Barapen ▪︎ Highland Papua
This is a style of large-scale event cooking that is commonly used at large gatherings and occasions in what is now the province of Highland Papua, particularly iconic of the Baliem Valley area. Given the diversity of peoples and languages in the region, it goes by a number of different names including lago lakwi for the Lani people, mogo gapii around the Paniai lakes, and kit oba isogoa in what is possibly the Yali language (but nobody seems to ever say where this comes from aside from just Wamena generally). The Dani term barapen seems to have become somewhat dominant, although in Indonesia more widely it’s referred to as simply batu bakar: burned stone.
Now this post is a bit of a strange one because in this series I’m trying to find recipes to attempt at home, but with barapen you dig a massive hole (usually at least 2m across), fill it with layers of hot rocks and food, and then you’ve got enough to feed a whole party. Digging up the park nearby my home would be a lot of dedication to this blog and probably wouldn’t be very popular with the local council, so what I’ve done here instead is to read up on the general method and try to make a small-scale household approximation. Now of course this won’t be accurate, but the idea here is to capture the spirit of the dish for those times when, for whatever reason, you can’t do the real thing; to keep this cuisine alive in some form in an urban environment.
I thought a lot about how to go about this, and while it would probably be functionally identical—and easier—to use a pizza stone or a stack of casserole dishes in place of the stone layers, that felt like it lost too much of the heart of this style of cooking. So I’ve gone with those ceramic baking beans/beads or whatever they’re called. They’re like stones, but they’re guaranteed to be oven-safe, because apparently if you just stick random rocks in your oven they’re liable to explode as trapped moisture evaporates.
There are nonetheless a few difficulties here, or at least things to take into consideration:
- You’ll need a massive casserole dish
- You’ll need loads of baking beans
- The meat and veg packages that we’ll be making need to be pretty much the same diameter as the casserole dish, which might be tricky to get right But let’s worry about that when we come to actually try this recipe in future.
- ___ g pork
- ___ g sweet potato
- ___ g some other veg
- 4 banana leaves
Start preheating a whole load of ceramic baking beans in the oven, along with a big deep casserole dish (260°C for 45 minutes)
Wrap all the pork in a tight banana leaf package (don’t pile it up though: keep it all in a single layer in there)
Do the same for the vegetables
Turn the oven down to 80?°C
In the hot casserole dish, pour a single layer of the hot ceramic baking beans. Place the meat package on top. On top of this add another layer of baking beans, then the veg package, and then a final layer of baking beans. See diagram above for the general idea.
Cook for 1.5? hours