with banana leaves, hold a mixture of red rice, coconut milk and salt. When cooked, the feast is fantastic. Arranged atop a table cloth of banana leaves, served on plates of banana leaves, accompanied with small bamboo chutes of palm wine and guitar strummed Torajan folk songs, we ate until we were past full… then tossed all traces of the meal (plates and cooking utensils included) into the bush, letting the entirely organic components of our dinner recycle nutrients back to the environment from which it came.