Two weeks ago marks Indonesia’s 77th Independence Day and I’d like to take this chance to share how learning to cook dishes from my country helped my recovery. Bonus: I will also be sharing an Indonesian recipe!

On a Tuesday towards the end of February this year, I got very ill from trauma, depression and anxiety. I asked my supervisor to take the rest of the week off, thinking I would surely be back at work the following week. Long story short, I was not fit for work for the better part of the past 6 months. As someone who tied her identity to achievement and work, it was very, very hard to say the least. I could not shake the feeling that I was a failure and that I’ve let my team down. Thoughts such as “If I wasn’t an assistant psychologist, then who am I and what am I good for?” constantly circled my mind.

While waiting to be seen for specialist therapy, my GP prescribed me with “keep busy with your hobbies and connect with friends. Don’t stay in bed all day,” he said gently. Of course, I knew to do all this; I was familiar with the Keeping Well page and Managing Stress MOT after all. The people pleaser that I was and knowing he was going to check on me weekly, I determined to take this prescription.

At first, I couldn’t do much. One of the first things that goes out the window whenever my depression relapses is talking to friends and family. I also didn’t see the point of cooking, my favourite hobby, as my appetite was poor.

So I tried to connect with something else: my Indonesian identity. Here are the 2 things people would talk about once they know I’m Indonesian:

  1. Bali (obviously. No, that’s not where I’m from, unfortunately)
  2. Nasi goreng (or “OMG the food there is amazing!”)

Bali is great and everything, but I always say that I miss the spicy, flavourful food from home the most. That’s when I took to YouTube to binge on Indonesian cooking demos and food vlogs. I watched the techniques street food vendors use as they skilfully prepare some of my favourite dishes. I watched the food vloggers devour the food and describing the taste in great detail. I then proceed to dream of eating the food straight out of the screen.

Tempe goreng tepung or fried battered tempeh particularly made an impression on me, as I remember the days of sneakily buying this street food after swimming or ballet lessons, knowing full well my parents would disapprove. Tempe goreng tepung was a symbol of a quiet, yummy rebellion of an 8-year-old Nadia. I also feel that nothing screams Indonesia more than tempeh; a quick Google search will tell you it’s an Indonesian traditional food. It was clear to me that I must learn how to make this snack to feel somehow connected to my Indonesian roots.

The thing about cooking a new recipe is, it takes all your attention. My hands no longer feel numb as I hold the knife on one hand and the tempeh with the other hand. Thoughts of failure or hurting myself in anyway disappear. Without realising, I’m practically applying mindfulness into my cooking.

Another thing about cooking is, you can be creative with it, and we know creativity is good for mental health. It can be as simple as cutting my tempeh into triangles instead of the usual rectangles. Or substituting an ingredient, giving it your own twist. If you see cooking as a chore, well, I challenge you to have fun with it.

At the end of the process, you’ve achieved something. You’ve learned something new. You’ve created something. I am all about celebrating little victories like this, though there’s really nothing little about this victory, given the invisible battles we fight in our minds.

I think the learning bit is also key here. As author T. H. White wrote in The Once and Future King:

               “The best thing for being sad is to learn something.”

After nearly 6 months of finding ways to get better, I couldn’t agree more.

The best part, of course, is enjoying the final product. I bit into that tempeh and had a “Ratatouille moment.” I was taken back to when I felt cared for; when I don’t feel like an “other” in a foreign land; when I feel at home in myself. And when I felt able to see friends, I could show this Indonesian part of me by sharing this plate of yummy goodness with them. As they say their mmms and ahhs of pleasure, I can’t help but feel acceptance. I’ve put myself on a plate and received nothing but thanks, smiles and “can I get the recipe?”

Speaking of getting the recipe, here it is!

The video is in Indonesian, but you can turn on the English subtitles.

To turn on subitles, look for the button that says CC or one that looks like a keyboard/lines:  

Ingredients: Tempeh, thinly sliced
Batter ingredients:
250 g all-purpose flour
30 g rice flour 60 gr cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder, optional
5 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp  fresh turmeric, grated (or sub with 1tsp ground turmeric)
1 tsp coriander powder
3 pc green onion, large
2 pc celery leaves, large, optional
2 tsp salt
2 tsp flavor enhancer or buillon powder
⅓ tsp pepper
500 ml water
Condiment: Sweet Soy Sambal (https://youtu.be/zQSrxcR-_jA)

1. Slice the tempeh thinly, then slice the green onions and celery.
2. In a bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, rice flour, and baking powder. Stir.
3. Add salt, flavor enhancer, pepper, coriander powder, turmeric, and garlic. Mix well.
4. Add water. Mix evenly, then add green onions and celery. Stir.
5. Heat the oil. Coat the tempeh with the batter and fry until golden brown or to taste. Set aside.
6. Batter-Fried Tempeh is ready to serve with Sweet Soy Sambal on the side.

Whether you are signed off from work, in the trenches with your team, or having a quiet uneventful day, I encourage you to connect with different parts of your identity. Learn something new. Do it mindfully. Share with friends. Celebrate every victory, no matter how tiny.

If you are struggling, remember that we are here for you. We are just on the other side of the chat box (on the bottom right corner). If you prefer to speak over the phone, you can request a call-back. Or if you’re like me and love to ramble on, writing, send us an email. Take good care of yourself!


I was struck by "a symbol of a quiet, yummy rebellion of an 8 year-old Nadia”. I could visualise you sneaking off to a street food stall to get a snack with wet hair from your swimming lesson. It really made me think of how many different ways there are to rebel and how such seemingly “small” acts can be so powerful so many years later. It also made me think about your rebellion against the depression and how you’ve refused to give up on yourself and aspects of your identity. 


* What is it about my own life or experience that meant that I was touched in this way? 

I grew up in Hong Kong and always feel comforted/at home when eating Asian food. Being able to step out and eat something delicious on the street at dirt cheap prices is something I miss every single day. As a white British person my identity as someone who grew up in Asia is often invisible and I find myself using food to connect to those parts of myself. I just wish I could recreate my favourite foods as well here in the U.K.! 


* Where have I been moved to in my thinking or experience of life? 

You’ve made me think about how important Asian food is to me on an identity-level and deepened my commitment to try to get to Asia this year. I will also dig out some recipe books and try to get back in the kitchen - I stopped after my daughter was born but I think I need to get experimental again and stop worrying that it won’t be good enough. You’ve also made me think about my work as a psychologist in diabetes where food is such a source of stress for so many - what a shame when it is such a beautiful, comforting and wonderful way in which to connect. I wonder if there’s any way I can make food “positive” again when working with people? You also made me think about cultures that value slow food, eating and more of a work life balance and how important it is to me to ensure work doesn’t take over my life at the expense of these pleasures.


* How is my life different for having been moved to this new place?

I feel connected to a part of myself that has been neglected and have some inspiration for both my clinical work and how I manage my work-life balance. Thank you so much for sharing. I wish you all the best for the future and in your career in Psychology. I appreciate your vulnerability in writing this piece.

A couple of different aspects of your story really touched me. When you shared about having your identity tied to achievement and work, and how hard this made being away from work, I found myself nodding along in recognition. I think it’s something that many of us as psychologists might find ourselves resonating with (you used the term people pleaser, and I think that’s another common uniting theme amongst us!)  It’s a career path that requires so much of ourselves in terms of time, energy and commitment that it can be really, really, difficult when our humanity, and all of the struggles that come along with being a human being, can be felt as getting in the way.


I think that I really connected this with part of your story, as I too have found my work impacted significantly by other aspects of my life over the past few years. I became a mum for the first time during the pandemic, moved cities, and started a new job post maternity leave. And despite all of my knowledge and training and years of experience, I have found it really hard to share with my new team and supervisor how challenging this has been, for fear of being seen as lesser than, or of not being able to cope in some way.


 I found myself full of admiration for your courage in speaking to your supervisor, and your GP. It really made me think about how much I admire vulnerability and honesty in others, and it made me think about how I really want to continue trying to embrace those same qualities in myself. For me this looks like continuing to speak up when I am struggling, and to continue trying to offer the compassion that I offer to others, to myself.


The other part of your story that really resonated with me was when you talked about challenging yourself to have fun with cooking. I have always loved cooking, and cooking for others – like you, it was a place for me to be creative, a way to relax and absorb myself in a task, an act of care for myself and others. Since having my daughter I have engaged with it  less and less in this way, due to the demands and pressures of having less free time. Your story really inspired me to try to carve out time here and there to re-engage with it more creatively. I might start with your recipe!