Mentawai cuisine

When you hear the word ‘jungle’, you don’t really expect good food, but probably fruit comes to mind. In that lush forest it should grow almost anywhere. Right?
No. Fruit is not lying everywhere like I imagined in my jungle fantasies 🙂 Or at least they don’t eat it. However, they do eat a lot of durian. That’s what we’ve learned from our Siberut trekking. Most common Mentawai food:

  • Durian: the smelly fruit that every westerner fears and all Asians love. It sure is smelly, but when you eat it fresh, right from the tree, it’s yummy! We tried several different varieties, from very mushy and strong smelling ones to very hard ones with almost no smell and taste. Some have short spikes and some have longer spikes. It’s a woman’s job to collect the durians and they have to climb the tree quite high. Then they bring them home in home woven baskets. Durian is eaten every day, several times a day.
Opened fresh durian fruit. If it's fresh it tastes quite delicious and it's very fullfilling. Mentawai food.

Looking nice and smelly!

  • Shells: houses are usually built near the river and another women’s chore is to go shell hunting. They dive couple of meters into the muddy water and help themselves with a bamboo stick. We haven’t tried this but the river looked very dirty anyhow.
  • Frogs: it was raining almost every day of our trek so the swamps all around were full of frogs which. They cook them in bamboo.
Frogs cooking in bamboo. Read about Mentawai food in the post.

Frogs in bamboo.


  • Sago: plant that feeds them all and most important of Mentawai food. Pigs, chickens, cats, dogs and people. First, they soak logs of sago in the river. They have sago ‘factories’ and they save it in wooden containers. They mash it and sometimes add coconut and then they cook it. Sago can be cooked in sago leaves, banana leaves or coconut. Sometimes they even make sago pancakes.
Pieces of white starchy sago, ready to be grated and cooked. Read more about Mentawai food in the post.

Pieces of sago, ready to be grated and cooked.


  • Sago worm: YUUUUUUUUCK, you can easily play Bear Grylls here! That’s what I think about those squiggly fat creatures. They eat them raw or cooked. Mic tried raw one and said it doesn’t taste that bad. YUCK. (Mic: “I like it! Gimme more! :))
Sago worms on a leaf. Full of proteins as Bear Grylls would have said. Eeeew. More on Mentawai food in the post.

Sago worms. Eeeeeew.


  • Rice: but they have to buy it or get it from tourists.
  • Coconut: which they grate and put in sago ot feed the chickens with it.
  • Chicken, pigs, geese and ducks: they have animals under their house and we’ve always seen youngster chicks and piglets. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to make it taste good. All they do is cook it to death without spices and soak sago sticks in the soup. If only they would use the hot coals and make some crunchy barbecue 😀
  • Monkeys, deer, wild boars: men’s job is to hunt. All shamans we’ve been to had lots of skulls above the entrance and we’ve seen bows and arrows. We’ve also seen how the poison for the arrows is made but none of the men actually went hunting. I have to note that they do have rifles and that makes things much easier 🙂 Modernizing the jungle.
  • Fruits that they find randomly, but not everyday.

I must say that Mentawai food tastes very bland. They have all means to make a nice juicy barbecue but I guess it’s just not that important to them. Next time we’ll show them how to make one 😉

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