Chicken Cooked in Bamboo Segments

Ayam Dibulu

This recipe is from Tana Toraja in central Sulawesi, where chicken and fish are often cooked in this way. So too is pork, since the Toraja people are not Muslims. If you are in Toraja-land and want to eat this in your hotel, you will need to give the kitchen 24 hours’ notice. The flavour and texture are excellent, but note that the chicken and fish are cooked with all their bones, so that the enjoyment of eating is rather spoilt by the necessity of picking these out. The menu in the hotel where we stayed called this dish pakpiung, but a friend who is an expert on Minahasa cooking says that pakpiung is the Toraja word for glutinous rice cooked in bamboo, the equivalent of what in Minahasa is called nasi jaha, and in West Sumatra lemang. Elsewhere in Indonesia dibulu has a final -h, but the people of Sulawesi don’t pronounce the h, so they don’t write it either. The same is true of tana (land), which also has a final -h in Indonesian.

Unfortunately, the right kind of bamboo is not available in the West, so at home in Wimbledon I wrap the meat in banana leaves, with an outer layer of aluminium foil, and either bake it in the oven or steam it. Alternatively, you can cook it in ramekins, also wrapped tightly in foil. I am not giving the fish version of the dish here, as it is very similar to what in Java is called pepes ikan, and there are several versions of pepes in the Java chapter of this book. Naturally my recipe is for chicken without the bones. The green vegetables I use here are substitutes for the cassava or papaya leaves used in the original recipe.

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  • The meat and skin from 1 small chicken, or from 2 chicken breasts and 4 thighs, with all the fat discarded; then chopped into small cubes
  • 2 tbsp lime or lemon juice ½ tsp salt

For the Spice and Herb Mixture

  • 1–2 tsp sambal ulek
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp very finely chopped ginger
  • 1 stem lemon grass, outer leaves discarded, finely chopped
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded (optional)
  • A handful of basil leaves or mint, or both
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 turmeric leaf, very finely shredded (optional)
  • 225 g/8 oz/2 cups cos lettuce or spinach or curly kale, finely shredded


Put the chopped chicken meat in a glass bowl, and mix in the lime or lemon juice and salt. Keep aside for 1 hour. Then add the rest of the ingredients and mix well together by hand. Leave the chicken to marinate in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight. Divide the chicken mixture into two portions, and wrap each portion in banana leaves. Roll each portion to make a sausage-shaped parcel, and pin the ends of the banana leaf wrappings with wooden cocktail sticks to close them.

Wrap each banana leaf packet in a layer of aluminium foil, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 60 minutes, or steam the packets for 40 minutes. Alternatively, divide the chicken mixture among 4 ramekins. Wrap each ramekin in foil and bake them in the oven as above for 50 minutes, or steam for 40 minutes.

Serve hot, warm, or cold, with salad. Naturally, in Indonesia this dish will be served with plenty of rice, and in central Sulawesi the salad would consist of slices of ripe tomatoes.