Lat, an iconic seaweed salad from Southeast Maluku

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Lat is a perfect dish for breakfast. The treat is both tasty and nutritious at the same time, and its freshness will lift your mood and kickstart your day. (Photo: Pramitha Hendra)

IO – Natives of Southeast Maluku often start the day by consuming lat. Lat is seaweed salad that can be found in almost all corners of the Moluccas Islands, notably the Kei Islands. 

Lat is considered a heritage food that has become a delicacy for the Kei Islands dwellers (Southeast Maluku and Tual City, Maluku Province). The dish, from an aquatic vegetable known as sea grapes (Caulerpa lentillifera) is unique because they are processed into salad without being cooked. The main ingredient is “lat-lat” which is known by different names across the region. In Sulawesi, people call it “lawi-lawi” while in Lombok, it is known as “latoh”. 

This dish has been passed down through generations and is seen as crucial element in increasing family harmony because it is often served at lunch, dinner, and even major events such as traditional ceremonies, welcoming ceremonies and more. Since 2011, lat has been registered as an Indonesian Intangible Cultural Heritage by the Ministry of Education and Culture. 

On Kei, lat has become an iconic dish not to be missed, especially for breakfast. It can be consumed as a single dish, or combined with other foods in mixed dished, such as with grilled fish. 

Lat, whose main ingredient is seaweed is often eaten raw, uncooked. After being washed, it is mixed with grated coconut, citrus, onion, and red chili. In Java, this spicy salad is called “urap”. 

Many tourists will appreciate its distinctive taste. It is mostly plain, but fresh as jelly and perfect for salad. Its bubble-like leaves will burst inside the mouth when chewed. 

Seasoning is often added to give it extra flavor, like spicy and savory. Lat can be found in almost any food stalls or restaurants in Kei. The price for a plate is usually around Rp15,000. 

Enjoying fresh lat for breakfast will not be complete if tourists do not see how it is cultivated first hand. If one wishes to know more about this intriguing seaweed, one can visit Ohoi Evu Village. 

This is the center for seaweed farming. Most of the villagers here make a living as seaweed farmers. 

This village has been allotted one hectare of plot to cultivate the seaweed, divided among the families. The seaweed will be planted at a certain time of the year and harvested 40 days after it is planted. 

As center of seaweed production, many people from different villages in the Small Kei Island come at first light to buy the seaweed in bulk, a large proportion of which is being used to make lat. 

“If you want to buy seaweed, you have to come very early in the morning, around 6-7am,” advised Siprianus Elmas, a seaweed farmer I spoke to at Ohoi Evu Village. 

Beyond trading, visitors can also see firsthand the cultivation, from nursing the seedlings to harvesting seaweed, and the harvesting of red-colored fresh seaweed to the dried variety, all making for a tasty culinary adventure and appreciation of nature. (Pramitha Hendra)