Apart from meat, which usually means fried chicken, the Javans consume a lot of soy in the form of tofu (tahu) or tempeh (tempe). As opposed to tahu, which originated in China, tempe is a traditional Indonesian product first produced on Java. The hip vegan favorite of the western world, in Indonesia it is mostly a cheap everyday source of protein. Prepared by (no surprise here) deep frying, it is served with almost every dish.
During the trip to Borobudur and the surrounding villages, we have learned about the process of small-scale tempe production. The soy is soaked for a few hours, dried and mixed with a fermentation starter in the form of fungi spores. Next, the fermentation mix is wrapped in banana leaves and left to ferment at room temperature (around 30 degrees Celsius). After a day or two, the tempe is ready and resembles a moldy cheese with peanuts inside.
Tempe, as opposed to some modern soy products, is a healthy source of protein, minerals (such as iron) and vitamins. Unfermented soy is very hard to digest and contains phytic acid which binds to minerals so that we cannot absorb them. The fermentation process breaks down the troublesome polysacharides as well as the phytic acid making soy more easily digestible and a good source of nutrients. So, if you want to make soy your staple, tempe is the way to go.
Unfortunately, it was really sad to hear that this traditional indonesian product is prepared from US-imported soy due to lower prices. As a result, the tempe now most probably is a GMO product and its production only partially supports the local economy.